Monday, 30 May 2011


Shona battles it out, photo courtesy of RGYC
Since the wind went down (a bit) the salvers and surveyors have been busy at work, but our coast is still strewn with wrecks. Most of the fallen trees have been dealt with, usually by locals who turned up with their chainsaws and got things moving before the council was fully awake. One of the local landowners was out late at night collecting the unexpected windfall for his woodstore before anyone else got it.

I have a huge respect for the professionals who deal with the sea and its behaviour, having in an earlier life done work for a diving company who handled some of the trickier jobs in the early years of the Scottish oil industry.  I learned that in dealing with any disaster one must resist the natural temptation to rush in.

In those days the older fellows had acquired their skills during the War. Along the coast just now a new generation is making assessments of risk to life and the potential for damage to the stranded vessel and working out ways to proceed. Estimates vary, but it seems there are between 100 and 200 incidents to be resolved, so they will be busy for some time. (We've now learned that the wind at its height reached speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour.)

Locally Tony Ratcliffe and his team from North West Marine are working on the rescue of the Elsa, a nice American-designed centre-boarder that is perched on a rock ledge, pretty well undamaged but above the level of the pathetically small tides we have just now. With extreme high pressure forecasted there's little hope of improvement in the near future.

Longer term there are bound to be effects on yachting as a pastime. If you can suffer such weather in what is traditionally the mildest time of year many people will be looking critically at the sport. Although this storm was exceptionally fierce we have been seeing much stronger winds and wetter summers in recent years. Costs are bound to rise, as insurers consider the impacts and pressure increases on bases that are particularly sheltered. This may eventually lead to an increase in the number of smaller boats being dry-sailed, as one would certainly sleep better with one's pride and joy safely parked in the garden.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

First storm of 2011

We were warned, at least those of us who followed the Met Office, which correctly predicted a tight low pressure system on Monday, although I suspect that they underestimated the wind speeds we actually got. Even that vapid child on the telly warned that it would be windy, if you could make out what she was saying. I got the Kelpie and Peigi safely onto dry land and checked that everything aboard Stroma was secure.

It started blowing on Saturday, a very brisk and ominous Southerly. It's a time for Spring breaks and a few boats went off, one returning after an hour or so. Sunday continued in the same vein, then on Monday morning it struck. Straight out of the South west and almost unobstructed came a wind of incredible force, raising a blanket of foam a couple of metres high. It was difficult to walk in the prevailing wind, which was, I guess, well over gale force. The gusts were another thing again.

 The first couple of yachts came ashore at Fearnach in the late morning, being joined by three more as the day progressed. The roads around here were quickly blocked as trees laden with new foliage came down. We're in neap tides just now, but it didn't matter as the tide didn't actually go out, giving rise to fears that the evening high would cause flooding.

The marinas at Ardfern and Craobh Haven were directly in the line of fire, but spared the terrible swell that started to come in at Fearnach. In our little corner at Loch na Cille the boats were spared the worst of it, as by the time the wind backed West much of the force had gone and everything stayed afloat.

This Tuesday morning the wind is down to force six with showers of hail and we believe that the electricity, which went off when some poles came down yesterday, may come back on by this evening.

So far this year after fifty days afloat we've managed two short sails. Much more of this and I may take up gardening (only joking).

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Kennedy Brothers

The magic spinner

Over the next few months you can view images of your editor and his brother in Glasgow's St Vincent Street as part of one of the Braewell Galleries' celebrated public art projects.

It's a little disconcerting to find yourself portrayed in quite such a public fashion, but as it's fiftyseven years since the original family snaps of two Kennedy brothers were taken our appearance has maybe moved on a little.

The artist Paul Kennedy and his brother Adam are also forging an identity as the Kennedy Brothers and are having their first joint exhibition in Glasgow this summer. I will post fuller details of this nearer the time. Meantime their work can be viewed online at and and Braewell Galleries can be found at

St Abbs 1954

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tall Ships Gallery

Wyldeswan, image courtesy of Richard Sibley

The maritime photographer Richard Sibley has introduced me to his fascinating website, and I'm delighted to have added a link to it. Richard writes:-

"My site provides a gallery of tall ships and traditional sail images as well as other related articles, you can also purchase copies of the images printed on fine art paper and canvas.
The galleries feature the more picturesque images that I have taken and I also have an extensive library of contemporary Tall Ship images collected over the past few years. Enquiries welcome."

