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Seafarers Memorial: Wick statue 'brings the community and the sea together'


By Alan Hendry

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The ceremony getting under way at the Braehead on Saturday. Picture: Alan McGee
The ceremony getting under way at the Braehead on Saturday. Picture: Alan McGee

Wick's new statue commemorating lost seafarers will be "treasured by locals and visitors alike", according to the chairman of the voluntary group behind the ambitious project.

Willie Watt said the monument created by Alan Beattie Herriot for the Seafarers Memorial Group "brings the community and the sea together".

He was speaking during Saturday's unveiling ceremony at the Braehead where large crowds gathered to see the first major memorial in the town for 100 years. There were speeches, seafaring songs, a poem and a specially composed pipe tune as invited guests and members of the public gathered around the towering bronze figure which Mr Watt described as "our Angel of the Far North".

A lunchtime shower briefly threatened to make the unveiling a damp occasion but the rain eased off as the ceremonial part of the afternoon got under way. It marked the culmination of a five-year campaign to raise more than £100,000 for a sculpture honouring all those lost at sea from or in the WK registration area, stretching from Portmahomack up to Stroma and across to Port Vasgo.

Mr Watt said the site would become a place of reflection and remembrance.

Willie Watt addressing invited guests and members of the public at Saturday's event. Picture: Alan Hendry
Willie Watt addressing invited guests and members of the public at Saturday's event. Picture: Alan Hendry

He introduced guests including the Lord-Lieutenant of Caithness, Lord Thurso, and his wife Marion; Ronnie Hughes, from Pittenweem Fishermen's Memorial Association; and Stornoway harbour master Alasdair Smith. Mr Watt explained that Mr Smith's connection came through the 12 men from Lewis who were among the 37 fishermen lost in Wick Bay in the 1848 disaster known as Black Saturday.

Mr Watt also welcomed Longhope lifeboat coxswain Scott Johnston, who was taking part in a flotilla in the bay along with Wick lifeboat and other vessels. Several of the men who died on Black Saturday were from the Longhope area.

Mr Watt has led the 12-strong Seafarers Memorial Group committee since it formed in 2018. He recalled how Allan Tait, who at the time was chairman of Wick Paths Group, had come up with the idea of a monument.

The Seafarers Memorial after the unveiling was carried out by Isobel Leask, who had made a generous donation to the project. Picture: Alan Hendry
The Seafarers Memorial after the unveiling was carried out by Isobel Leask, who had made a generous donation to the project. Picture: Alan Hendry

"It has been a long struggle at times but very positive for most of it," Mr Watt said. "The public has been phenomenal.

"I think there's nowhere on earth that gets the support that we've managed to achieve. It is important for the community to have such a maritime memorial."

Wick's Arion Choir sang the Skye Boat Song and the Mingulay Boat Song.

Members of Wick RBLS Pipe Band performed at various points during the afternoon, and towards the end they played a tune called WK Seafarers Memorial that had been composed by Ivor Mackay, a pipe band member and also a patron and committee member of the Seafarers Memorial Group.

Mr Mackay captains one of the support vessels for the Beatrice offshore wind farm and previously was the master of the Hamnavoe ferry.

A moment of reflection for Willie Watt during Saturday's Seafarers Memorial ceremony. Picture: Alan Hendry
A moment of reflection for Willie Watt during Saturday's Seafarers Memorial ceremony. Picture: Alan Hendry

The statue rises to a height of five metres on a stainless-steel column surrounded by five lecterns. The male figure has one arm outstretched, holding a representation of a haddock, while the other hand gestures towards a panel at the base of the column featuring figures of sea users from past and present in bas-relief.

Using local materials where possible, the base of the column is surrounded by Caithness stone slabs that are engraved with details of Black Saturday. These slabs are surrounded by granite setts.

The memorial also has four Caithness stone benches, two with backs detailing all the harbours and fishing stations in the WK vessel registration area.

There are five stainless-steel lecterns, with tops detailing different maritime themes. Three of these tops were designed by pupils at Wick High School.

Pupils who produced artwork for the memorial and who took part in the ceremony were Abby Miller, who also laid a wreath, Lucy Haden-Homer, Freya Fox and Claire MacAdam, along with teacher Anne Edwards.

