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The Coffin


Jems, Jimmy Linton, was my boyhood bosom buddy.  All of the Earlsferry boys were friends but Jems was my special pal.  We were Tom and Huck and then some.  To do our boyhood exploits justice would take a good sized volume.  I'll content myself with a few of our memorable moments. 


It's like Jems and I got washed up on the beach by a big wave.  We were always beachcombing; fishing, either from the jetty rocks behind the Elie Harbour or from the Fish Rock at the lighthouse.  Again, we might be raking in the rocks for partans or lobsters at low tide, you name it, we were a regular pair of rag-a-muffin sea gypsies.


One time we built a boat from driftwood planks we'd picked up.  More a slab-sided box than a boat. Held together with whatever nails we could find.  At first it leaked like a sieve.  With plenty of tar, (courtesy of the village road repair crew) it held together within reason.  Our bailing can was an old baked beans tin can which was in constant use.  Our pride and joy was about three feet wide and six or seven feet long. With it we ventured out to sea. For all the world it looked like a coffin and so its name became. 


One day I borrowed my friend Monty's Penta outboard engine that he said he no longer had any use for and fastened it on to the Coffin's transom that was made of an upper and a lower horizontal board. The lower board was nailed to the bottom and the sides but the upper board was nailed only to the sides. With the weight of the engine the Coffin could only hold me. I took off from the beach at Telfers Wynd  and gingerly headed out into Elie Bay.


 Elie Bay.


I must have had a premonition that all was not well because I tied a length of rope to the engine and fastened the other end to the side of the Coffin. I applied more throttle.  For a moment the Coffin shot forward then ---- Kersplash ----  The upper back end board that the engine was fastened to came completely off the Coffin and board and engine went straight to the bottom. The sea poured in and I had to make a mad scramble to the front end of  the Coffin to prevent it from filling with sea water.  It took me ages to get the engine and the back-end board hauled up, inch by inch, to the surface. While doing so it was nip and tuck that the Coffin didn't roll over and throw me out.  With the engine and the attached board dangling below I very carefully paddled back to the beach. The engine was full of sea water and had to be completely stripped down to it's parts. I was lucky not to be drowned. Once again my guardian angel was with me. A few days later I applied a copious amount of tar then re-nailed the end board back in place and added a few extra nails for good measure. It took me about a week to thoroughly dry and clean all the parts of the engine but after I got it all back together, like me, it showed no sign that it was any the worse for its adventure.


Eventually some well meaning souls feared that Jems and I would become a double drowning and made their concerns known to Wilson the bobby. Wilson agreed and knocked on our door to have a talk with my parents. Not exactly a talk.  A command. "That boat, if you can call it that, is completely unsafe. The boys must never go out in it again.  I want you to break it up."  The Coffin wasn't broken up but my parents laid down the law to me. Dutifully I listened.  For about three weeks all went well. Then one Saturday Jems showed up at the Howff.  "What say we  get the Coffin out? We can stay inshore, go out around the Chapel and drop our lines in West Bay."  Before Jems arrived I'd been getting ready to go fish for the trout that lived in the Cocklemill  burn that flowed under the bridge near the Kinneuchar railway station. (Recently I had seen a whopper of a sea trout there that must have been all of five pounds). I surprised myself by telling Jems," No." Guess I still had religion.  I left on my own.  But Jems was hot to trot. He rounded up another pal, Alan McRoberts.  The two of them hauled the Coffin down to the waters edge and set off.  They went around the point at Chapel Green and on in to West Bay.  Just as they were off the 11th, the Sea hole of the golf course, and getting their lines over the side, a noise in the sky made them look up. A smoking airplane was coming from over the golf course and heading right towards them.  On impact with the water the pilot escaped but the airman in the turret gunner position didn't make it out.  It transpired that the plane was a two place Navy Blackburn Roc which was visiting at Crail Naval Air Station.  Jems and Alan paddled over to the barely conscious pilot. There was no way a third person could get into the Coffin as it barely held two boys. To keep the Coffin in balance Alan went to the front end of the Coffin to allow Jems to slip over the back end and into the water. Thank goodness my re-attached transom board stayed in place. With one hand Jems held up the injured pilot and with the other hand he hung on to the transom board at the back end of the boat.  Alan paddled the Coffin to shore. By this time half the villagers who had seen the smoking airplane going down, including Wilson the bobby, were on the scene at the end of the West Sea road. Wilson with a big smile on his face waded in to help the trio to shore.  Next week the local East Fife Observer weekly newspaper carried the sensational front page headline; 


  "Local Boys in Coffin Save Airman."


It turned out that the pilot that Jems and Alan rescued was the son of Sir George Wilkinson, the 1940 Lord Mayor of London.  In gratitude his lordship gave Jems and Alan 100 pounds each. That was a lot of money in those days.  Also to each he gave a gold pocket watch that was inscribed on the back with his lordship's words of gratitude to mark the occasion.


That was the last voyage of the Coffin. 


Right then I figured out that some days it just doesn't pay to be good.


Where it all happened

Earlsferry Beach


Earlsferry Beach


Chapel Point

For whom the bell tolls



The day the bell tolled for The Coffin


Later that same year The Coffin was taken down to the rocks at low tide and given its last rites before being reluctantly surrendered to Vulcan.  A match was lit and soon the tar that had sealed The Coffin melted to fuel the flames. The Coffin departed this world in a blaze of glory. All that was left of The Coffin was ash and rusty nails that soon became covered and claimed by the rising waters of Neptune's incoming tide.  An era passed but fond  memories endure of The Coffin, Jems and our early day adventures on the high seas.