Otterbank Comes Home.

Otterbank off NorthLink

June 2007: Otterbank, the 32ft wooden motor sailer that once served as the floating bank of the Northern Isles, arrives back in the Orkneys after thirty years. Her once-famous bank manager, 86 years old Willie Groat, watched her arrive by the light of the midnight sun after a successful public campaign to bring her back to the islands she once served.

In summer months, from 1962 to 1970, the National Commercial Bank of Scotland's floating banking service, known as Otterbank, was managed by Willie, a wartime Desert Rat who worked aboard the motor sailer and called at eleven anchorages and harbours each week. A well-remembered BBC television documentary showed Otterbank delivering cash and collecting pregnant mothers on their way to hospital. In 1969, the Royal Bank of Scotland replaced her with aircraft flown by their own airline, Loganair.

An Orkney islander re-discovered Otterbank in 2006 high and dry in the shadow of a vast power station at Fiddlers Ferry Yacht Haven on the River Mersey. The Friends of the Orkney Museums led a campaign, supported by ferry operators NorthLink, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions, managed by the National Museums of Scotland, for an overhaul in the Orkney Sailing Club yard at Hatston and a display afloat at the Scapa Flow visitor centre in Lyness before permanent show in the projected Orkney Boat Museum.
Willie Groat and Otterbank
Willie Groat and Otterbank re-united. [Pictures by Frank Bradford]

Otterbank is still ballasted with flat stones taken from the beach in Kirkwall where James Maxwell & Son launched her in 1926 as Otter, a private tender for William Grant, the Highland Park whisky distiller.

1926 launch
1926 launch
May 19, 1926
Otter is launched in Kirkwall Basin.
[Pictures by Tom Kent - thanks to Orkney Image Library]

Otterbank's last big refit was carried out in the 1980s on Merseyside by Colin Butterworth, who cruised her in the Irish Sea and the Clyde. Colin said, "It has been an enormous pleasure to take part in the rescue plan which gives her a new life in her old home."

In 1987, the producers of the BBC-2 TV drama series Truckers persuaded Colin to run Otterbank aground in Liverpool Bay. The film crew captured her salvage in real time, half a mile off Ainsdale, in a notorious graveyard for boats and road vehicles. Otterbank was plucked from the incoming tide by a team from Sealand Boat Deliveries, working with cranes and lorries in a wilderness of quicksands. Twenty years later, Orkney Museums called in Sealand again.
Otterbank aground in 87
Otterbank run aground by the BBC in 1987
Otterbank salvaged in 87
Otterbank rescued in 1987

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