The Cruel Sea

It was a familiar dreich Ayrshire Tuesday night on the 11th of December 1883, but at sea it was a different world! The night was dark as coal with no saviour lights visible through the rolling haar and tensions were high on the Valkyrien. The ship was a 381-ton Danish barque with all sails up and all 10 of the crew wishing for the storm to ease and a guiding light to pierce the wind, rain and clouds. The journey from Newport, Virginia bound for Glasgow had been uneventful so far, other than the usual crew issues. Peter Maersk Moller, the ships master, had faith in his ship and almost as much in his crew. The walnut timber stowed in her hold complained at every wave and growled as it broke free belowdecks. Then that noise. The tearing of sails and then quickly followed by that awful crashing of wood on stone and the human screams of terror. Only 800 metres from the safety of Dunure harbour, she had struck rocks.   

The cry went up and the small fishing village arose from its slumber. The cries for help carried across the turbulent seas. The rag tag bunch of clinker-built boats were quickly in the water. Not those modern wide beam Fifies favoured by their East coast compatriots but more than seaworthy for the Clyde. Too blowy for sail and not enough time. Lives were at peril. ”Out with the oars boys” Buckie Munro cries into the wind and to any of the other thirty brave Dunure fishermen within earshot. Oars in the water, row for their lives. Buckie and all race into the crashing waves, over the cruel sea and towards the Valkyrien before she leads the crew to Odin’s hall alongside previous Viking warriors.

The sight of the small boats leaping across waves, appearing and disappearing through the haar towards the Valkyrien looked to Moller and his crew like ghostly boatmen coming to collect their souls. Time stood still for those on the ship but not for those on the oars pulling, falling, crashing and screaming towards the wreck. No dignified exit from the doomed ship with people leaping from deck to boats. Back to shore with the wind pushing them in and the waves pulling them out. Safely ashore the men wept and the villages looked on at the pitiful saved souls. The cries intensified across the crew on discovery that not all were saved, with one crewmember not amongst the sorry gaggle of weeping grateful crew.

The sky exploded and even the beleaguered crew looked back to the furious sea. Nobody believed their eyes seeing the flare explode above the small modern tug as it straddled the rocks close by the Valkyrien. Responding to the distressed Valkyrien, the brave crew of the paddle tug, Iron Duke, had suffered engine failure and followed the same fate as the Valkyrien. Looking to each other, the hardy heroes of Dunure quietly cast knowing glances and ignoring pleading family looks, turned towards their boats once more.  Repeating heroic feats of strength and bravery returning to the cruel sea and beyond comprehension. McBride, the skipper of the tug, and his four crew thanked god they did. This time however, whilst returning to land, all were sombre with the knowledge that this time, one crew member, skipper McBride, paid the fateful price for the rescue. 

Many brave deeds occurred that night, but no books were written, medals awarded or movies made. The fishermen rose the next morning to go about their daily work and life went on for all.

Fresh from their recent victorious battle at Largs, the intrepid warriors of Troon headed for the southern port of Dunure. Battle readied and blooded from their last conflict, the crew were eager for more.  Leaping through history, the crew and regatta were rowing in honour of brave William ‘Buckie’ Munro and his fellow hardy souls on the oars.

Competing in the Dunure Regatta were:

The regatta is a relatively new one and was to be in two parts. The main race was to be a  gruelling 4nm timed course around a series of marker buoys. The second part of the regatta comprised a number of 500m sprint races with crews mixed across the competing clubs. The four clubs participating in the regatta were Troon, Prestwick, Carrick and Dunure.

The main race start line was to be at the Lighthouse where crews would head out towards a large triangular course buoy at a distance of 1.25nm. After a 180 degree starboard turn crews would row a further 1.5nm to the second buoy. Another 0.75nm to the third buoy before a second 180 degree turn racing the last 0.5nm to the harbour and lighthouse finish line.