Mr Watt added: "Everything has been delivered just as planned.

"It's a moving piece of art. It captures the angst and the profound sadness at the loss of life the sea brings. Our community was built on the sea and on the back of fishing, and the loss of life suffered by seafarers is massive.

"The cruel sea, whether it's calm or rough, will snatch the unwary into a watery grave. So it's really important that we provided a place of remembrance and reflection in a special location overlooking the wild waters.

"I'm sure it will be treasured by locals and visitors alike."

The unveiling was carried out by Isobel Leask, who was the first of many to make generous donations to the fundraising appeal, and the memorial was dedicated by Jackie Dodds, the Fishermen's Mission area officer for Caithness and Orkney.

A two-minute silence was observed.

Mike Coupland, Caithness branch secretary of the Merchant Navy Association, was among those laying wreaths.

"This magnificent memorial is for everyone who was ever lost at sea," he said. His voice straining with emotion, Mr Coupland then called out: "We will remember them."

The Seafarers Memorial was proving to be a focal point for the community on Sunday morning, the day after the official unveiling. Picture: Alan Hendry
The Seafarers Memorial was proving to be a focal point for the community on Sunday morning, the day after the official unveiling. Picture: Alan Hendry

Speaking ahead of Saturday's event, Mr Watt emphasised that it had been a collaborative project which was well supported by the public and the business community.

He said: “Roughly our total funds came to about £110,000, of which 48 per cent came from grant funders like Beatrice and the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund and the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, then 26 per cent came from the public and 26 per cent from businesses around the country and locally.

Beatrice community fund manager David Shearer (right) presenting a £20,000 cheque from the Beatrice offshore wind farm to Willie Watt, with other Seafarers Memorial Group committee members looking on. Picture: DGS
Beatrice community fund manager David Shearer (right) presenting a £20,000 cheque from the Beatrice offshore wind farm to Willie Watt, with other Seafarers Memorial Group committee members looking on. Picture: DGS

“We in the group are so delighted with the finished result. It has exceeded our expectations on how it looks and indeed it is going to become our Angel of the Far North, in a prominent position over the harbour.

"It will be a place of reflection and remembrance and hopefully it'll focus people on the dangers of the sea, because the sea remains as dangerous as it was when the Vikings were coming here.

“It has been a collaborative affair, from fundraising through to delivery. I would really like to say that the companies in this area have been absolutely exceptional, the public have been exceptional, the funds have come freely, and people of all ages have really connected with what we are doing and they are part of the finished result. We are proud of it, absolutely proud of it.”

Willie Watt, chairman of the Seafarers Memorial Group, accepts a cheque for £20,710 from Kayleigh Nicolson, vice-chairperson of the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund. Picture: Alan Hendry
Willie Watt, chairman of the Seafarers Memorial Group, accepts a cheque for £20,710 from Kayleigh Nicolson, vice-chairperson of the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund. Picture: Alan Hendry

On Friday Mr Watt accepted a cheque for £20,710 from the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund.

It was handed over by the fund's vice-chairperson Kayleigh Nicolson, who said: “We at the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund were absolutely delighted to support the Seafarers Memorial Group in putting the memorial together.

"It's just stunning the way it has turned out. It's going to be a focal point for the community.

“It really draws the eye. It's wonderful the way it looks like it has just come up from the sea.”

A cheque for £20,000 was handed over on Saturday by Beatrice community fund manager David Shearer on behalf of the Beatrice offshore wind farm.

Boats start making their way out into Wick Bay to form a flotilla in honour of the Seafarers Memorial. Picture: Alan Hendry
Boats start making their way out into Wick Bay to form a flotilla in honour of the Seafarers Memorial. Picture: Alan Hendry
Piper Alasdair Miller, of Wick RBLS Pipe Band. Picture: Alan Hendry
Piper Alasdair Miller, of Wick RBLS Pipe Band. Picture: Alan Hendry
Wick's Black Saturday by Robert Anderson (1842-1885). A storm in Wick Bay on August 19, 1848, claimed the lives of 37 fishermen from Caithness, the Western Isles and Orkney.
Wick's Black Saturday by Robert Anderson (1842-1885). A storm in Wick Bay on August 19, 1848, claimed the lives of 37 fishermen from Caithness, the Western Isles and Orkney.

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