Martin Howman
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Martin Howman - Moray Sea School, Burghead Scotland, 1965

I was 17 years old and had been with my employer for less than a year when the selection process was announced to send two young employees on an Outward Bound Course for 4 weeks. I was very much an outdoor type but very naive and lacking in self-confidence. I liked the sound of what was on offer so put myself forward. To my great surprise I was selected; it was only later that I twigged that this was to develop ones character through challenging activities.

The full impact of what I had let myself into hit me when I had left home in Cheltenham for the first time and was sitting on a deserted platform at Wolverhampton station in the middle of the night waiting for a connecting train north. There were tears!

I have just found my log book which recalls that I was in Nasmith Watch. Mr Clegg was our watch instructor. He turned out to be a really good sort, great sense of humour and an excellent sailing instructor. Other instructors were Mr Brettell, PT instructor – nicknamed Brutal; Mr Angus, climbing instructor; Mr Gay, Mr Brunskill, Mr Sheehan, Mr Cunningham, Mr Swanson, Mr Williams and Mr Child. I remember the head man, (the Warden?) but cannot recall his name.

I have a list of the names and addresses of the lads who were on my watch:
Allan Adams from Peterculter, Aberdeenshire (Watch Captain) – schoolboy; Andy Somerville from Dublin – schoolboy; Keith Topliss from Grimsby – police cadet; John Angus from Dartford, Kent – apprentice papermaker; Andy or Alan (Ag) Bannerman from Musselburgh – commercial apprentice with Scottish Agricultural Industries; Peter Cunningham from Methil, Fife – apprentice maintenance electrician; Roger Wallace from West Norwood, London – P&TO with the GPO; David Bishop from ByBathgate, West Lothian – schoolboy about to join the RAF; Murray McLatchie from Airdrie – worked for Lamberton & Co, Coatbridge; Keith Heatrick from Downham Market, Norfolk – worked for the British Sugar Corporation.

My main recollections were: the shock of the early run, cold shower and PT every day for the first 2 weeks – this proved to be essential in preparing us for the 4 day expedition in the final week; my first experience of sailing the dipping lug-cutter and being part of the crew; this culminated in a 2-day sailing expedition across the Moray Firth (see below); manning a lifeboat; rock climbing and abseiling; orienteering in Roseisle Forest; birdwatching in Findhorn Bay; 4-day expedition in the Highlands – the sights of emerging from the tent high on a Monroe to see the sunrise above a floor of clouds below you with peaks of distant mountains poking through the cloud floor; herds of red deer below you; waking next to a highland river; your tent-mate attempting to use a toilet roll behind a distant rock and the paper streaming away in the wind; a number of us running around naked on the mountain side on our final evening swimming in an ice-cold mountain burn.

Our 2-day sailing expedition was from Burghead to Balintore, 13.5 miles across the Moray Firth and back again. On the outward leg we enjoyed good sunny weather but had to row in the absence of sufficient wind to sail. We decided to have a brew; the water was coming to the boil on the a bench at the stern of the boat. I can’t recall the actual incident but it resulted in Dave having the whole pot of near-boiling water tipping onto a plimsolled foot. He was in excruciating pain and we collective decided that he should plunge his foot into the cold sea water to relieve the pain. I remember looking over the side to see bits of his skin peeling off in the water. We were unclear what to do next but decided to use a flare. We had not been briefed on the different types of flares on board and it turned out that we chose the wrong one. Alan, the Watch Captain, set off a sky–flare, which was more appropriate for hours of darkness. We later learnt that there was one that floated on the surface and emitted bright orange smoke for use in daylight.

As luck would have it there was a Royal Navy rescue helicopter out on a training flight and very soon they were above us assessing the situation. We were frantically pointing at Dave’s foot hoping that they would have a clear idea of our predicament. To our dismay they flew away leaving us wondering whether they understood the severity of the situation. It seemed an age that nothing happened with Dave in increasing discomfort with just a clean dry dressing now on his foot. There were no aspirin or paracetemol available back then. To our relief a helicopter re-appeared and hovered about 50 feet above the sea about 200 yards away. A frogman then jumped from the helicopter into the sea and swam over to us. He climbed aboard and began assessing the situation. I don’t recall him using a radio but he sent hand signals to the helicopter requesting a pick-up. The helicopter positioned itself over the boat and sent down a hoist. The frogman secured Dave in the hoist and he was winched away, to Lossiemouth. The frogman remained with us and after ascertaining exactly what happened was happy to participate in a Q&A session from the rest of us. They were happy for us to have provided a real-life training exercise for them. The helicopter returned and picked up the frogman. The rest of the expedition was thankfully uneventful by comparison. We camped overnight at Balintore where we regaled Mr Clegg about the incident. We returned to Burghead the following day. After a full day of mostly rowing with short attempts to sail, we reached Burghead around 1600. Dave had been treated and returned to the school sick bay where we saw him in good spirits.

The 4-day expedition in the West Highlands was the grand finale of the course and one of the most memorable episodes in my life. I have travelled extensively and have returned to Scotland and it’s Highlands and Islands on a number of occasions to holiday, walk, climb Monroes and off-shore sailing, but never quite recaptured the sights and sensations of those 4 days of utter freedom.

I have a photo somewhere of Naismith watch, stripped to the waist for PT, outside the training block. My thanks to John Highton, who has posted a photo of the entire course. I was able to recognise most of the people that I have mentioned above.