A storm in St Andrews Bay.
This winter the “old grey toun” has experienced a few bad storms in St Andrews bay. The ‘beast from the east’ is not new. Throughout the centuries many a great storm has been recorded.
On the 5th of March 1881 the wildest sea storms and snow storms on record hit the east coast of Scotland. No fewer than 30 vessels were wrecked that day. Heavy snow storms and a raging East-South-Easterly gale was blowing in St Andrews bay. It was the day of the annual Kate Kennedy Procession, the oldest historical pageant held in Scotland. The Procession goes back to the 15th century, to the adoration by the university students of the niece of Bishop Kennedy (1408–1465), the founder of St Salvator’s College. The Bishop’s niece was Lady Katharine Kennedy, affectionately known as Kate, the fairest and most beautiful woman in her day. The first procession since 1874, thousands of students and locals gathered on the streets of St Andrews to watch the pageant which assembled outside the Cross Keys in Market Street at 11:30 that morning.
The Keys Bar.
About one ‘o’ clock the boom of the signal cannon on Kirk Hill was heard. The Norwegian 98-ton registered schooner Harmonie, from Falkenburg to Bo’ness with a cargo of pit props, was being driven ashore in a horrendous gale. The vessel was dangerously close to the rocks at the back of the Public Baths (now Castlecliffe). Luckily the schooner managed to steer away from the rocks and ran ashore on the sands 200 yards to the north of the Swilcan Burn on the West Sands. The lifeboat and rocket apparatus were on scene and rescued the crew of four men and a boy. The vessel became a total wreck and her cargo was carted to the harbour and re-shipped.
St Andrews castle and behind it lies Castlecliffe.
No sooner after the rescue of the Harmonie, the signal cannons sounded again at 4:30 in the afternoon. The Sunderland, England, 367-ton, registered barque Merlin bound from Sunderland to Bordeaux with 700 tons of small coals with a crew of 10 men and one boy, was being driven ashore in the gale. When about three quarters of a mile east from the pier head she tried to tack and was nearly round but did not make it and carried on towards the castle. The lifeboat was ready to launch at the West Sands next to the wreck of the Harmonie and the rocket apparatus team in readiness at the north end of Castle Street.
At 5:30 that afternoon the Merlin, helpless and broadside, struck the rocks 300 yards north of the Public Baths. A rocket line was fired to the ship and successfully grabbed but a huge sea pushed the boat further on to the rocks and the line was lost. Within 15 minutes of striking the rocks the raging sea had turned the vessel into a shapeless mass of broken timbers, iron, masts, spars and sails. 10 men and one woman lost their life that day. Many were washed overboard, and all were drowned. The youngest was a man of 18 years and the oldest a man of 64 years.
In the cemetery at bottom of the Pends, you will see a large light grey coloured headstone. It was erected by the public of St Andrews in memory of the crew of the barque Merlin of Sunderland. There are 10 male names and one female name.
The gravestone to those lost on the Merlin down at the bottom of the cemetery at the Pends.
An unknown young St Andrews girl, touched by the disaster, wrote this poem:
“Close by St Andrews rugged shore
A saddening sight we see-
A vessel crushed upon the rocks,
Lashed by the raging sea.
The crew are clinging to the chains,
They cry for help in vain;
The Life Brigade did all they could
To save those drowning men.
One still is left upon the deck,
So youthful, brave and strong;
Haste! Haste! Oh, lifeboat crew, to save,
For there he can’t cling long!
With outstretched arms we see him there,
A mother’s pride and joy;
Oh, God! will you not hear her prayer
To save the sailor boy?
The cruel waves have done their work,
And claimed him as their prey,
While sorrow wrung each pitying heart
Upon the shore that day.
They saw the “Merlin” and her crew–
A band of sailors brave
As ever stood in jackets blue-“
Very proud to have been part of this project with Odyssey Marine Exploration. A wonderful and interesting shipwreck and very special to me. My late father was a Merchant Navy Radio Officer and sailed with the BI line (British India Steam Navigation Company). He was lucky not to be on the last fateful voyage of the Gairsoppa but he was shipwrecked on one of the BI boats. He survived the loss of the SS Urlana on the 5th September 1943 off the Island of Skye.
The Gairsoppa was a similar vessel and for me being privileged to have the opportunity to survey the wreck with an ROV was like going back in time. Seeing a typical ship’s Radio Officer’s cabin and the radio room allowed me to imagine how life at sea was for my father during WWII and on the Atlantic Convoys.
Voices from The Deep is a wonderful book. It not only brings the ship and its crew back to life but is a time machine visit to WWII India, life in the British Merchant Navy, the War in the Atlantic, the Royal Mail and of how through today’s science and technology we can preserve the past for future generations.
Beautifully edited and written by my friend and colleague Dr Sean Kingsley with two chapters by me and other experts. It’s a must book for any history and naval book collection. Book will be published 16th February 2018
As a Fife Ambassador, I was fortunate to be invited to a hospitality day at the golf courtesy of Fife Golf Partnership and the Fife Tourism Partnership. Kingsbarns is a wonderful golf course with breathtaking coastal views of St Andrews bay and Kingsbarns beach.
