Title picture: Dalmore Beach, 23 March 2011.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Transocean Winner

Although I dub the hapless oilrig "Transocean Loser", it's not her fault that she ended up as an unwanted and unusual piece of flotsam, washed up at Dalmore. Two public meetings have come and gone, the late August springtide will be ebbing in the next few days, and it will be at least another fortnight before the Transocean Winner can be towed away from the West Side of Lewis.

I ask the question why the tow got underway, in spite of a gale in its path being forecast five days before it occurred.

I concur with Capt Maurice Macleod who asked Transocean why their rig wasn't ballasted down in the face of a rising gale.

I ask the Maritime and Coastguard Agency MCA whether they were monitoring this tow, and were advising the skipper of the tug Alp Forward to divert, either down the Minch or further out into the Atlantic.

I am displeased with the spineless attitude of our local authority who will not express an opinion on the necessity of an emergency towing vessel until the investigation by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch is complete. This could take at least a year. I call it spineless, because the SNP group on said council have set up a petition to return an ETV to Stornoway, which flies in the face of the procrastination as endorsed by the full council.

I fully support the council, coastguard and police in enforcing the road closure of the Dalmore village road, between the A858 Carloway to Shawbost road, and the cemetery; a temporary opening on Monday 9th resulted in traffic chaos which took a long time to clear. I support the same agencies in warning people to stay away from the coastline between Gearrannan and Dalbeg (including Dalmore); this coastline is fronted by tall cliffs topped by grassy slopes which are slippery, certainly in the wet conditions that prevailed in the days following the grounding of the Transocean Winner.

I am not pleased with the attitude from Transocean and certain local agencies who ignored an invitation from the local community association to give information last Monday (15th), yet organised their own meeting three days later in the same village hall, something that smacks of a slap across the face. Transocean have apologised, which is the right and proper thing to do.

I anxiously await further developments, but hope that compensation claims from those adversely affected by this grounding (like the surfing company and local fishermen) will be speedily and favourably assessed.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016


The picture currently fronting this blog shows Dalmore beach, without an oilrig, as it was on 23 March 2011. The Transocean Winner ran aground at Dalmore in the early hours of 8 August 2016 and is likely to stay there for several weeks before it can be removed. The front picture will remain up until the rig is gone.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Turk and the Czar

You'll remember that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a military coup recently. Who was the first to ring him up afterwards? Vladimir Putin.

Turkey is a member of NATO. Its president, the aforementioned Mr Erdoğan, is looked at by the Americans askance. However, he is a key ally in the fight against Da'esh (you know, so-called Islamic State) and buffer against the horrors that lurk within the Middle East. Really and truly, the Americans should have been in there first to congratulate Erdoğan on his survival.

Same applies to the Europeans. For decades, they have rejected Turkish aspirations to the join the European Union. However, they needed Turkey to stop the flow of migrants and refugees and should have been a little more amicable to their eastern neighbour when he emerged from dire straits.

At the end of the day, Erdoğan is not a pleasant fellow, from our perspective. He is an autocrat, suppresses dissent and has for years sought to draw power onto himself. From his perspective however, he feels let down by his friends. The Europeans have been ungrateful for his acquiescence in the matter of the refugees, and so have the Americans. Putin spotted and immediately seized the opportunity, realising that Erdoğan was not flavour of the month in either Brussels or Washington. And he would love nothing less than to take Turkey out of European (and better still NATO) spheres and into his.

Erdoğan and Putin had a major falling out last year, when the Turks downed a Russian fighter jet over the Syrian border. But now it's kiss and make up time.

I don't think either Brussels or Washington have been canny in their dealings with the Turkish president. Whilst disliking him, and I totally understand why, they could have exercised some political expediency to keep him on board.

I do not expect Erdoğan to fall for Putin any time soon. But this is a strong warning, an amber signal, to the Americans and Europeans.


Transocean Winner

That is the name of the semi-submersible oil rig that became stuck fast on rocks off Dalmore beach in the early hours of Monday 8 August. The structure, which weighs in at 17,000 tonnes, was being towed from Norway to Malta, and on to Turkey, broke loose from its tug and was blown ashore in galeforce winds. The tug, Alp Forward, had been experiencing problems controlling its tow for some hours beforehand.

The rig has nearly 300 tons of diesel on board, but no crew. Nobody got hurt. A debate has flared up about having an emergency tug stationed at Stornoway (ours got withdrawn 4 years ago). Meanwhile, the Coastguard have cordoned off Dalmore - its single-track access road is closed to all traffic, and appealed Nosey Nick (Johnny Public in other words) not to venture out onto the cliffs to get a sneaky peek.

The plan is to haul the Transocean Loser (as I call it) off the rocks at the next springtide, which will occur late next week. Let's hope it's a success. I hate to see lovely Dalmore defiled like this.