North Sea Regatta, courtesy of Richard Sibley

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Wordies of Glasgow

Alinda V, formerly Fiumara

"Twenty horses in a row
Everyone of Wordie & Co"

William McGonagall

In the course of researching the history of the Scottish Islands Class I am learning about some of the interesting people who sailed these boats eighty or so years ago. The Islanders attracted some quite unusual personalities to their ranks and I have already introduced some of them on

The Islander Fidra was commissioned in 1930 by Colonel William Wordie, OBE, TD, MA, who was 46 years old at the time. He was the managing director of William Wordie & Co, the biggest carrier and haulage firm ever to operate in Scotland, which had been founded by his great-grandfather John Wordie in the early Nineteenth Century. The history of the firm gives a fascinating glimpse into social history. 

From humble beginnings as a Stirling carter, carrying among other things illicit mail between Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh undercutting and contravening the Royal Mail's monopoly, the firm, consisting of half a dozen horses and carts, passed on John's premature death to his son William.

This first William saw the future of rail transport and in 1851 became the agent for the Caledonian Railway and later for Scottish Central Railway. When he died in 1874 an enormous business passed to his son John, who moved the family to Glasgow, where he built the family home, a substantial property at 52 Cleveden Drive in the West end, around 1880.

The future Colonel Wordie was born in 1884. He attended Glasgow Academy and then obtained a Master of Arts degree at Glasgow University. The 1911 Census shows that by then he had inherited the business and the house, describing him as the head of the house, employer and "railway carrier and marking contractor", aged 26, unmarried and living with a housekeeper, table maid and cook.

He went on to serve in the First World War in the Royal Army Service Corps (Territorial Force) being awarded the Order of the Nile and the OBE.

He had joined the Royal Northern Yacht Club in 1924 and presumably owned a yacht in order to join, but to date I don't have details. Fidra was his first commission for a new boat and he raced her for only two seasons, managing 30 starts in 1930 and 20 in 1931 without much success. He was to own her until 1934, when he sold her to A R Keith Thomson. After forty four years with the Thomson family Fidra passed through a couple of further owners before being acquired by Rick Standley, the double bassist, who still owns her.

In 1932 he commissioned Alfred Mylne to design the eight-metre Froya, which I was delighted to discover is still in existence and sailing on Lake Constance. My guess is that one-design racing didn't appeal to Colonel Wordie, with its focus entirely on the ability of the helmsman and crew. By contrast with a yacht built to one of the metre rules one had a chance of getting a hull that would simply go faster through the water and money was not a problem for him. Also he was probably too busy to spend the time on the water necessary to develop winning skills.

In 1934 Mylne designed and Alexander Stephens built him a massive auxiliary ketch Fiumara, which suggests his interests were moving on from racing. She also survives today as Alinda V and has recently been extensively refitted by Southampton Yacht Services.

In February 1945 Colonel Wordie was appointed a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Glasgow and shortly thereafter Wordie & Co was nationalised and became part of British Road Services. He died in 1952.

In accordance with the tradition in Scottish families the younger brother James Mann Wordie inherited neither house nor business and had to make his own way in the world, admittedly with a share of the family fortune. After taking degrees at Glasgow and Cambridge, where he studied geology, he had a distinguished and highly productive career. He accompanied Shackleton on the Endurance expedition, returning for war service in the Royal Field Artillery, after which he returned to polar exploration and ran numerous privately-financed Arctic explorations. Throughout his base was St John's College, Cambridge, where he progressed from Fellow to becoming Master in 1952, being knighted in 1957.  He died in 1962.

The family history, progressing from a traditional if slightly illegal trade to business and academic success and respectability within four generations, is typical of the incredible social mobility that was possible in the industrial and commercial melting pot that was the West of Scotland in the Nineteenth Century. Colonel William bequeathed to the World three beautiful yachts, while Sir James left a unique legacy of polar information, publications and inspiration.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Answers

The House of the Dogs, Ewan of Argyll's hunting lodge, where King Alexander may have eaten his last meal.
The results of the Spring Quiz have been published in this week's edition of the Toberonochy Slate, the Isle of Luing's oldest English language newspaper, but for those who may have difficulty finding it in their local newsagents here goes.

1 What is the origin of the name Toberonochy?

Tober is Gaelic for a well. Donnchaidh or Donnachaidh translates as son or descendant of Duncan, who was the king of the Scots from 1034, when he was 33. "Unlike Shakespear's portrait, which presented him as a wise old man, Duncan was young and rash, and not particularly able; he lasted six years as High King. He proved himself incompetent, losing four major battles in endeavours to expand his territory. Contemporary chroniclers describe him as a vicious, bloodthirsty, selfish tyrant." He died on 14 August in a battle with Thorfinn, the Jarl of Orkney, Shetland and Caithness, probably killed by his own men. MacBeth wasn't actually there. Other forms of the name Duncan include Donnachie, Duncanson etc.
2 When you travel from the Cuan Ferry to Toberonochy you pass an old water mill. Who or what live(s) there? And what must you leave to pacify him/her/them? Get both right for a point.
Elves. You must leave one of the hairs from your head for them.
3 Apart from boat musters what was the main activity on Luing in former times (economically productive that is, not drinking etc).
Luing is one of the so-called slate islands, whose quarries roofed countless thousands of properties in Scotland and far beyond.

