This particular wreck occurred at the rocks called Rumblegurr just across the bay, north from Downies and is still remembered by a couple of local residents, in fact some of the flotsam and jetsam that came ashore in the aftermath somehow found it’s way into the care of some of those same said residents. I wonder what treasures from this shipwreck may still be stashed away in the back of a shed or in the attic of a house within a couple of hundred yards of where I stay myself?
The Alirmay went ashore near Downies in dense fog in September 1949, and the crew members at the time of this incident were Alexander Pirie, junior, Aberdeen (skipper), David Watson, Aberdeen (mate), William Simpson, Aberdeen (engineer), Alexander Gardiner, Aberdeen (deckhand), James Thain, Lossiemouth (deckhand), and James Legge, Findochty (cook).
Here, I’ve used a bit of artistic license and imagination to recreate the scene leading up to and during the grounding of the Alirmay near Downies and the words used are my own. For decency’s sake I have left out the sweariest words that I’m sure would have been used during this escapade.
Change of watch at 2am.
Sandy (skipper): Aye Alex, it’s a gie misty nicht the nicht. It’ll be good tae get ma’ heid doon.
Alex (deckhand): Yir richt there skipper, it disnae look too fine oot there at a’.
Sandy: Aye, bit at least there’s nae a big sea rinnin’.
Alex: So far are we positioned richt noo?
Sandy: Well, we’d 65 miles tae rin tae begin wi’, but we’ve come 45 miles already.
Alex: Okay, you go and get yir heid doon. Nite skipper.
2.45 am and both deckhands are on watch.
Alex: So Jim, I reckon we hiv nae far fae 40 miles to rin afore port.
Jim (deckhand): I’ve nae idea but the Mate gie me the course when we startit the watch.
Alex: I’m sure the skipper said 45 miles tae me when he haunded ower or wis that foo far we’d cam on the last watch?
Jim: I hinna got a clue foo far we are fae ony port, I jist ken fit direction I’m supposed tae be heidin’ tae get hame.
Alex: Well, I’m nae sure masell noo but I’m thinkin’ it was 45 miles tae go. Maybe we’ll get a sightin’ o’ land soon if this fog gets a shift an’ then we’ll a’ ken a bit better.
Jim: We’ll you’re the een that keeps goin’ on aboot bein’ a skipper and hae’in the tickit so I’m sure you ken best.
Alex: Aye, I ken my stuff.
Jim: Wis ‘at a licht oe’r there – a good bit forrit and tae starboard?
Alex: Na Na, it’s likely a boat oot by morsing.
Five minutes later.
Jim: There’s that licht again, ‘at’s definitely nae boat, its ower high oot o’ the watter. I’m sure that’s land aheid?
Alex: Well, if it is we’re in a sair place and need tae get oot o’ here gie quick.
Jim: I think I’ll stop the engine and back up.
Alex: Aye, there’s something nae quite richt here.
Suddenly, there’s a grinding and loud crash as the vessel hits a rock.
Alex: Jesus Christ Jim, fit hiv ye done? I think wiv hit land!
Jim: It wis too late tae stop, wir on top o’ somethin’ here. I can see land richt ootside us, go and hae a look.
Alex: Aye, there it goes again, wir either groonded, on a rock, or maybe wir scraping against somethin’. Bloody hell, wir in big trouble by the looks o’ it. Can ye get us astern?
Jim: Na, that’s the engine oot noo, and wir hard fast. Jesus, I think we micht hae tae abandon.
Alex: Look, oot there! Jimmy the cook’s aff on the rocks already. Far did he come fae and foo did he manage tae get aff sae quick?
Jim: So he is. (Shouting) HEY JIMMY, YOU OK? FAR DID YE MANAGE TAE GET AFF, IS IT SAFE THERE?
Jimmy (Cook): (Shouting) AYE, THERE’S A SHELF TAE JUMP ON HERE. YE NEED TAE TAK CARE IN THE DARK THO’, BUT THE SEA’S NAE SAE BAD. FIT IN CHRIST’S NAME WIR YE DEE’IN TAE PIT US ASHORE LIKE THIS ONYWEY?
Jim: IT’S NAE MY FAULT, THESE ROCKS WIRNA SUPPOSED TAE BE THERE!
Within minutes the rest of the crew: - Skipper, Mate and Engineer appear on deck.
Sandy (skipper): Lads, Lads, fit the bloody hell are ye deein’? Ye’ve gotten us high and dry in some creek!
Jim: Skipper, we couldna see a thing in the fog and dark but we were rinnin the richt course, I’ve nae idea fit this place is but it shouldna be here.
Sandy: Is abody here? We’ll need tae launch the sma’ boat or dae ye think wir close enough tae jump ashore? Far’s the cook? Is that him aff on land already?
Alex: Aye, he wis oot gie quick.
Sandy: (Shouting) HEY MIN JIMMY, FIT YE DEEIN’ O’ER THERE? SHOULD YE NAE BE ON HERE MAKIN’ MA BRAKFAST?
Jimmy: (Shouting) THROW US A ROPE AND I CAN LEAD YE’S A’ AFF.
Sandy: AYE, OKAY. Davie, go get a rope. Bill, ye best go an’ soon’ the siren an’ let aff a few o’ those rockets, wir no goin’ tae get oot o’ here unner oor ain steam.
Davie (mate) and Bill (engineer): (In Unison) Aye, Aye Cap’n!
Sirens are sounded, rockets are launched and one by one the crew make it safely off the Alirmay onto the nearby rocks and after having taken stock of themselves they start to make their way towards the braes where they are helped up the steep slopes by some of the villagers of Downies, who had began to congregate in the vicinity of the wreck as the drama was unfolding.
The rest, as they say, is history. Thankfully everyone lived to tell the tale and later show up for the subsequent inquiry to have their knuckles well and truly wrapped by the Ministry of Transport!
The Alirmay lies wrecked on the rocks at Rumblegurr, just north of Downies Village.
The Report into the sinking of the Alirmay.