Wick Coastguard Rescues. 


George Robb - "The Stacks Of Death."


As reported in  the Scottish Daily Express newspaper Tuesday 6th December 1959

Station Officer Eric Campbell

"Safety Was Only 50 Yards Off."

Only one seaman escaped from the gale-ravaged Aberdeen trawler George Robb early yesterday morning - and he died from exposure under the Duncansby Head cliffs near John O'Groats as rescue teams searched for the wreck.

He was found at first light - wearing only shirt and life jacket - crouched against the death-dealing hurricane among the shingle near high water mark. Behind him, his 11 shipmates perished in the trawler, not 50 yards from the shore and safety.

A tiny cove, cut deep into the 200ft cliff, was the only shelter from the storm that ripped the bottom from the 29-year-old boat as it sailed for Faroe fishing grounds. The man dark-haired and aged about 30 - was within yards of the cleft in the high sea wall.

He was found by two John O'Groats men making an early morning search for survivors as the slackening gale screamed and tore at their clothes. Said 26 year-old John Malcolm Green, a fitter at Dounreay atomic station: "We are almost certain the man was alive when he reached the shore in the darkness. He did not look as if he had been washed up. He must have died as he crouched down in the slack water trying to ward off the wind."

Said Mr. Green's companion, 36 year-old contractor Alexander Sinclair: "As we searched, the tide was rising towards us. Several times we had to clamber on to rock ledges to escape being swept away. We carried the man under the lee of the cliffs and covered him. Then coastguards and civilians hoisted him by stretcher to the cliff top."

An official of the trawler's owners is travelling to Wick today by train to identify the man - and any others the raging sea may cast up. The 177ft. - long 217 ton trawler - registered No. A 406 - lies shattered and torn on her port side in a little bay beside the 200ft. high Stacks of Duncansby.

They are cone-shaped pillars of stone a few yards off-shore and a landmark to seamen to the entrance to the stormy Pentland Firth and the Atlantic. The boiling water ripped the green boat apart during the night. Her bow section is split. Her back broken.

As the rising tide, whipped to a creamy-white colour by the south-easterly gale, broke over the boat, only her foremast and wheelhouse could be seen at times. A useless lifejacket bobbed near her funnel. On the high water mark under the cliffs lay shattered lifeboat timbers and fishing boxes.

The George Robb between The Stacks - The Scottish Daily Express.
DUNCANSBY HEAD: Two jagged pinnacles - the dreadful Stacks of Duncansby - rear 200ft. above the boiling waves.  And in their shadow lies the broken hulk of the trawler George Robb.  Still the vicious wind slashes in at 60 m.p.h. - and on the right, a freshwater stream running down the cliff is whipped back 500 yards by the strength of the gale.  Not a drop of water reaches the shore....this was how it was when 12 men died.

(Picture is reproduced from the original Scottish Daily Express newspaper - with kind permission.)


(Click on picture to enlarge.)

The George Robb radioed her one and only SOS at 10 minutes to midnight on Sunday night. Said skipper Marshall Ryles: " Ashore on south side of Duncansby Head. Taking water fast. Require immediate assistance."

That was the last heard of the trawler. But more than an hour later, four cliff top watchers heard her crew sound the siren.

Crofter John Green of The Shore, John O'Groat's, his two daughters and son-in-law, farmer William Ham, made a torchlight search after hearing the radioed S.O.S.

Said 56 year-old Mr. Green last night (Monday 7th December): "We were searching near Queeniecliff Bay and were turning back towards the lighthouse when we heard the siren. We can only suppose that the men still on the ship saw our torch and signalled their position. We ran to the lighthouse to let the coastguards know we had found her."

Mr. green, a former fisherman, added; "I am sure some of the crew were still alive after we summoned help. I saw what looked like flashes inside the wheelhouse after we returned to the Bay. Then the ship heeled over and we saw nothing more in the darkness."

The George Robb claimed a 13th victim just after she was found under the cliffs. Station officer Eric Campbell, 53 year-old (this is wrong - he was 50 years old), coastguard in charge of Wick's shore rescue crew, collapsed and died as he hurried carrying rocket lines to the cliff top.

Mr. Campbell, an Englishman, only 18 months stationed at Wick, had raced to the spot after receiving the trawler's position. His squad of 30 men joined by life-savers from Scarfskerry, near the Queen Mother's Castle of Mey, carried heavy rescue gear almost a mile across treacherous bogland to the cliff. When Mr. Campbell collapsed, he was put on one of the rescue stretchers and carried in the lashing spray and biting wind to the lighthouse.



Further stories of the George Robb can be read 
(with picture's) as reported by:

Additional Reports:

the "Press & Journal" newspaper

The George Robb Skipper

the "John O'Groat Journal" newspaper

What Went Wrong?

the "Daily Record"  newspaper

Damage To Wick Harbour.

the "Bulletin & Scots Pictorial" newspaper

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