Bear Grylls' latest mission: Tribute to heroes who battled to save ancestor from ferry disaster
Adventurer Bear Grylls has spoken of his debt of gratitude to the Donaghadee lifeboat mission which tried to save his great grandfather and others in the Princess Victoria ferry sinking disaster.
The television presenter never knew his mother's grandfather, Sir Walter Smiles, who was one of the 133 who died when the ferry sank off the Co Down coast in 1953.
But he credits family holidays spent in Donaghadee for giving him his enduring love of the wild and the sea.
Now the former SAS soldier is backing the fundraising campaign to save the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat that played a pivotal role in the daring rescue which saved 33 people.
The historic SSK lifeboat has been languishing in the town's marina car park for years, exposed to the weather.
There are fears that if the boat is not housed in a temporary shelter where the restoration process can begin soon, then it will be lost forever.
The project aims to raise £15,000-£20,000 to build a temporary shelter ahead of restoration and then upwards of £500,000 to fund a maritime heritage centre in Donaghadee.
Mission Survivor presenter Grylls is hoping that his support will raise public awareness to secure donations and funding to save the SSK.
"The restoration and preservation of the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat will create a fitting memorial to all those who were touched by the Princess Victoria tragedy," said Grylls.
Grylls, who was raised in Donaghadee until the age of four, added: "It will be a lasting reminder that we are all at the mercy of nature and of the need for preparedness and professionalism when saving lives at sea.
"To the crew of today's RNLI lifeboat based in Donaghadee, I express my admiration at their courage and commitment."
Yesterday, one of the surviving SSK lifeboat crew, Hugh Nelson (82) from Donaghadee, recalled the rescue where he worked alongside his father Hugh senior, who was the boat's coxswain.
"I was only aged about 20 at the time and it was a very bad day, it was frightening for everyone.
"I remember we picked up a crew member and he was in a lifeboat all on his own.
"He told us he slid down the side of the boat to get to the lifeboat, but the other crew members and passengers were too afraid to follow him."
Project spokesman Ken Walsh praised Grylls' support and added: "We know Bear has a special place in his heart for Donaghadee."
Sir Walter Smiles was the MP for Down at the time and was travelling home from Westminster in the ferry that sailed from Stranraer to Larne.
The Princess Victoria sinking was the worst maritime disaster in British waters since World War Two. The plan is to raise £500,000 to build a maritime heritage centre in Donaghadee with the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat its centrepiece. To contribute or for further information on the project, go to www.sirsamuelkellyproject.com