The Isle of Whithorn Maritime History

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An old photograph of the Isle of Whithorn Harbour
The Isle of Whithorn

The Isle of Whithorn

The Perch

A reef of rock runs out from the west side of the mouth of the bay, and can be a hazard to craft coming into the Isle. For many years the end of this reef was marked with an iron pole, erected by the Harbour Board after they took over the harbour from Whithorn Town Council, and it is interesting to read the account which was rendered by Archibald McDowell “for the erection of the perch at the Screens at the Isle of Whithorn”:

“To Robb Mills for boring 4 holes with hammer and chisel for 4 stays and inserting the spliced wire lugs for stays - 16 shillings. To John McGovern for labouring for Robb Mills - 9 shillings. To A.D.McDowell for erecting steel perch with the assistance of said two men - one pound and threepence”.

Eventually the perch was bent by a severe storm and it remained like that for many years, but ultimately it collapsed in another storm giving rise to a great argument about who was responsible for replacing it. The Sailing Club tried to mark it with a buoy without success; the District Council claimed that it was not their responsibility, and eventually the Northern Lighthouse Board, who are responsible for navigational aids in Scotland, were persuaded against their better judgment to erect a new perch. This new structure was erected with the aid of helicopters at a cost of £25,000 and needless to say it was not in place for very long before it got knocked down. The old one had stood there for years and years...! It was replaced, again at a cost of £25,000 - and once more it was hit. This time the repair was going to cost £13,000 and Northern Lights decided that enough was enough.

They contracted Shaun McGuire, now the Harbourmaster at the Isle, to salvage the remains and dispose of them. As the general feeling was that the perch should be restored, he arranged for these remains to be taken to the Isle of Man by the Zephyr, one of the Manx fishing vessels that regularly visit the Isle of Whithorn. There, Billy Caley volunteered to cut the pole into sections to make restoration easier. When this has been done theZephyr will bring the sections back to the Isle. The saga of the perch continues – Watch this space!

The sister of Doctor Robertson, then one of our local GP’s, wrote an amusing poem describing the whole business;

“A way, way back in History, a hundred years or more
a perch was mounted on the Screens off Isle of Whithorn shore.
Erected by a blacksmith, a master of his craft,
his tools were very primitive, his boat a wooden raft.
He bored and drilled into the rock creating one big hole
then rafted back across the bay to fetch this massive pole.
The perch was placed into the hole down on the deep sea bed.
he anchored it with screw and bolt then poured in molten lead.
All honour to this blacksmith in achieving this great feat
after hours of sweat and toil his work was now complete.
He charged the Harbour Board three pounds for all his fash and trouble,
By master minding this great work he could have charged them double.
The perch stood many years without an incident
until one night a fishing boat rammed it by accident.
Although the perch was badly bent the base secure remained
the perch still served its purpose with nothing lost or gained.
In early 1990 a violent storm appeared.
the perch could not stand the blast, the nuts and bolts had sheared.
Alas, it toppled over in one almighty splash,
a hundred years of history were wiped out in a flash”.

Then we move on to more modern times;

“On to modern history, the age of high technique
with men and women equals, machinery very sleek.
Great discussions followed between Board and Council men
who decided in their wisdom to erect the perch again.
A squad of men were summoned with high tech knowledge and machines
and so began the drilling on the dangerous rocky screens.
A helicopter hovered by, the brand new perch to bring.
No sooner had they lifted it than they dropped the blasted thing.
The second try had more success but oh surprise, surprise
the nuts and bolts would not connect because of different size.
In shore by helicopter new bolts were found in haste,
everything was perfect, the perch was safely placed.
For 90 days and 90 nights the perch stood there erect
Another violent storm blew up, once more the thing was wrecked.
The powers that be decided the answer, metal stays
the squad was then remustered within the next few days.
Someone had made a blunder, the stays were short in length,
the squad was heard to mutter’Lord God give uis strength’.
The squad worked hard from morn till night, they showed true grit and guts,
eventually the stays were fixedby screws and bolts and nuts.
A fishing boat in 93 who nameless shall remain,
collided with the perch one night and knocked it flat again.
Now we’re into autumn the perch rebuilt once more
Perhaps we’ll be rewarded by effort number four.
A warning to all shipping who for work or pleasure search,
be careful what you’re doing, keep well clear of the perch.”


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