I walked down to the 1st hole and watched golfers from Thailand, Wales, Spain, USA, Korea, Germany, Iceland, Germany and China to name but a few tee off. I witnessed some great golf and found a friendly atmosphere. There were some dramatic skies with the building up of rain clouds but as it is Scotland the spectators and golfers alike were prepared.
I went up to the Champion’s Club at the hospitality area and had breakfast and met up with some fellow Fife Ambassadors and members of Fife Tourism Partnership, Tourism St Andrews and BID St Andrews. After a hearty breakfast, I went down to see Scotland’s Sally Watson tee off and follow her for a few holes.
A significant moment for me was looking out from Kingsbarns beach I saw the St Andrews fishing boat “Brothers In Arms” shooting creels off Kingsbarns harbour. My 12-year old son, Harris was out on the boat learning to be a commercial lobster/crab fisherman.
Time for lunch, and a chance to chat and a wonderful lunch washed down with a few Darnley’s gin and tonics. Sadly, the golf succumbed to heavy rain showers so I watched the play from the shelter of the pavilion balcony.
Kingsbarns golf course is a wonderful course. Looking east along the beach from the harbour at the second tee it was hard to imagine the events that took place here on the early hours of the 27th December 1914 when a strong north-easterly gale was blowing in St Andrews bay.
The 210-foot long Royal Navy “B” Class torpedo boat destroyer HMS Success on her way back to Port Edgar in the Firth of Forth from a patrol of Heligoland (German coast). Her route home took her in the direction of Aberdeen, down past the Bell Rock Lighthouse round Fife Ness and then up the Forth. It was a dark night in the strong gale and heavy sleet showers. In order to avoid the full force of the gale HMS Success kept close to the land. As it was wartime, shore lights and beacons were extinguished and it was impossible to judge the exact proximity of the land. The water is deep at Kingsbarns close up to the rocks and nothing in the vessel’s course suggested that danger was so near at hand. At 04:00 in the morning HMS Success ran aground with a crash on the Cambo Briggs rocks just 300M from the shore at Kingsbarns beach.
The firing of the vessel’s guns first boomed out he news of the disaster to the shore and a wireless message for help was sent to other known naval vessels in the area. Tow torpedo boat destroyers and two minesweepers appeared on the scene in response to the call for help. The Coastguards at Fife Ness were alerted and the Crail and St Andrews Lifeboats called out. HMS Success lay with her bows completely underwater with the crew clinging to the chains and standards on the stern. Attempts to use the rocket apparatus failed due to the weather so the lifeboats bravely rowed their way through the rough seas and after many dangerous trips managed to get all the 67 crew safely to the shore.
After a brief rest, the crew returned to the shore to secure their ship. The ship was badly holed and water had flooded the engine room. By the next day the sea had worked the bows of the ship round and she lay with her stern pointing towards the shore. Salvage work commenced and her two torpedoes were laid on the shore and steamers were alongside to receive her guns and other moveable gear. It was found that it would not be possible to refloat her, so she was stripped of fittings and from the beach, traction engines removed most of the hull. What could be used again was taken back to the naval dockyards at Rosyth. At certain low tides and when the sands have shifted, remains of the lower hull of the ship can be seen.
I highly recommend a visit to Kingbarns Golf Course, Kingsbarns beach and of course the British Women’s Open.
Great to see the Kelpie Maquettes installed on the grassy mound next to the St Andrews Golf Museum.
I am sure that Mary Queen of Scots is happy to see the kelpies in St Andrews. She was a frequent visitor to St Andrews. On May 2nd 1568, William Douglas helped Mary escape from Lochleven Castle where she had been imprisoned. William Douglas had craftily taken the keys for the castle away with him, after having locked the doors behind them, he threw them into the loch, saying “I present them to Kelpie, and name her porter of Lochleven Castle.”
I am looking forward to the official unveiling and planned weekend of events. I will be assisting on the day and attending the invite only evening event where the kelpie sculptor Andy Scott will be talking about his creations.
So, when in St Andrews it’s a must to see and go get “a selfie with a kelpie”.
Yesterday the 7th May was the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of iconic ocean liner the RMS Lusitania. On her 202nd Atlantic crossing with 1,266 passengers and a crew of 696 (Total:1962) from New York bound for Liverpool. She was torpedoed by the German U-boat, U-20 approximately 11 miles (18 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale Lighthouse (near Cork, Ireland) in 91 m (300 ft) of water at 14:10 on the 7th May 1915. A total of 1,198 people lost their lives that day.
I was very lucky to be part of a team that carried out a ROV survey and wreck investigation with Gregg Bemis the owner of the wreck. The project was also recorded by the Discovery Channel and was a one hour episode on the show “Treasure Quest”.
It was a very interesting series of ROV dives on this majestic lady. The wreck is well broken up form periods of constant depth charge practice over the decades. I saw un-exploded hedgehog depth charges on the wreck. It is also covered in fishing net and modern net as well.
