The Great Storms – St Andrews Bay

St Andrews bay snow storm WMA 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.

 Cross Keys bar WMThe 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.

 Stormy Castle and West Sands WMSt 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.

11. Merlin Gravestone close upThe 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-“

 

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A Day out at the RICOH Women’s British Golf Open and the loss of HMS Success

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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.

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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.

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Kingsbarns beach. HMS Success wrecked  just to the right of the right hand rocks in the picture

 

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.

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HMS Success

 

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.

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Remains of  HMS Success

I highly recommend a visit to Kingbarns Golf Course, Kingsbarns beach and of course the British Women’s Open.