Life at the end of the road

May 1, 2013

Into the North Sea

Filed under: boats, daily doings — Tags: , , , , , , — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:18 pm

Well, it was more of a case of ‘onto’ than ‘into’ but that’s where we were today in our little orange sausages, I was going to say turds but thought that a little unkind Smile The last time I was on, in or under the North Sea was some eleven or twelve years ago as a diver and I can assure that at this time of year it’s boodly freezing.

Much of the early part of the day was spent on survival theory, hypothermia and lessons learned from the likes of the MV Lovat tragedy of 1975. The Lovat was a coaster loaded with coal dust from Swansea destined for the power stations of England when she foundered some thirty miles off Lands End in severe January weather. It was a tragedy caused by ‘cargo shift’ lack of training, lack of sufficient life saving gear and quite simple things like the crew being unable to open the packets of flares, sea anchor and stuff that could have saved them. Their cold hands being unable to undo the wrappings of the survival pack, all things that have since been rectified by legislation and experience, like the number of LSA carried and type of packaging on survival packs. Sadly however the morphine had to be deleted due to the amount of junkies breaking open life rafts to steal it Sad smile When I was younger it was still in the first aid kit, now you have to make do with aspirin Sad smile Of the thirteen crew from the Lovat only two survived despite possible salvation being on the scene within minutes. Being a diver and having spent many hours in cold water, albeit well protected I was not surprised that so few survived, hearing that the Penlee lifeboat   had responded to the tragedy made it quite poignant for me. For it was the very same lifeboat that picked up the bodies from the sea after Lovat foundered that responded to the Union Star five years later.

I remember well the running aground of the Union Star in December of 1981 and the lifeboat ‘Solomon Browne’s’ valiant attempt to rescue the crew and captains family.   On 19 December 1981 it was launched to go to the aid of the MV Union Star after its engines failed 8 miles (13 km) east of the Wolf Rock.[8] Winds were gusting at up to 90 knots (100 mph; 170 km/h) – hurricane force 12 on the Beaufort scale – and whipping up waves 60 feet (18 m) high.[9] On board was a crew of five and three members of the captain’s family. A helicopter had been unable to rescue them and so the lifeboat with its crew of eight men went alongside. After several attempts four people managed to jump across;[10] the captain’s family and one of the men were apparently safe. The lifeboat radioed that ‘we’ve got four off’; that was the last ever heard from anyone on either vessel.[7] 

A week later I was walking the cliffs above the wreckage of the Union Star and her agonising screams will be etched in my memory until I die. By the time I arrived on the scene she’d broken in two and her stern section was being dragged up and down the forward half by the surge of the sea. As each wave carried the hull of the rear over the keel of the bow she let let out an eerie screech that could be heard for miles above the pounding waves.


Union Star

I lifted this picture of the internet (half way down the page and well worth a read)   but I took one almost identical in January 1982 and it’s an image that I’ll take to my grave, along with the tiny pieces of wooden wreckage that were strewn along the beach at Lamorna cove from the Solomon Browne. Little bits of teak and mahogany dotted along the sand all painted in the RNLI colours and none larger than a shoe, very very sad and just 5 days before Christmas.

Anyway it’s tragedies like this that have improved training enforced legislation and hopefully made the sea a safer place, which is why I’m here now.






Typically enough, the day we were going out to sea was the worst day of the week, still mainly fine but not half as nice as yesterday on the river.




Yup, it was much more interesting practicing ‘man overboard’, towing and emergency steering drills out here than on the Dee.




A few hours passed by very quickly and once we’d let the ‘anchor handlers’



Mearsk Lifter and Havila Neptune pass by



we headed in.




Though not before one of our crew had dumped the contents of his stomach all over the bow of the boat Smile



There’s a lot going on in Aberdeen but five days is more than enough for me.



Here’s the tugs Cultra and Carrickfergus  sandwiching a smaller one who’s name I can’t see, the larger ones being of 1970’s vintage and looking very similar to the old Vanguard that came to a sticky end off Rona.

Tug 'Vangaurd'

OK, perhaps not that similar Smile

Anyway, I’m ‘flagging’ now it’s almost 22:00 and I’m halfway through a flagon of Weston’s cloudy scrumpy so I think I should quit whilst I’m ahead and go to bed.


Leaving you with what can only be described as something between a ‘religious experience’, minimal techno and superbly choreographed drumming from  the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers who just happen to be playing in the Aberdeen Music Hall tomorrow night.


Now I saw these dudes in Kyle village hall some fifteen years ago and they were awesome Smile All I have to do now is persuade wifey to take me tomorrow Smile


  1. see any dolphins?

