Tuesday, 17 March 2009

An Anniversary. By Stanislav

Lifeboat in mountainous seas off Thurso. Photograph courtesy of the R.N.L.I.(Royal National Lifeboat Institution)

By Ronald Neil, formerly of the BBC (extract)
The Pentland Firth is one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world. Powerful currents and tidal races compete with each other and when whipped up by a driving gale the seas can be awesome.

And on the winter’s night of March 18 1969 the eight-mile wide strait separating the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland was at her most treacherous. A Force 9 south-east gale had been blowing for three days. It was snowing. Visibility was virtually zero, and the tidal races were running at 10 knots against the wind.
It was into this fearsome mountain of sea that coxswain Dan Kirkpatrick launched the Longhope lifeboat TGB in a bid to rescue the crew of a stricken tanker, Irene.
The situation was a deadly one. An immense flood tide running like a millrace south-east out of the firth and meeting the seas pouring down the east side of South Ronaldsay … both of them opposed by the south-east gale.

One Orcadian commented afterwards: “It was the way into Death’s dark vale if ever there was one.”

In trying to convey to viewers in the comfort of their own homes some sense of the scale of the storm that night, I said in a report for BBC News that the waves the Longhope crew faced were the height of four double-decker buses, stacked one on top of the other… upwards of 60 feet.

In fact the freak wave that took her was said to be all of 100 feet high. It is reckoned that the lifeboat climbed this mountainous lump of sea, and then toppled over backwards.

Wick radio reports only silence

By 10 o’clock that night Wick radio could get no reply from the TGB … there was only silence.

When I arrived on the Orkney island of Hoy with a news camera team the next day, the community was already fearing the worst.

The RNLI honorary secretary on the island, Jackie Groat, agreed to an interview. His comment at that time was remarkable. If the lifeboat was lost then they must have a new one, for it had been their task down the generations to police the seas of the Pentland Firth.

We flew back with the film to Aberdeen for insert into the national news. As the plane bucked and slewed a few hundred feet above the Pentland Firth we spotted below us the most awful sight of all… the TGB floating upside down, being tossed and thrown by the unforgiving seas.

That was the image that 10 million BBC viewers saw on their teatime news that night.
Behind us we had left an island community devastated by the disaster. All but one of the lifeboat crew were found in the upturned hull. Coxswain Dan Kirkpatrick was still at the helm. Not one had survived.

The community was to learn that the crew of the Irene had not required the lifeboat after all. They had all been safely taken ashore by breeches buoy.
Amazingly, when the RNLI inspector called at each home to break the terrible news, one of the first questions he was asked by every one of the Longhope widows was about the crew of the Irene. Without exception they all said their husbands would have been so pleased to have known they were safe…….

No official ceremonies of remembrance were held today, with victims' families preferring to mark the occasion privately.
Tony Trickett, operations manager of the Longhope lifeboat, said islanders would remember the tragedy in their "own quiet way".
He said: "There are still some widows on the island and they decided they would rather not do anything specific today - they live within sight of the lifeboat shed and see it every day.
"We will commemorate the tragedy in our own quiet way as we have done for many years.
"We in the lifeboat service will always remember this and my own flag is flying at half mast today.
"It was the most dreadful of tragedies and is still very much in people's minds.
"But support for the lifeboat remains - we are a lifeboat community and have been since 1874."


lilith said...

FFOut. You have to have a relationship with fear to do that work.

(But have they announced their departure to the border police, stating where exactly they are going on leaving our shores and how long they will be away for?)

Sir Henry Morgan said...

RNLI - a genuine charity. And the only one I've ever given any money to in the whole of my life.

But then, with a name like mine ...

Chris said...

The RNLI: princes among men, every one.

Pavlov's Cat said...

As said previously.

I am not a sailor, I do not often go on the sea.

But, I always put money in the lifeboat tin , I make the little life boat go down the ramp in the box on the pub counter.

A true charity,men and women who put themselves in harms way for nothing other than their fellow man.

microdave said...

I'm not a mariner either, but I have supported the RNLI for many years. Reading that makes our daily rants about the state of this country seem insignificant, in comparison.

DaveA said...

It is not often you get the full monty from me language wise.

For fucks sake I am not worthy.

May God bless.



DaveA said...

Just had an idea. Devil's Kitchen does quite rightly does www.fakecharities.org rather than being nihilistic can we/you do www.realcharities.org?

Spartan said...

My family, relatives and friends have always supported RNLI. This comes from utter respect of the job they do through choice alone.

I have an understanding of the sea and the terrible toll 'The Grey Widowmaker' can extract.

l remember the loss of the T.G.B. It came only a year after the loss of 3 of our deep sea trawlers along with 58 men (only 1 survivor). Our community, like the Longhope community, never forget our lost seamen for they are not just names ... they were part of our lives.

