Tuesday, 24 July 2012


The Pentland Firth is the name of the body of water along the north coast of Scotland.  The Orkney Isles are the islands to the north as indicated in the red circle below.

The waters of the Atlantic and the North Sea sweep through this channel and in and around the Orkney Isles themselves.  There are hazardous rocks, skerries and strong tidal streams. Ships in trouble and lifeboat call-outs are part of life in these waters.

At various locations in the Orkneys, like other places in the UK, there are lifeboat stations which are  manned by volunteers.  Everyone in Britain, itself an island, is familiar with the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a charity established in 1824) which has lifeboats all around the coast.  Those of us who sail, use ferries, go swimming or wind-surfing off the beaches know all about lifeboats! (Yes, we had one come out for us once.  Someone on shore thought we were in trouble .... we weren't but that is another story!)

Just near where we were staying at Cantickhead Lighthouse on Hoy was the graveyard with the graves of the men who drowned in March 1969: the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster. Longhope is the small village (red arrow above). The black arrow shows this Kirkhope cemetery, South Walls.

The lifeboat TGB capsized on 17 March, 1969, after setting out from Hoy in Orkney, to help a Russian cargo ship which was in distress off the shore of South Ronaldsay.  The next day, the lifeboat was found floating upside down in the Pentland Firth.  No-one survived. 

The memorial plaque showing the loss of all 8 crew from this small community including two instances of a father and two sons.  Photo: John

Jennifer Wrigley (fiddle),  and her sister Hazel on the piano, from Orkney, tells the story in this 6 minute video.  She has a delightful Orkney accent but even better ...  in the second half she plays The Heroes of Longhope, a beautiful slow air written by the late Ronnie Aim from Orkney ... and one that works really well with a fiddle orchestra (good harmony).

 This fine bronze statue by Ian Scott, 1970 dominates the graveyard.

It was very sad reading the gravestones.  Now, 43 years on, we see a widow of one of these men now lies in the graveyard.

The important outcome of this disaster was that it led to lifeboats being designed to be self-righting.

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