    I saw a wee orange sausage

    Comment by thinfourth — May 1, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  2. Will henwife be shopping whilst waiting for you to finish up your last day In Aberdeen? I hope she remembers a present for Molly!

    Comment by drgeo — May 1, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

  3. I have seen the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers as well Paul and to say they are awesome in some way seems to take away from their skill. Hope you manage to get to the concert, well worth seeing again and again. Thanks for the link, fair enjoyed watching them again, albeit it on a PC and not in the flesh!

    Comment by Thomson Caravans — May 2, 2013 @ 2:13 am

  4. Seem to remember, was the Union Star tragedy possibly avoidable?, as The Master would not agree a Lloyds Open Form salvage contract with the Noord Holland until he had spoken to the shipowner, who was un-obtainable in London somewhere. Although they did eventually agree LOF, it was too late. As an ex-mariner myself, I always found this the most heart breaking of tragedies.

    Comment by Doug Miller — May 2, 2013 @ 8:07 am

    • Yes you are absolutely right Doug, a tug was available but the master would not accept assistance without speaking to the agent. The law has now changed as a direct result of this tragedy and now the coastguard can force master to accept a tow.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — May 2, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

      • For me the sinking of the “Derbyshire” in 1980 was also a huge disaster. I was an apprentice marine engineer with Ocean Fleets (Blue Funnel Line) in Liverpool and qualified in 1978. The apprentices who were the year below me, finished in ’79 but were made redundant due to harsh economic times. Due to Ocean’s Liverpool contacts, they got jobs for some of them with Bibby Line. One of our lads, Paul King, was unfortunately lost on “Derbyshire”. He was serving as a Junior Engineer. It’s a well documented story but still interesting for any “landlubbers” reading this. All the best, Doug

        Comment by Doug Miller — May 2, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

      • Cheers for that too Doug, seen most of the Derbyshire (bridge boat) stuff before as I followed it closely, the cracks at frame 72 where the accommodation was joined to the rest of the hull. Not the finest hour for British shipbuilding, though in the end I think a hatch was discovered open with a rope hanging out onto the fo’cs’le, probably on that link you posted that I’ll watch later, very moving stuff.

        Cheers, Paul

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — May 3, 2013 @ 5:58 am

  5. Hi Paul,
    The Soloman Browne was indeed a dreadful disaster. And as a music buff I’m sure you’ve heard of Seth Lakeman’s tribute to the event, but just incase not check it out here.

    Seth, (a local boy from down here in Devon) writes songs about the area and this was one of his most potent offerings.
    On a slightly different subject, have you ever come across Martyn Bennett’s version of Hallaig, featuring Sorley Maclean. It was this haunting song that inspired me to visit your wonderful Island originally.

    All the best, and keep up the training,

    Comment by Green Van Man — May 2, 2013 @ 8:16 am

  6. christ!!! how big are the anchors handled by those things,,, they must be the size of an average semi detached house!
    my uncle was light house keeper down there around that era, sure to remember the Union Star tragedyt vividly. i’m going to send this blog link to him, he’s sure to find your posts of much interest…

    Comment by The Peoples Republic of Northumbria — May 2, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

    • Some of these rig anchors weigh 30 tonnes…Interesting info here:- and

      Comment by Doug Miller — May 2, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

      • What a great video Doug, I’m really surprised that they don’t tension the anchor by a wire on the crow like we used to do on the fish farms. Our anchors were seldom more than a ton right enough and I’m sure there must be a good reason for doing it the way they do, possibly to recover that heavy wire??? I suppose they have to do that as the wire will need certifying every year, brilliant stuff. Also I never realized that the rounded stern actually rolled, obvious really or the wire would soon cut through the deck.

        Cheers, Paul

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — May 3, 2013 @ 5:48 am

      • Hi Paul, A nice little explanation of anchor laying/recovery by a Danish Maersk officer.

        Comment by Doug Miller — May 3, 2013 @ 8:30 am

  7. Hi Paul I noticed in one off your photos one of weird shaped ships coming from Norway ship builders ( blue power) , there’s is an amazing YouTube video showing how efficient these boats are in heavy seas

    Comment by Gavin — May 3, 2013 @ 6:38 am

    • Aye Gavin I’ve seen a few of those ‘Axe bow’ videos, the difference in ‘sea keeping’ is staggering.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — May 6, 2013 @ 6:06 am

  8. Remebering you puting LED lamps in and recommending the metal heat sink version, you might want to mention this to your electrical Elfensafety!

    Comment by Ron — May 3, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

    • Probably had a fake CE mark on it too Ron.

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — May 6, 2013 @ 6:04 am

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