As we all know, plans are one thing and reality on the water another. The day started with an ominous haar rolling in from a calmer sea than that night in 1883. The clock was ticking, waiting for an anticipated ease in the weather and sufficient tide to cover those treacherous rocks. At last the regatta was back on! A new course set. Racing 500m out the harbour to a new buoy and a quick starboard turn back to the harbour for a ‘Port Seton’ turn before returning to the harbour and the finish line. The course was approximately 1600m, shorter than planned, but enough to make life interesting.

Tension was high and nerves were on edge. The haar only served to accentuate matters. It was time for Troon to go. Christine C in cox with Kevin in stroke. Adrian taking 3, Lorna in 2 and Michael B in bow. Off to a good start the guys were off with Lizzie cheering them on from the harbour.

Leaving the harbour was like entering an unearthly world. “It was so spooky and when the harbour completely disappeared it was a bit eerie too” felt Lorna. The safety boat, whenever visible, was a welcome sight. After finding the buoy through the cloak of cloud and rounding it, the guys headed for home. Well that was the plan but the sea spirits had other plans. The brave crew rowed over the carcass of the Valkyrien and the Iron Duke searching for home. “Troon. Rocks. You are heading for the rocks” came the cry from the radio and through the haar. The cruel sea had tempted Marr Voyager and wanted her to join her fateful fleet. Quick thinking from the ‘heroic cox’ saved the day and after assertively encouraging the safety boat for a restart, the crew headed back to harbour to repeat the row like Buckie 141 years earlier. For a second time, the crew departed the harbour into the haar, into the cloak of invisibility and ever so more careful of those rocks and finding their way home.

Best part of the day hands down was Christine coxing in very tricky visibility” said Michael. This was echoed by every one of the Troon team. Kevin emphasised that “Christine was the star of the day and “robustly explaining to the safety boat that it’s moving position was not helpful and Troon would therefore be starting again was brilliant.”  The guys also had their secret weapon with Lizzie on the harbour wall yelling for her life and guiding them home like ‘the Troon Coo’. (This reference can be explained by talking to one of our senior Troon resident members)

Crossing the finish line in a time of 10 minutes and 20 seconds it was a good time for a second run. With Lizzie jumping up and down on the harbour wall, the crew looked up for the ‘subtle thumbs up or thumbs down’. The thumb was up and Troon had secured victory. “It was also sweet when you see the results written on the board” said Christine, the hero of the day.

Buckie Munro would have been proud of their efforts and Marr Voyager would be safely returning to her home port.

The next races were the 500m sprints and comprised mixed crews from each of the clubs. Christine coxed Marr Voyager with Lizzie in stroke and joined by three guests from the other clubs. Michael, Lorna and Kevin all joined other boats.

Having Lizzie in stroke for the mixed race was a real benefit to us” said Christine and these two were an unbeatable combination finishing ten seconds ahead of their nearest rivals. Another Troon victory.

With eight points in total, Troon secured the regatta victory with Prestwick two points behind in second place.

The regatta was well run and Dunure Coastal Rowing club did a splendid job in dealing with the changing conditions. Everyone was made very welcome and every crew member waxed lyrical about the incredible barbeque afterwards. Sea Bass, Lobster and Languistines were in abundance and nearly as exciting as the sea monster Lizzie saw as the Dunure boat came back into the harbour (a story for the next night out). For Adrian the whole day was special as Dunure holds a special place in his heart as he met his wife Morag there and spent many wonderful days there with her.

Buckie, his neighbours and the crews of the fallen vessels would undoubtedly have approved of the courage, tenacity and passion that everyone showed in their village.

Forthcoming Regattas

The next regatta is on the 1st June at Prestwick. Another competition nearby so why not come along and join in the fun.

[Whilst a degree of poetic licence has been adopted in the historical elements of the Dunure adventure, the majority is based on known facts. Buckie’s cottage still stands in the village and he is remembered to this day. I think its clear from his picture above that if he had been around today, the results of the regatta may have differed. I suspect also that he would have approved of our pastime and its traditions, community and skills. All details on the regatta are true-ish]

Thanks to the crew for their photos and recollections of the regatta.

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