The recent storms reminded me of one of my early experiences here in Arbroath, so I decided to share it today…..
The storm had been brewing all day and as night fell it raged unforgivingly.
Experienced locals had retreated into their houses, battened down the hatches and were having an early Tea before watching something on the telly. I’d watched the sea from the safety of my study window; seen the mountainous waves advancing; surveyed the awesome avalanches of water breaking over the harbour walls; observed the skies deepening with a crimson fury as the sun descended. As darkness arrived and the wind howled even louder I could resist no longer. It was time to experience this storm at first hand. Pulling on my waterproofs I headed into the black wild night.
I was sucked out of my blue front door by the ferocity of the gales on the Shore Head. I battled along the cobbled quayside, keeping an eye out for loose flapping ropes, and avoiding the lobster pots piled high for the winter along the edge of the quay. The yachts, tethered to floating marina berths, bucked and kicked like young colts, the percussive clink of their masts barely audible above the shrieks of the wind. I turned sharply at the end of the quay. The lights of the Harbour Design Shop were still on. I love this place and enjoy browsing and getting my fix of designer goodies. Tonight it was a port in a storm. I fought my way in and like a bedraggled water spaniel, shook the rain off.
A young man, perched on a tall ladder in the corner, was stretching forward and hanging trinkets on a display. As I stepped forward to admire his handiwork a deafening alarm went off in his pocket. Simultaneously a klaxon almost ripped my eardrums apart. I started back with shock as the young man leapt from his ladder, threw open the door and raced into the howling gale leaving me bemused.
Curiosity overcame me and I moved towards the open door. There was no sign of the man. Outside, the sky was pitch black. The Klaxon continued to shriek and strobes of light were sweeping over the quayside. As a townie my first reaction was that it was a bomb scare. The beams of light were heading towards the harbour; cars, vans and four wheel drives all screeched into the car park, men leaped out and raced towards the noise of the Klaxon – the Lifeboat Station!
Most men wore jeans or work clothes. Many, like the young man on the ladder, were without a coat. They had stopped whatever they were doing and come from all over the town. This was an emergency call out. A vessel was in distress at sea.
Lights were going on in the lifeboat station; men were grabbing their jackets, boots and helmets. In the darkness the sea continued to crash onto the harbour wall. Quietly and efficiently the lifeboat house door slid open and the lifeboat was launched down the slipway into a hostile sea.
I recognised some of the men. I’d seen them around the town with their wives and children; some of them had businesses – the painter and decorator, the fish seller, the local builder, and the young guys who enjoy the music in the pub next door.
As I watched the boat head into the darkness my heart was in my mouth. It was terrifying to stand on the quayside and see the lifeboat disappear from sight as huge waves crashed over it. What it was like for the men on the lifeboat didn’t bear thinking about.
I retreated to the safety of my cottage, which had been the home of fisher folk over the last two hundred years. That night I identified closely with the fear and worry families must have gone through on similar wild nights when their husbands, fathers and sons were caught in storms at sea. My maternal grandfather was an Icelandic trawler skipper and I suddenly felt a deep affinity with this powerful sea.
The lifeboat returned safely later having successfully fulfilled its rescue mission. It hasn’t always been so. Many families still have the memory of October 1953 when the Robert Lindsay lifeboat overturned on its way back into the harbour and six of the crewmen were drowned. The sea is powerful and unforgiving at times. The courage of the lifeboat crew is awesome.
As I sat by my fire I felt a pride in the town where I’ve begun to put down roots. I live in a town with individuals who care about others and have such selfless and generous values. For them it was just another day.
and ….. in calmer seas the Arbroath lifeboat comes home.