4 South east from Toberonochy lies the Dorus Mhor, the great door in Gaelic. Who or what came to grief there on 15 December 1820? For what was he/she/it famous? Both parts for a point.
Bell's Comet, first sea-going steamship in the world, built in 1812, ran aground on the point in a gale and was wrecked. All aboard were able to scramble ashore and the engine was salvaged.
5 West south west from Toberonochy is the Gulf of Corryvreckan. Who was Vreckan (otherwise Breackan) and what is said to have happened to him?
There are various versions of the legend of Prince Breackan. Here is the main one, courtesy of my friend Mike Murray, whose website has a great deal of fascinating information, here,

A Scandinavian Prince, Breakan, fell in love with a Princess of the Island, whose father consented to the marriage, on condition that Breakan should show his skill and courage by anchoring his boat for three days and three nights in the whirlpool.

Breakan accepted the challenge and returned to Norway, where he had three cables made... one of hemp, one of wool and one from maidens' hair. The women of Norway willingly cut off their hair and plaited the rope. It was believed that the purity and innocence of the maidens would give the rope strength to stand the strain.

Breakan returned and anchored in the whirlpool. On the first day the hemp rope parted, but they survived the night. On the second day, the woollen rope parted in a strong wind, but they survived the night again.

On the last day they set the plaited cable of hair and all went well until a gale of wind broke the rope. The boat was sucked under by the currents and a surviving crewman and Breakan's dog dragged the body of Breakan ashore - he was buried in the King's Cave.

6 Which famous writer nearly drowned there in August 1947?
George Orwell, while out with his family in a small boat with an outboard motor, which capsized.
7 Many Australians visit the islands of Mull and Ulva each year, because the fifth governor of New South Wales Lachlan Macquarie came from Ulva and is buried on Mull. What tragic event happened on 7 May 1845 which might make them want to visit Craignish Castle as well?
Lachlan Macquarie Junior fell down the stairs while enjoying a party with his relatives the Campbells of Craignish and broke his neck.
8 Historically islands such as Luing had great importance, in an age when almost all travel was by sea and many visitors stopped over in Toberonochy. Who is said to have stopped here on 5 or maybe 7 July 1249? Bonus point, must get all three, (a) why had he come? (b) why was his mission doomed? (c) what happened to him the next day?
King Alexander II of Scots travelled here with a company of marines in a fleet of ships to meet Ewan of Argyll, the local ruler of the isles. He probably stopped in Kilchattan Bay, as the ancient church bears on its walls some graffiti showing Scottish ships. Ewan wasn't there, as he didn't trust Alexander and had gone to Stornoway (taking with him the young king of the Isle of Man. The next day Alexander died at Horseshoe Bay on Kerrera.
9 These islands were often visited by the Vikings and tried to maintain their independence from both the Norwegian and the Scottish kings. The ships used by the Scots and the Norsemen had one major difference which gave the Scots an advantage in local waters and the Norsemen an advantage on the open sea. Name what it was.
The Scottish ships had rudders, while the Vikings used a steering oar.
Scottish birlinn, showing rudder at right

10 Who won the Battle of Largs?
Generations of Scottish schoolchildren have been taught that the Scots won, but the Norse chronicles show that the Vikings felt they had successfully recovered a supply ship that had blown ashore with relatively little loss of life, so the best answer is probably that  it was a draw. Peace did not come until the Treaty of Perth in 1266.
Finally two easy questions for sailors who don't know any local history

11 What causes the whirlpools at the Corryvreckan?
Underwater cliffs causing sudden reduction in depth of water plus  islands getting closer to the mainland as you go North with the flood tide.
12 What is an amphidrome, or amphidromic point? Bonus point, name the location of one nearest to Toberonochy. And if you can explain in simple language how they come about you deserve more than to win this quiz.
 An amphidrome or amphidromic point is a place where there is virtually no rise and fall of the tide. The nearest one is at the skerries South-east of Islay (difference 0.6 metre at Springs). As you get further away the range gradually increases, hence at Gigha it's only about 1.2 metre.

The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water