The Loss of the Humber Pilot Cutter J H Fisher: 12th January 1963 (Davis Raddings Humber Retd.)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the severe winter of 1962 -63 which lasted from December to March and saw major rivers such as the Thames and Humber freeze over. Despite the Arctic conditions trade carried on and pilots continued to ensure that shipping movements suffered the minimum possible disruption. In the early hours  the 12th January 1963 the Humber cruising cutter J H Fisher was on station in a blizzard when it was struck by the tanker Esso Glasgow. Fortunately all on board were saved but the cutter sank some two hours after the collision. Although not on board at the time, retired Humber pilot, David Raddings was serving his time as an apprentice and a few years ago, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the sinking decided to collate the stories of those who were on board at the time. 

Esso Glasgow:

“Whilst inbound to Salt End from Thames Haven she was in collision in a snowstorm in the River Humber, 1.5 miles SW of Chequer Light float, 2.7 miles West South West of the Spurn light vessel, with local pilot cutter “J.H.FISHER”, 461grt, which was holed, portside, in the engine room. The cutter sank within two hours, though without loss of life.”

This less than noteworthy observation hardly reflects the gravity of the situation that befell those aboard. From 03.50hrs, in night’s darkest hour, on that bitterly cold Saturday morning, with a blinding snowstorm raging, the Captain & crew were left fighting desperately to save their ship, while Pilots pulled together to keep their Service working in that ever traditional manner known only to them. Neither of the two statements actually reflects any of the real-life drama aboard the cutter. The following stories from those on board at the time may dispel the apparent presumption, that it was just a bump in the dark!

The following account is from David Walker who was an apprentice and the youngest person on board at the time;

“I remember that morning, it was a heavy snow blizzard and I’d just finished cleaning out the side houses (toilets), when all hell broke loose. Somebody had run forward to ring the bell like crazy, the alarm bells were ringing and then the Esso Glasgow’s bow hit our port side and cut into the engine room. Mick Duncan, told some of us to drag all the mattresses up on deck, but this was stopped when she started to sink. He then ordered everyone to get off, so the starboard motor-boat and lifeboat were dropped by apprentices and pilots, and we cleared the ship as fast as we could. Whilst in the boats, we watched the Fisher slide down.

The next thing that I remember, was the Glasgow re-appearing out of the snow, and the crew had thrown rope climbing nets over the side, so we all managed to climb on-board her.”

David omits to mention the freezing cold on that extremely dark winter’s morn, but as a lad it must have been no less than frightening.

Martin Proud was a 3rd Class pilot at the time and recalls:

At 02.30hrs Saturday I was called for a ship but was then told it was the Esso Glasgow which was too deep for me and so I waited in the lounge. Later, I felt a collision bump, nothing much and headed for the port side Steerage door. It was 03.50hrs and the Esso Glasgow’s stem was embedded 2 feet into the cutter’s hull at the engine room. At this point, pilot Ernie Sanderson climbed on to the Esso Glasgow’s stem in his raincoat & pyjamas and headed for the bridge where he allegedly greeted the Captain by saying “Good morning Captain, we usually send the boat”!

During the next 1.5hrs the cutter drifted 5 miles with the flood tide and sank near to where the Mono Buoy is located today.. I took other pilots to several ships in this 1.5hrs, “Semper Paratus” (‘Always Prepared’, the Humber Pilot motto) we had carried on boarding! During this time I believe that only slight damage was found to have occurred to the port motorboat & its rigging and therefore after some attention the boat was lowered and used as a platform by Captain (Mike)Duncan, who was a man of large stature and strong physique and is thought to have jumped into the ice-cold sea to try stuff mattresses into the hole left by the Glasgow. When the sinking was seen to be inevitable, the Spurn Life Boat took all those remaining on board safely off, transferring the pilots onto the Esso Glasgow which then became the temporary pilot cutter!

Compiled by David Raddings.

This is just a small sample of the accounts collated by David. The full accounts can be accessed at:

SS “J H Fisher” 

The Pilot Cutter, JH Fisher was launched on 19th December 1930, the last steam cutter built for the Humber Pilots.

She had an LOA of  140 ft (42.7m) and was fitted with electric lighting and steam heating with accommodation for 36 pilots in 10 staterooms. Remaining in service on the Humber  station throughout World War, 2 The J H Fisher’ was not immune from attack and on March 7th 1941 she was at anchor close in shore to the west of Spurn Point when she was subjected to a low level bombing attack.

David Raddings’ father, the late John Raddings was on board at the time and has left the following account of the attack: “At about 12.30 pm having finished my dinner, I went up to the bridge to relieve the watch pilot, H. Carlisle. The weather was moderately clear and calm although the cloud ceiling was rather low. Suddenly I saw an aircraft appear from out of the clouds to the east, flying straight towards our ship. I said to my ship mate, who was on the point of leaving the bridge, Look, there Horace, here comes an attack. I mounted the ladder to the wheelhouse top, trained the Lewis gun on the enemy, and waited till the aircraft was at close range, then opened fire. The ammunition pan contained but a few rounds, so I was only able to fire a short burst. This must have been sufficient to distract the pilot because he released his bombs a fraction of a second too late. The two missiles passed over the cutter. The nearest passed between the funnel and the masts and in between the davits that lift the motor boat, which luckily was in the water. This bomb just cleared the deck margin by inches and hit the water at an angle, only a couple of yards from the ship’s side. Both bombs ricocheted  and did not explode until they hit the water a second time. The explosion did little structural damage but the cutter was shaken badly and some internal damage and breakages were sustained.”  JCB


4 Responses to “The Loss of the Humber Pilot Cutter J H Fisher: 12th January 1963 (Davis Raddings Humber Retd.)”

Andrew Smith
January 2nd, 2014 at 08:59

I read your account of the sinking of the ‘J.H. Fisher’ with interest.

My father, Capt. J.W. Smith was the Master of Esso Glasgow.

It seems from other incidents under other Masters the Esso Glasgow was not a ‘lucky’ ship


Ian Wilson
February 9th, 2017 at 07:41

My Grandfather, George Homan Berry served as a Humber Pilot on the J.H.Fisher. I have a copy of a painting of the boat when my Grandfather piloted the sailing ship Pamir into Hull. If you email me I can send a copy of the picture.


Andy Young
September 1st, 2018 at 22:14

Hi Ian, I believe my dad David young served on the J.H Fisher could you send me the picture please?


Andy Young
September 17th, 2018 at 11:26

Hi, I have just spoken to Mr Raddings regarding my father who served on the J.H Fisher at the time she was sank. If possible could you please pass my email address onto him?

Thank you


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