I was able to carry out some science experiments on the site and I wrote a site survey report. It was a great experience being able to see the Lusitania. If you want to see more then watch the Treasure Quest episode, “Lusitania Revealed”.
If you ever visit the lovely coastal port of Cobh near Cork you can see a memorial to the sinking and nearby a memorial to those perished on that fateful day in the local graveyard.
“The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumbers sleep without a monument. All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince and the peasant are alike, undistinguishable.” George Bruce. 1884, St Andrews.
Interesting story, believe me its always best to get permission and the required licenses first !!!!……….I just happen to be a highly experienced deep water marine archaeologist (last 18 years working with ROVs) Recent contracts have been deep-water salvage contracts, I know my way about a wreck and I know how to keep out of trouble…….. I offer cost effective services from research, project planning, project design, field work, excavation and recovery, specie and ingot recovery and processing, report writing and publications. Lecturing and presentations, plus TV/media experience and much more is on offer. I am STCW 95 and 10 compliant, UK Seaman’s Discharge Book, have US work visa and US crew visa. My marine, offshore and archaeological background make me unique and I have worked on many high-profile shipwrecks such as: HMS Victory, La Marquise de Tourny, SS Republic, SS Central America, SS Gairsoppa, RMS Lusitania, RMS Laconia, Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, various WWI and WWII German U-boats, and ancient Mediterranean wrecks. Check out www.rovarch.com to find out more and get in touch. Please share.
2017 in Scotland is the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. As a marine archaeologist and Fife Ambassador it’s an opportunity for me to share the wonderful diverse and rich history and heritage of the Kingdom of Fife.
A “wee gem” in the Kingdom and a fantastic story of restoration ensuring the future of trade and business that started 427 years ago, is Law’s Close at the east end of the High Street in Kirkcaldy. Situated here is a fine living example of Scottish 16th century vernacular architecture.
For centuries Kirkcaldy was a bustling sea port with a thriving maritime trade. The merchant’s houses were built at the east end of the town opposite the harbour. One such local ship-owner/merchant were the Law family. In 1590, they built Law’s Close and for two centuries powerful local families owned this building. By the end of 18th century the house was in decline and industrialization in the 19th century saw the owner’s fortunes flounder. The property was sub-divided to provide working class housing and the ground floor was turned into a bakery. The mid 20th century saw failed regeneration of this part of the town and by the mid-1980s the building had become abandoned and in a bad state.
In 1986 the Scottish Historic Building Trust acquired the building and during 1992-1994 a first phase of restoration was conducted and in 2005 the second phase was completed, creating two shops and office accommodation on the first and second floors. This truly remarkable preservation project restored the building to its former glory. The 16th century paintings have been conserved and the 17th century panelling restored. Of significant maritime interest was the discovery on the second floor of a wall painting of a sailing vessel which may represent the vessel in which Anne of Denmark was brought to Scotland in 1589.
What is really unique about this project, is that it is possible to rent office and retail space within the building. Wow !, what a place to work and to keep the history of business alive in Kirkcaldy. If you are in Kirkcaldy and want to see a merchant’s house then a visit is a must.
To find out about renting or use of this amazing building contact:
Property Manager | Scottish Historic Buildings Trust
Strathleven House, Vale of Leven Industrial Estate, Dumbarton. G82 3PD
Direct Line: 01389 750005
The Kingdom of Fife with the mighty River Tay to the north and the Firth of Forth to the south has a coastline of 117 miles (188 km). Throughout history these two waterways have been busy maritime trade routes. Needless to say, there are many shipwrecks.
As a marine archaeologist and Fife Ambassador it was wonderful to read Michael Alexander’s article in Saturday’s weekend Courier and the Courier Online about the shipwrecks and maritime history of the Forth and the Tay.
Now Spring is here and the evenings are longer and living in fife you are never that far from the coast. Get out and explore the coastline, the coastal towns and harbours of the Kingdom. Maritime Fife is full of interesting facts, stories, people and places.
Last night I attended the INNOVATE ROBOTICS talks as part of Visit Scotland’s INNOVATE THE NATION initiative. Three excellent speakers Dr Kasim Tersic, Dr Phillip Anderson and Dr Oli Mival gave a very interesting and informative insight to the world of robotics. I learned many interesting facts about robotics and how they are going to change the future. Automation is going to happen and we need to prepare for it. Study of nature will help greatly in robotic technology, for example Bees have poor vision but great navigation, Harris Hawks have amazing navigational skills through forest for short periods when hunting. The robots of my childhood such as Robby The Robot from the Forbidden Planet, G.U.N.T.H.E.R., (General Utility Non Theorizing Environmental Robot) from Lost In Space and of course Data from Star Trek will soon be a reality.
I attended both as I have a professional interest in underwater robotics as a deep-water marine archaeologist and in my role of supporting events in Fife as a Fife Ambassador. The event was very well organized and attended. I look forward to further INNOVATE THE NATION talks