TRIBUTES have been paid to a heroic sailor who has died suddenly six months after he plucked a drowning kayaker from the freezing waters of the North Sea.
Brian Ball, who had been nominated for a police bravery award, died at his home in Mayfield last Thursday.
Mr Ball owned a shop in Mayfield Place called Bits and Bobs, a treasured community resource which sold everything from toys to hardware.
The tributes were led by the Reverend Sean Swindells of Mayfield and Easthouses Parish Church, who said: “He was a very helpful man, a real character who was very involved in the life of the community.
“He was very supportive, one of those for whom nothing is too much trouble.
“He was pleasant to speak to and very encouraging to people.”
He added: “There are not many like him, and he is certainly a big loss to the community.”
The experienced boatman hit the headlines when he rescued a man after he had plunged into the Firth of Forth, near to Dunbar, in October last year.
The quick-thinking 58-year-old grandfather was widely praised for his decisive actions when he sailed to the rescue of the lone canoeist.
Malcolm Moffat had been forced to abandon his kayak in the North Sea after it capsized, only to find he could not swim the 300 metres to shore because of the strength of the current.
But Mr Ball, who had been fishing near Torness power station when he heard the distress call, rushed to the rescue.
He found the 29-year-old, who was still alive thanks to a buoyancy aid and hauled him into his 15ft boat, Dignity.
Speaking at the time, Mr Ball said: “I was out fishing near to Dunbar when I got a call from the coastguard saying a kayaker was in some trouble, and asking me to help out as I was the closest vessel in the area.
“I managed to get to him quickly, but he had been in the water for around 30 minutes and was in quite a bad way.
“He was obviously cold and soaking wet, but he was drifting in and out of consciousness.”
Mr Ball wrapped the stricken canoeist up in a jumper and coat and kept him talking until the rescue helicopter arrived to airlift him to hospital.
A modest character, Mr Ball underplayed what he had done.
At the time, he said: “I’m not too sure about being called a hero. I only did what anyone else would do. I’m a wee bit surprised by the reaction.”
But police had praised Mr Ball’s response and planned to officially recognise his courage.
Police Scotland Sergeant Stuart Higginbottom had said: “Brian’s actions are commendable and we are delighted to nominate him for a meritorious award.”