God bless them all.

Unsworth said...

I remember.

These men - and their successors - are splendid examples to us all.

Rightwinggit said...

"Coxswain Dan Kirkpatrick was still at the helm."

I shall remember.

idle said...

Haunting post. Brave Orcadians. Good charity.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think we don't need a realcharities.org because even in your heart of hearts, you know what real charity is. They're the ones where you see the minibuses and the logo's on them, but didn't see the posters asking for funds. You saw the report in the local paper, but didn't see the TV advert. Because they'd rather spend the money on doing what they were registered for.

View from the Solent said...

When younger, I had the honour of serving with a diddy inshore RNLI Atlantic 21. Those were men. Their families understood. They humble me.

Pogo said...

I am a sailor. The RNLI is the only national charity that I support, not just from self-interest, but from total and utter respect for those brave and selfless men who put the lives of others before their own - and one of whom is my brother.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I just feel I have to add, in this theme of self sacrifice

That yesterday the 16th March according to Scott's diary ( although some say it was the 17th) in 1912 was the day that Oates thinking he was keeping his comrades from achieving safety, stepped out into the storm saying "I am just going outside and may be some time." to his death. Scott wrote in his diary, "We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman".

Whilst his sacrifice as we know now was in vain, who cannot be moved apart from politicians by the words of RF Scott in his final entry.

“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.”

He and Oates would have been appalled by what their country has become.

cesars wife said...

a lot of the small communites in which life boats are based , are really proud of them , useually because they are there for the local fishermen.

useual good bunch doing a decent thing , without needing , a goverment to tell them.

hubble trouble boil and credit bubble , myners appears to have not made things public , says he was "led" funny i thought he was a city banker himself , suggest his previous employers checks out his CV he clearly isnt a clever as he said , if this one got past him .

oh well , keel haul em i say, keel haul em

it's either banned or compulsory said...

R.N.L.I., one of just two preferred charities.
I was in a taxi some years ago when the driver got a "shout", he explained the situation to me as he drove to the nearby lifeboat station. Meanwhile he arranged over his radio for a colleague to collect me and continue to my destination, I had to leave his fare on the front seat ( plus a donation, natch).

Labour violates human rights law said...

Article 8
1. Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
2. States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
Any form of forced assimilation or integration;
Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
UN Declaration - on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Let the trials begine

Menelaus said...

As for the RNLI - a fantastic charity, but whilst lauding the RNLI we should also remember the other charities that are populated entirely by volunteers.

Mountain Rescue is a big one for me and one that receives a sizeable donation from me occasionally (as and when I can afford it). This is out of both blatant self-interest(!) and also deep, deep admiration of the work done.

Anonymous said...

As mentioned above, the RNLI is made up of men far braver than I....

However my question is: why the hell does the RNLI have to be a charity? With a government which hoses away money at an ever increasing rate, this is one of the areas they should be paying for....ditto air ambulances

Pogo said...

Why does the RNLI have to be a charity? maybe to stop nonsenses like this one... http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4543284.ece

"Health and Safety" wouldn't let lifeboats be launched in 95% of cases if it was a public body.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:35

Your sentiments are understandable, but remember the RNLI, Mountain Rescue et al are only effective because they are seperate from government. Can you imagine what would happen the moment that first EU/Govt million turned up. Cue TV ads telling us we're all cunts for eating fish/ campaigns blaming climatechange for climbing accidents.
The continued existence and effectiveness of these organisations is IMHO evidence that in the absence of Govt and taxation the people will gladly fund and staff all essential services in this country.

Old Holborn said...


It works because it has nothing to do with the State.

Whilst our Scottish cousins love to throw bricks at the ambulance, fire and police service, not one of them would dare even smirk at a lifeboat crew.

Menelaus said...

OH - not just we Scots throwing bricks at the ambies, it's Scousers and Geordies and associated ne'er do wells doing so too!

Anonymous said...

Now THAT is a charity.

The quangocracy are not even fit to eat the shit of the RNLI guys.

Hats off, all.

Let us honour them for ever.

microdave said...

"However my question is: why the hell does the RNLI have to be a charity? With a government which hoses away money at an ever increasing rate, this is one of the areas they should be paying for....ditto air ambulances"

For exactly the same reasons given above the Air Ambulances prefer to remain independent, so they can decide their own priorities, and not be mucked about by government.

Golliwogg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

O/T (technical question)
Old H please explain why everytime I open your blog it apparently automatically attaches all your current posts to my bookmark list (in Mozilla). I haven't asked it to do so and I already have one OH bookmark, which sufficies! If you have some clever coding which does this please turn it off, more libertine than libertarian in not giving me a choice!
many thanks
....otherwise much enjoy the blog.

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