Sturgeon, KGB, UFOs and a hero dog
A TRAWL of The Oban Times’ archives 25 years ago has fetched up strange stories from the depths of 1992, including encounters with the KGB, UFOs, and a terrier that saved a skipper’s life.
The journey down the rabbit hole began with a hunt for the Isle of Seil’s ‘ bridge party’, celebrating the 200th birthday of its Bridge over the Atlantic, which blooms purple with fairy foxgloves every May. This year the single-arch bridge is 225 years old, and still standing.
But back in 1992, we first found first sightings of actor Robert De Niro dining in the Inverlochy Castle Hotel in Fort William, and then the United States’ ‘most secret military aircraft’ flying through the skies above Kintyre at more than three times the speed of sound.
Reports of mysterious fast-moving radar blips and eerie engine noises increased speculation that Machrihanish was the base for a new hyper-sonic super-plane.
A national newspaper reported that an RAF air traffic controller was startled to see radar blips emerge from the joint RAF-NATO base travelling at three times the speed of sound.
The air traffic controller phoned RAF Machrihanish, but was told to forget what he had seen, the newspaper report claimed.
Speaking from Minnesota, an expert on stealth aircraft Bill Sweetman told The Oban Times he had heard similar reports in the US, citing a New York Times article describing the development of an aircraft with mach six capabilities. He added the remoteness of Machrihanish would make it perfect for a top secret operation.
Asked how secret the aircraft would be, Mr Sweetman said: ‘Put it this way – in 1988 the US Air Force had 50 F-117 stealth aircraft operating in Nevada and still denied they even existed. It would be possible for something like this to be buried.’
Then Russia raised its head. Russia is currently disrupting American politics, but back then it was causing merry hell in Oban, when the KGB held up attempts to forge exchange links between a Russian and Oban Mountaineering Club.
Mr ‘Ned’ Rimmer had invited Russian mountaineers Igor Churakov, Yuri Kyarov and junior woman’s rock climbing champion Anastasia over to sample Britain’s topography and organise visits between the two countries.
The KGB, however, apparently for no reason, confiscated Anastasia’s passport, which cost the equivalent of two years’ wages. The KGB also told Mr Churakov that his documents and visas contained ‘irregularities’.
‘My reaction was that he wanted a bribe,’ said Mr Rimmer of Kerrera. ‘The bureaucracy is appalling. The KGB are little grey men in little grey suits who are suddenly faced with an initiative and can’t seem to latch onto the fact that these people are free.’
Strange things were also happening at sea off Gigha, where, as reported on April 16, a rare sturgeon was caught by the Tarbert fishing vessel Caledonia.
The 23lb fish, renowned for its expensive roe caviar, was caught by skipper Kenny Brown’s crew off Gigha’s west coast. ‘It was caught off the Russian,’ Mr Brown said, ironically referring to the proximity of the catch to the stranded factory ship Kartli.
The sturgeon was kept alive in water until the boat docked in West Loch Tarbert. It was then sold at auction on Tarbert quay for £ 35.50 to local fish merchant Malcolm MacKinnon. Mr MacKinnon said he would sell the fish on the London market, where it could fetch a price between £150 and £200.
Secretary of Tarbert Fishermen’s Co- op Harold Scott said he had only come across one other sturgeon landed in Great Britain during the past 30 years.
Gigha’s twilight zone continued onto May 14, with a story entitled ‘A skipper’s best friend’, re-published below:
A skipper’s best friend
SHELLACH the dog proved she was her skipper’s best friend when she gave him the ‘kiss of life’ during a high sea drama on Saturday.
The Gigha ferry, the island’s district nurse and a Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet were all involved in the dramatic air- sea rescue.
Lone fisherman Mr Richard Fox, of Clachan, was trying to unblock his boat’s clam dredge when its metal teeth snapped shut, crushing and trapping his thumb.
Bleeding badly and lying on his back, he inched his way to the other end of the boat to get a crowbar to free himself.
During a painful 20 minutes, he fainted twice. Each time he was brought round by his dog ‘ washing his face’.
Speaking from his bed at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, Mr Fox said: ‘I think she was waking me up saying, go on, have another try.’
Mr Fox was fishing the Sound of Gigha on Saturday morning in his 10-metre steel trawler Searcher when the accident happened.
After freeing his thumb, Mr Fox was able to get to the moorings at Ardminish Bay.
Clyde Coastguard alerted Gigha’s auxiliary Coastguard who contacted the approaching passenger ferry. She picked up the island’s district nurse and Mr Fox was transferred on board.
In between times, Mr Fox passed out again. Shellach, a two-year- old Border Lakeland terrier cross, called for help.
Mr Fox said: ‘She was apparently barking like mad at the ferry crew as they approached.’
Mr Fox was then taken ashore and airlifted to Crosshouse Hospital.
He said: ‘It could have been an awful lot worse. If I had been stuck there, I could have bled to death.’
He said of Shellach: ‘I am looking forward to seeing her again.’
Mr Fox, who had steel pins inserted in his thumb, was flown to Campbeltown on Tuesday where he was reunited with wife Fiona and heroine Shellach.
Left: Richard Fox is reunited with his life-saving pooch Shellach. Seil bridge, blooming with purple fairy foxglove in May, is 225 years old this year. And a Tarbert boat landed a distinctly odd fish.