Image courtesy BBC

Thursday, 4 August 2016


It's August, so we can expect a gale. Force 9 over the Uists, force 8 here in Lewis. Big deal. There have been bitter complaints about this summer's weather, but when I look back over my notes from years gone by, I don't see the problem. This is the Outer Hebrides, latitude 58 north, and wind, rain and chilly weather are part of the deal. Today's temperature is 18C / 64F, which is perfectly acceptable. It is a sunny and breezy day, one to be treasured. The last nice day was July 19th, so we may yet get another one before August is out.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Metagama in reverse

In May 1919, a young woman called Mary got married in Glasgow to an American by the name of George. He had served in the Canadian Forces during the war, and was a chauffeur. Four months later, they went to Canada, to cross the border into George's home city of Detroit. For a while, they lived there, but it would appear that Mary had soon contracted tuberculosis - if not already back in Glasgow.

In June 1922, Mary filled out a passport application to return to Scotland to visit her parents. The application stated that she was to return within two years. As was the case in those years, her husband was also named, although he did not travel with her. Mary was booked on SS Metagama to sail from Montreal to Scotland. In May 1923, Mary sadly died in the home where she was born some 27 years before, of tuberculosis. Seven months later, her sibling Margaret also died of TB. The story goes that they shared the same room for a year, slowly succumbing to their illness.

I have seen a portrait photograph of Mary, looking gaunt, ill and obviously suffering from consumption. I have looked into George's life after his wife departed for Scotland, and it does not present a handsome picture. At all.

You may ask the relevance of this story in relation to the SS Metagama.
Well, in April 1923, 260 islanders departed Stornoway for a new life in America on board this ship. Circumstances in the island were depressed, following the heavy loss of life in the sinking of HMY Iolaire (where over 180 islanders drowned upon returning from the war) and the lack of employment. They were so excited at the prospect of a new life out west.

A year before, a young woman had embarked SS Metagama to return from her new life in America, which, by all appearances, had not been what she might have expected it to be. She came to die in the bosom of her family.

Thursday, 21 July 2016


Things are beginning to look very frightening in Europe all of a sudden. 

France's president Francois Hollande wants quick Brexit talks now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, meaning there are divisions in Europe. Divisions and instability, caused by the massive influx of migrants from the east and south, leaving right-wing political parties in charge across the continent. Scotland, if it is granted another independence referendum, will break away from the UK.

Following the battering that American forces have experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 15 years, there is little appetite in the States to get embroiled in any further foreign adventures. The anti-Islam and anti-Latino hype will reach a crescendo if Trump gets elected, and the USA will turn its back on the rest of the world. Forgetting that the world will come to it, even if it doesn't want it anymore. If Trump gets in, he'll let the rest of the NATO alliance go to hell. That will have consequences in Europe, which relies on the American forces to really keep them safe.

Putin, already champing at the bit, will have no hesitation to reclaim the Baltic States, and experience little if any resistance in doing so. Neither will there be any resistance to his plans to expand westwards into Europe, if he so wishes. 

Donald Trump is an idiot, but a dangerous one. He is a salesman, not a politician. He has picked up a few ideas that he finds to appeal to people, and is very good at flogging them. Appealing to base sentiments of fear of strangers, anger against one particular group (Muslims), who are being held up as being to blame for all ills - where did we hear this all before? Cast your mind back 80 years, and you have your answer.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Lews Castle

Last Thursday, 14 July, I visited Lews Castle which has been opened to the public for the first time in many years. Since the 1980s, the Castle had lain empty and unused, and was slowly falling into disrepair. A few years ago, a £19 million refurbishment programme was started and after many delays, the Castle was opened today.

Lews Castle, the country mansion of erstwhile landowner Sir James Matheson, was built in the middle of the 19th century for £60,000, which equates to £7 million in today's money. His fortunes came from the opium trade with China, something that even sparked a war between China and Great Britain. Sir James is credited with spending £329,000 (about £40m now) on the island of Lewis, with a road building programme and 'improvement'. Sir James's memory is tarnished by assisting 1,771 islanders to leave for Canada, America and Australia. They were removed as unable to pay the rent. The 1851 diary of his chamberlain (we'd call John Munro Mackenzie a manager today) shows cold contempt for the crofters, cottars and others who were unable to keep up payments. Rather than improve their lot on the ground, they had to emigrate. And when things did not go according to plan, it all became rather a nuisance.

Lews Castle today is resplendent in its former glory, but the contrast with the lot of Matheson's tenantry in the 19th century is excruciatingly jarring. One islander whom I accompanied on this visit was moved to tears. The rooms I visited were mostly completely empty, with the exception of the Ball Room, where dining tables were set out. The Castle also has a cafe and a small shop.

In a separate, newly built wing, the Western Isles Museum is housed. It has most of the exhibits on show that were featured in the old premises on Francis Street, but has moved in the 21st century with audio-visual and interactive displays. Full marks for that.

P7142440 P7142436 P7142432 P7142425
Six Lewis Chessmen are on permanent loan from the British Museum

P7142412 Morning Room
P7142407 Dining Room
P7142394 Library
P7142383 P7142381
Ball Room
P7142376 P7142375 P7142371 Entrance Hall
P7142367 Store Room Cafe
Further pictures here