Campaign launched to refurbish Scotland’s last lightship

The North Carr Lightship moored at Anstruther in 1988.
The North Carr Lightship moored at Anstruther in 1988.
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A £1 million campaign has been launched to refurbish Scotland’s last remaining lightship.

The North Carr lightship - a lighthouse on a ship - was built in 1933 and was anchored off Fife Ness until it was decommissioned in 1974.

The blare of its foghorn was for many years a clarion call signalling danger to ships sailing off the coast of Fife.

These days, however, the blast of the North Carr lightship is heard just a handful of times each year and usually saved for special occasions, such as the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the First World War in 2014.

It sounded at Dundee docks once more yesterday as a major fundraising campaign to see the boat refurbished got underway.

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Forty years of service off the coast of Fife and another four decades in dock have taken their toll and the lightship will shortly be the subject of a grant application that will hopefully kick-start a comprehensive restoration.

The refurbishment could cost as much as £1 million but when complete, the charity believes the lightship will be one of the jewels of the Waterfront.

Taymara’s development officer, David Kett, said: “Despite her appearance, the vessel is actually in quite good condition, but Taymara is conscious of the fact that she needs sprucing up, particularly in view of her prospective role as one of the attractions in the heart of Dundee’s revitalised waterfront.

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“The interior will also require the sympathetic provision of facilities enabling her to function as a training base for Taymara’s rapidly expanding activities.

“We surveyed the hull some time and it had deteriorated little since 1933, mainly by virtue of the fact that it is cast iron.

“It might not look good at present but the corrosion is only superficial.

“We undertook a patch-up paint job in 2004, so we have done some remedial work, but it is now time to attack it head-on.”

A BBC film crew was on hand to record the foghorn sounding yesterday.

Following a personal approach by maritime training charity Taymara to TV anchorman John Humphrys, the BBC Today programme requested a blast as a closing feature.

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It came in response to John’s musing on the news programme as to whether foghorns were still sounded.

Mr Kett said the North Carr was still of huge historic significance, both locally and nationally.

“In a Scottish context it is one of only two Scottish lightships ever in service,” he said.

“The other was the Abertay, which was stationed half way down the Tay estuary and which I believe was eventually scrapped.

“It is also a good example of riveted ship building, a craft that gave way to welding during the Second World War.

“Most importantly for the people of the Dundee and Fife areas is that it is also effectively a memorial to the loss of the Mona.”

Inside, the lightship boats many of the artefacts that were within when it was first introduced into service, from radios to bunks and from compasses to anchor chains.

Once the restoration is complete, Mr Kett said he hoped the lightship would look “fantastic” and become a focal point as refurbished examples have become in Hull, Swansea and Copenhagen.

It is also hoped that she will begin to earn money, as a training centre for the Royal Yachting Association.

The next planned outing for the foghorn is on the occasion of the Tay Road Bridge’s 50th anniversary in August of this year.

Lightships were introduced into service to act as a lighthouse in waters that were too deep or unsuitable for permanent construction.

For many years the North Carr lightship saw service off Fife Ness, warning ships away from the treacherous North Carr reef.

Its name, however, will forever be inextricably linked with one of the darkest days in Dundee’s history, playing a role in the disaster that cost the lives of all aboard the Broughty Ferry lifeboat, the RNLB Mona.

The Mona was launched at 3.13am on December 8, 1959 after being asked to assist the lightship, which had been reported adrift in St Andrews Bay.

Amidst brutally rough seas and gale-force winds, the Mona and her eight-strong crew set out on a rescue mission.

The boat was last seen clearing the Tay and heading south into the bay, her last radio message heard at 4.48am.

She was later found capsized, with all aboard dead. The six-strong crew of the stricken North Carr were subsequently rescued safely by helicopter.

The lightship continued to protect ships off the Fife coast until she was taken out of service in 1974 to take up a stationary patrol in Dundee’s Victoria Dock.

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