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 Disasters

All seaports and harbours have histories that tell of disasters and tragedies, and the Isle of Whithorn is no exception. One tragedy occurred in 1931 when the annual regatta was cancelled due to bad weather, and unfortunately some hardy souls decided to race in any case. One of the boats capsized, and instead of staying with the boat and waiting for rescue, the three crew members decided to swim for the shore. Sadly two of them died. As a result of this accident there were no more regattas until after the Second World War.

The Isle has had more than its fair share of fishing disasters in recent years. In 1986 Willie Pagan was lobster fishing off Port William when he ran into problems with his engine, but instead of waiting for assistance he decided to swim ashore and was drowned in the process.

A major disaster occurred on 11 January 2000, which devastated the village and surrounding communities. In treacherous force 9 conditions the scallop dredger Solway Harvester was making for shelter at Ramsey on the Isle of Man when it disappeared with all of its crew. Craig Mills, the skipper; his brother Robin, and their cousin David all came from the Isle. Of the remaining crew, three came from Whithorn and one from Garlieston. The vessel had obviously gone down fast for both of the life rafts were subsequently found unopened.

The village was in shock and the tragedy and its aftermath received much coverage from the media. The Prime Minister expressed his sympathy in the House of Commons and a message of condolence was received from the Queen. Journalists and television crews descended upon the village in strength, causing some friction with their intrusiveness.

The reason for the sinking was a mystery, and various theories were put forward such as a collision with a submarine or a floating container washed off another vessel. The UK Government was unwilling to finance the raising of the Solway Harvesterto try and determine the reason for the sinking, but the village will always be grateful to the Isle of Man Government for agreeing to meet the cost.

In early February 2000, divers recovered the bodies of the seven crew members, and their funerals took place on 9th February. The Whithorn and Garlieston crew members were buried at private ceremonies in the morning. In the afternoon the three Isle victims were buried after what must have been one of the largest funerals ever seen in the Isle. The church was reserved for families and close friends who overflowed outside, and the service was relayed to another gathering in the village hall and to a large number of people in the road outside. Reports estimated that there were in the region of 1500 mourners.

The lifting of the Solway Harvester was repeatedly delayed due to bad weather and was finally completed on 27th June after which investigations into the sinking were commenced by the Isle of Man Police. The collision theory was not supported by the investigations, and subsequently the owners of the vessel were taken to court - an action that is still continuing at the time of writing.

Another tragedy occurred on 13th. March 2003 when Sam Archer, a local Isle fisherman was lost in the Solway, along with his boat. No reason for the accident has been discovered; some personal possessions were found soon after he disappeared and eventually his body was recovered from the sea off Whitehaven on 5th July.


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