Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How is it? It's as bad as it gets.

West coast of Scarp

June 2006 was stormy off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides. We were out there in a 70 foot fishing boat and had to run for "shelter" in Loch Reasort.

Loch Reasort

At times like that I always think of the RNLI. Have a look at John's blog for details of their work. I have been a supporter of the RNLI for many years and I would urge all UK and Irish seakayakers to give their support. Today I received my copy of "The Lifeboat" the RNLI journal.

It tells of a dramatic rescue (a few days later than my photos above) which involved a Dutch 12m racing yacht. She was pitch-poled and flattened by a monster wave in winds exceeding force 9 about 25km to the north west of Barra at the south end of the Outer Hebrides. The skipper was injured, the shroud plates were damaged, her standing rigging loosened, the mast mounted electronics were damaged and the keel bolts loosened. He put out a PAN PAN call on the VHF requesting urgent assistance.

Stornoway coastguard picked up the call and requested the launch of the Barra lifeboat. She is the Edna Windsor a Severn class and Coxswain Donald MacLeod took command. He was really worried that the yacht would attempt to reach shelter through the treacherous Sound of Barra to the north but could not make contact with her. He decided he would need to take a shortcut up the east of Barra and through the Sound to head the yacht off. There are three routes through this sound and the best would depend on many factors. Donald called his father and asked if he could go over and advise which route he should take.

"Caimer a tha i?" (How is it?)

"Tha i cho dona 's chi thu I" (It's as bad as it gets.)

The lifeboat had to reduce speed from 25 to 5 knots as it slammed into 10 to 11m swells. Eventually they cleared the sound and were heading for the yacht's position at 12 knots when they realised their electronic navigation equipment had been damaged by the pounding and it was too rough to use paper charts.

Once they found the yacht, they guided her for the Sound of Sandray to the south of Barra. The treacherous nature of this channel is only exceed by that of its northern neighbour and it was vital the yacht followed the lifeboat closely. She was making 6 knots under her storm rig so the lifeboat had to slow to a speed that put her in danger. A monstrous wave slammed her over by 100 degrees plunging the wheelhouse under water and damaging her.

Recovering, she led the yacht to safety.

Sound of Sandray

Coxswain: Donald MacLeod, volunteer shellfish fisherman
Deputy 2nd Coxsawain: Ranald MacLean, volunteer tug boat captain
Mechanic: Angus MacNeil, RNLI full time
2nd mechanic: Lachlan Douglas, volunteer fisherman and builder
Crew: Iain Boyd, volunteer fishernan
Crew: Michael MacNeil, volunteer oil rig worker

Thanks guys!


  1. Douglas, What a superb narration of a daring rescue!! Would I be you, I'd make it into a 2000 words article and send it to a good magazine.

  2. Douglas, glad you liked the latest copy of The Lifeboat, that story surely stands out and I think qualifies for the title of 'Epic'.

    Best wishes


  3. Wenley, I merely condensed the excellent article in the Lifeboat. Perhaps I condensed too much as I did not emphasise that lifeboatmen in general and Barra lifeboatmen and fishermen in particular are not prone to exaggeration and tend towards understatement. So when a Barra man says "it is as bad as it gets".....

    John, when we were out there in June threading our way through the skerries to the north of Scarp in a 70 foot fishing boat (with only one engine) we all thought of dying. Well those of us wo were not debilitated by seasickness thought of dying. The seasick thought they were dead already.

    Reading the article in "The Lifeboat" brought it all back. I found it hard to understand how these men volunteered to go into that maelstrom. What an example of service to one's fellow men and women.