The navy practise their maneuvers in the deep waters off the Arran coast and quite often when submarines are involved they use any fishing boats in the area as targets.
This is not as strange as it may seem at first as it is only dummy torpedoes that they use and although we were the target, the torpedoes always surfaced a safe distance away from us..............well nearly always. It was only once or twice a year that this would occur and we were given warning of the maneuvers and how long they were going to last for, so as to prepare us for the intrusion of our fishing grounds and the inconvenience it could cause. On calm days the frigates and destroyers would pass close by and their wash would cause us to roll and tumble making some of the few calm days we had as rough as a strong breeze.
On this particular day the sea was as calm as you could wish for with the sun shining bright and good catches of fish coming aboard which meant that all the crew were in such a light hearted mood that even the navy could not dampen it.
It was about mid afternoon when we were in the process of shooting our gear that my uncle Alex (the skipper) drew our attention to green dye on the water not very far ahead of us, so we stopped working with the fish to go and investigate. As I looked over the starboard shoulder of the boat a bright yellow object was surfacing not too far ahead of us, and as soon as it broke the surface a green dye began to spew out of it, then another appeared making us slow down as they were getting closer. Four torpedoes in all surfaced just ahead of us, all spewing out this green dye which, was to make it easier for the torpedo recovery boat to spot them and retrieve them as quickly as possible before any boats in the vicinity struck them which could cause some damage. We could see the recovery boat already heading towards their goal but we just carried on shooting the gear, making sure we gave the torpedoes a wide berth and signaled laughingly to the crew as it neared us that it had been a bit too close for comfort.
Excitement over, we thought as we picked up our dan and began towing for our next haul until my uncle spotted the periscope of the offending submarine moving through the water on our port side heading south. As it was fairly close my uncle stuck two fingers up in the direction of it more in jest than anger, thinking his gesture would go unnoticed but the submarine surfaced about a mile away from us and headed back in our direction. As it approached we could see clearly the men on the conning tower looking at us through binoculars but they were not needed as it closed in as near as they dared to return the two fingered salute my uncle had given them. We all, on deck were totally amazed that they had taken the time out to play a prank like that, so we waved and cheered as the submarine passed close enough that we could see the laughter of the officers on the conning tower, waving back at us. We were all sailors after all and no harm was done. In fact if anything had gone wrong due to their carelessness or, ours, for that matter they would have been first on hand to assist us. Nearing the end of their exercises some days after, we were fishing quite a distance away from them when we passed a torpedo floating on the surface with the torpedo recovery boat frantically searching for it a few miles away. Instead of informing the recovery vessel of its position, once our gear was back on board we headed over to it and struggled for about an hour to strap it to the side of our boat as it was almost half the size of us but eventually we managed, losing valuable fishing time in the process but we knew it was worth it because the navy paid hundreds of pounds for the recovery of stray torpedoes. We landed it at the nearest port and informed the navy of our catch and where they could collect it. A few weeks later, the spoils from it was split among the crew......tax free, so I suppose you could say it was some consolation for the submarine firing too close for comfort that bright calm day off Arran but it also showed that having the navy on your doorstep is no bad thing...............occasionally!
Image by JohnED76 via Flickr
A few years later the navy lost a torpedo with new experimental specialized equipment on it worth a quarter of a million pounds in the deep waters north of Arran.........never to be found again. NOW! If only we had come across that one.