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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Remembering the RMS Lusitania

Postcard_Lusitania

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.

Naughty Treasure Hunters in the news again – but not me……

Neil and Logo

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4415984/British-treasure-hunters-looking-SS-Minden.html

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.

Maritime Fife

neil_portrait_harbour watermarked

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.

https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/scotland/387483/investigating-shipwrecks-courier-country/

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.

 

The Golden Fringe of Fife – Elie Ness Light House

Elie Neil WM

It has been a great week of sunny clear skies and wonderful sunrises and sunsets throughout the kingdom. The other evening I was down at Elie Ness Lighthouse to catch a wonderful cloudless sunset. Looking across Largo Bay, the low tide exposing the East Vows rocks and its beacon. This was built in 1846 and the “bird’ cage on top of the beacon was intended as a safe refuge for shipwrecked mariners until they were rescued.

East Vows Beacon

Unusual to see so many oil rigs at anchor in the bay. A sad sign of the downturn in the North Sea oil industry at present. The three semi-submersible drilling units are the Transocean Prospect, the SEDCO 714 and a drilling rig I worked on as a Watchstander back in 1988, the SEDCO 711.

Lighthouses have been a safety aid to mariners for centuries. During bad weather and reduced visibility the lights from lighthouse helped mariners safely navigate their vessels around coasts, islands, rivers and estuaries. During the first decade of the 20th century mariners navigating the Firth of Forth were concerned that during bad weather the lights on the Isle of May and Inchkeith Island were not visible and as Elie Ness was a rock headland it would make sense to build a lighthouse there so that vessels would not come to grief on the rocks and reefs of the headland.

The Northern Lighthouse Board is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was formed in 1796 as the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. Its engineer in 1908 was David Alan Stevenson, grandson of Robert Stevenson, who built the Bell Rock Lighthouse and many great lighthouses around Scotland and cousin of the great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Built by James Lawrie Builders, Anstruther, the lighthouse went into service 1st October 1908. With the light evenings as we head towards the Summer Solstice, take advantage and get out and enjoy the wonderful sunsets that bathe the Kingdom of Fife.

 

 

 

Kilminning – Between Crail and Fife Ness

KG2

Your roaming Fife Ambassador took advantage of the good spell of weather recently and has been out and about in the Kingdom. You don’t have to walk or drive far to find interesting places to visit in Fife.

On a walk from Crail to Fife Ness along the Fife Coastal Path you will come across Kilminning Castle, named castle, but really a natural rock stack formation. It lies within Kilminning Coast, Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve. It is in line with the end of the runway of Royal Navy Air Service Crail Aerodrome, HMS Jackdaw, which was in service as a torpedo training school from 1939 to 1947. An airfield here dates from WWI when it was a Royal Flying Corps training depot from 1918-1919. From 1947 to 1949 it became HMS Bruce, a training establishment for boys from the age of 15. From 1952 to 1956 the accommodation was used intermittently by the Black Watch. From 1956 to 1960 it served as JSSL Crail, the Joint Services School for Linguists, a Russian language school which operated as part of the country’s response to the Cold War.

In the area of Kilminning Castle, formerly Kilminning Farm, archaeological investigations revealed the remains of an early rectilinear building and a long cist cemetery which was dedicated to St Minin (9th century). Also in the area is a substantial linear earthwork known as Dane’s Dyke. It is the only surviving linear earthwork in Fife and one of the best preserved in Scotland. It may be prehistoric in origin, it could be associated with Roman Iron Age occupation discovered within the area at Fife Ness and also associated with the Vikings and with King Constantine in the 9th century AD.

KG1

East and west of the large rock stack there have been many groundings and founderings of vessels driven ashore on the rock skellies and reefs during bad weather and storms. The types of vessels lost include schooners, steam passenger ships, steam cargo ships and steam trawlers. I myself have dived a few off these wrecks finding their remains battered and wedged in the kelp covered rocks.

It really is an area worth exploring. You can walk from Crail or Fife Ness or park and walk a short way from the car-park down a road at the end of the small industrial estate at the end of the airfield.

 

Revisiting the past

Me Dive Fife Ness

Yesterday I was out at Fife Ness, the most easterly headland of the Kingdom of Fife. The word Ness is an archaic Norse word meaning “nose” and when you look at the shape of Fife on a map it resembles that of a dog’s head and Fife Ness the tip of its nose.

Fife Ness has a long history; evidence of prehistoric sites, Danish invaders, 17th century harbour works, a 18th/19th century tide mill, tide pond, a lime-kiln and a HM Coastguard Station and houses (station now closed and houses in the private sector). Also close by is an airfield and associated buildings used during both world wars. It is the best-preserved abandoned airfield in Scotland, with unique designs of hangar, a military hospital, and a whole range of WW2-era buildings, including a Torpedo Trainer.

Fife Ness has a special place in my heart. In the early 1980’s I did some of my first SCUBA dives down the skellies at Lochaber Rock and my first shipwreck the Vildfugl which struck Lochaber Rock in 1951.