Fearn Balintore and Hilton Community Collage

Chapter 9 - Disasters at Sea

Those who went down to the sea in ships, be it cobles, yawls, motor boats or schooners, did so at great risk, especially in wintertime, and in common with other fishing communities the Seaboard villages had their share of accidents at sea.

The King's Sons reef is submerged at high tide and this, about 1790, caused the loss of a ship from the Orkneys bound for Cromarty, 'which in a fair evening, standing in too near the shore, struck upon the rock and went down directly; the crew having only time to save themselves by the boat. The top of the mast was seen for several weeks above water.'  [6a]

This reef claimed a further victim about 1896 or 1897, an Inverness vessel, Leoramundo. In Balintore cemetery there is the gravestone of Samuel Woodford and his son, Henry James, lost on the reef in January 1897. Their ship is not named and they may possibly have been from Leoramundo.

The Linnet was wrecked at Cinn a Bhairt below Cadboll in 1843.  She was a schooner of 150-160 tons which had been driven ashore on the Seaboard. There are slightly different versions of what happened after that. One is that a local crew was engaged to take her to Spey Bay for repairs; the other that a local crew was put on board to do
salvage work which so lightened her that she took to sea in a gale. In any event, she was dashed on to the rocks below Cadboll in the storm and all the men were lost. This disaster made a tremendous impact on the villages and events were referred to as 'before the Linnet or 'after the Linnet.' A Gaelic poem written at the time by Artar Ross, running to fifty-six verses, still circulates and is sung.  A translation of verses 4 and 5 runs:
 
The big ship that was sailing the oceans,
She came in one gloomy night,
And she was lost in the darkness,
And the storm threw her into Cadboll.
She remained there for a time without moving,
As a broken vessel amongst the hard rocks,
And some tried to lift her up,
And tried to lift her up
And tried her on the ocean, and to work with her.
An interesting little story has come to light in recent years linked to the first wreck of the 'Linnet Mhor'. It seems when the ship was driven on the Cadboll rocks some timely help from Hilton, the nearest village to Cadboll. They rescued the crew and did their best
to effect temporary repairs before sailing her to the nearest port which could have been Balintore or across the Moray Firth to Spey Bay.

Unfortunately, lacking both anchor and rudder the ship was doomed when a strong wind arose, and she foundered with all hands.  One of the fishermen from Hilton who went to the help of Linnet was a Finlay Skinner. He was the means of saving the captain's life
and to show his gratitude he gave Finlay Skinner a gold ring, inscribed S.S.  This ring has been handed down through the generations of the Skinner family, and at the present time is the possession of Mrs Beth Skinner, Balintore, the fifth generation. The owner must be a Skinner and if female, named Sophie.

In 1912 the Ella Brewster, a yawl, was so heavily laden with mussels gathered at Fort George that she foundered on the way home. All the crew were drowned save one, Alex. Mackay.

In stormy weather Balintore Harbour can be very difficult to negotiate and in 1928 a life was lost just outside the jetty. The motor boat Pearl was used for towing salmon cobles and on this occasion Pearl and a coble she was towing were waiting outside the harbour for the tide to fill in order to come in. While waiting a sudden storm arose and pulled the anchor so that they were obliged to tie the boat to the head pole of a nearby net. The storm grew so bad that John Paterson got the crew of the motor-boat 'Thrive' to go to the rescue of Pearl, he himself going with them. They circled Pearl, and threw a
rope which missed first time, but succeeded at the second cast. They towed Pearl and the coble and were just getting into the safety of the harbour when the tragedy happened. It seems the big waves were coming in threes and as Thrive came in on the third wave the rope snapped on an unexpected fourth wave with the result that Pearl was driven straight on to the rocks at the side of the jetty and wrecked.  One of the two men on board, David Skinner, realizing the imminent danger, leaped into the sea and managed to get to the shore. The other, Tommy Vass, was trapped and drowned.
The skipper, Hugh Mackay, was presented with a Royal National Lifeboat Institution medal in London by the Prince of Wales, and the rest of the crew, John Paterson, Andrew Sutherland, William Ross and recognition of . . . courageous conduct in putting off from Hilton, Ross-shire, in a motor boat with four other men and at great personal
risk rescuing one of the two occupants of the motor fishing boat 'Pearl' which was wrecked in a whole S. gale with heavy sea at Balintore on 20th March 1928.' They also received certificates from the Carnegie Heroic Trust Fund in recognition of heroic endeavour to save human life.
                            
With many men joining the Royal and Merchant navies it was fairly common for families in the villages to lose their loved ones far from home. One family in Hilton lost four generations of eldest sons away at sea, but other losses occurred very close by. Two young fishermen who fell victims to a hungry cruel sea were Finlay Vass and Robbie Cha (Roberston and Charles Wood); the former was drowned outside the harbour and the latter was dragged into the sea by the anchor of a coble.

These are only a few examples of the sea's toll from the Seaboard villages; it must have claimed many more victims.

Continue in Chapter 10
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