Wrecks of the Pentland Firth

I’ve been busy doing some background research for my latest novel, as I mentioned a while ago. One of Thomas Radwinter’s ancestors lost his brother at sea… all fiction of course, but I wanted to make the detail realistic so I trawled the net (little joke) and came across a fascinating site with stupendous research shared about ships wrecked of the Pentland Firth, right up in the north-east off the coast of Scotland. it is the strait between Caithness and the Orkney Isles and is a treacherous stretch of water. However treacherous it may be, boats and ships have travelled its dangerous waters since people first took to the seas.

The name, Pentland,  is thought to be Norse, and the waters are among the most dangerous in the world with fast, strong tides; one of the features is the tidal races, including the Merry Men of Mey,the Swelkie, the Duncansby Race and the Liddel Eddy. It’s not surprising then that many, many ships have been lost and sadly many lives… including the fictional Arthur Radwinter.

Mr D.G.Sinclair and Mr W. Bremner have compiled a list of wrecks and rescues going back to the 1830’s; although in an other part of my Radwinter stories I go back as far as that in Thomas’s genealogical researches, when he was looking for his great-great-uncle, Arthur, he only had to go back to the 1950’s. Between the years of 1934 and 1981 there were 236 wrecks according to Sinclair and Bremner, and it makes interesting but sad reading. Heroic rescues against the odds, lives lost, but lives also saved. Ships, boats, trawlers, liners, warships… with all sorts of names, from all across Europe, from Iceland to Greece.

You can find the page Thomas was looking at here:


… but you won’t find his uncle’s ship, the Brora Lass,  which like the man himself is fictitious:

So Arthur… born  in 1913… He didn’t marry as far as I could find out, and he died in Orkney… Orkney? Good heavens what on earth was he doing up there? With a bit of fiddling about I found out… he had been living in Orkney and was a fisherman… 1952 must have been a rough year for the fisherfolk and seamen of the Pentland Firth; I found records of several shipwrecks in that year.

The St Ronan, a trawler from Hull ran aground and was wrecked but fortunately her crew were rescued. The Strathelliot, a trawler from Aberdeen, also ran aground and again all the crew survived. The Guilder Rose was a motor vessel (does that mean it was a private yacht or something?) which got into difficulties and was rescued by an Icelandic trawler called The Selfoss. At the other end of the scale, a massive Norwegian factory ship… 23,00 tons, which sounds absolutely huge, crashed into a Swedish liner which was carrying competitors from the Helsinki Olympic Games in Finland. The Thorshovdi, the factory ship was undamaged, but poor old Anna Salen, the liner, caught fire and had to be towed to Scarpa Flow… I must find a map and see where these places are.

The Thor was a German trawler and it sunk and oh dear, sixteen men died, and one man was rescued from a lifeboat with a dead shipmate in the boat with him… oh dear…

… And also in 1952, The Brora Lass, another Aberdeen trawler came to grief on the Spur of Murkle with the loss of one man… Arthur Radwinter…



The third part of Thomas’s story will be published at Easter.

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