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In the days of sail powered vessels, before steam engines were invented, the shoreline of the East Coast of Fife would be a very dangerous place for craft that were powered only by the wind. With the prevailing winds in the Firth of Forth being from the southeast and the southwest it would be very easy for a vessel with only sail for power to be driven ashore in a gale.


Ever since I was a boy, straight down from the Cross Wynd at Earlsferry and at low tide, I've been finding bits of wood that are all of the same type and age, lodged in the crevices of the rocks.  One time just as the tide was rushing in I found a section of wood that would have to have been from the keel of a very large vessel. This piece was about fifteen inches square and maybe six feet long. It had empty holes such as a keel would have for through bolts. I could roll it as the tide was coming in but I couldn't up-end it.  Another large piece that I found contained splice joints that are like nothing that present day people would make or use.  All of the pieces appear to be hundreds of years and possibly thousands of years old. In this same debris field I've found very old pieces of iron objects. Some quite large. One day as I walked with a friend on the beach and along the tide line a wave uncovered a gold coin. My friend picked it up. I took the coin to the Edinburgh library and for a whole day I sat in the library going over many books of ancient coins to try to identify the coin but I never found a match.


Over the years my brother John had quite a collection of barnacle encrusted iron objects that looked like they had been musket barrels and swords that he gleaned from the rocks at low tide. One day at the extreme of a very low tide I found a very heavy and  old iron anchor that with help from others I managed to salvage.


I'm firmly convinced that in gale from the south a very large vessel was driven on to the Thill Rock that lies straight offshore. Today the Thill is marked with a buoy. In ancient times it would not have had a marker. But marked or not a large vessel in a gale from the south could have been driven straight on to the Thill and wrecked.  I think that such a tragedy did happen and that the vessel foundered and later became embedded in the sunken shifting sands and that storms to this day continue to churn up bits that keep coming ashore. Who knows? This wreckage could be the remains of a long lost Spanish Galleon treasure ship.


I've also wondered if the stone coffins that were unearthed nearby at just above the high tide mark at Earlsferry could have a connection to this wreck.


I know that the next time  I return to Earlsferry  and I go raking down in the rocks I'll find more bits of this ancient vessel.


And who knows what else?   Another "Atocha", maybe?


This photo of a rust and barnacle encrusted cannon was recently sent to me by Alex Reekie, an ex fisherman and native of St. Monans, who now lives in New Zealand. Somewhere in the Firth of Forth is the rest of the vessel that this old cannon was on. 



At the foot of Monty Moncrieff's, Seaforth, Elie, garden where it overlooked the sea was another old cannon that I'd say was identical to this recently found one. Monty donated his cannon for scrap iron to aid the World War II shortage of metals.


Cannon that I made in the 1970s    

I later added a precision elevating screw mechanism to replace the

wooden blocks and an aiming sighting device that is extremely accurate.


Strangely enough, in the 1970's, in my area  an informal recreational black powder cannon shooters club was formed in which each  member was required to construct his own cannon. I made my cannon from the rear, breech end, half length of a brand new 40 mm. anti aircraft ship mounted gun barrel that I got from a U.S. battleship that was being broken up in Zidel's navy ship breaking scrap iron yard on the Willamette River in Portland Oregon. My cannon  I made from memory to be similar to the cannon that was in Monty Moncrieff's garden and it is remarkably similar to the above recently salvaged cannon of yester year. Our firing range was a mile or more long farm field that was owned by one of the club members.


December 2009: It's only a few weeks ago that I learned from Alex Reekie in New Zealand of the cannon that was dredged up in the net of a St. Monans fishing boat. Strangely enough one of the men in the photo who is inspecting the cannon is another Reekie. Now me having an interest in old ships and muzzle loading black powder cannons to the point of constructing, firing and owning such a cannon as would have been aboard an ancient vessel, is just not your every day interest and hobby. I wonder if the man-of-the-sea who had been aboard the vessel that the cannon came off and whose job it was to fire the cannon might have been a Spanish forebear by the name of Ricci, Riekie, Reikie or Reekie?  Far out speculation?  Maybe.  Maybe not.


(A few statistics of my, Reekie, cannon: Weight, 300+ pounds. Muzzle loaded, rifled  barrel. Bore, 40 m.m., approx. 1 and 5/8 inch diameter. Cast projectile bullet weight, 1 pound hard lead. Priming charge, Triple F grade black powder. Firing charge, Double F grade black powder. At 100 yards the bullet, even though it's made of lead, goes clean through 1/2 inch thick mild steel plate. I estimate that at 1 mile range the trajectory is about 80 feet. I first proof fired my cannon by loading it with 3 times the measure of black powder that I considered would be it's normal charge. In front of this overload of black powder I rammed 3, one pound lead slugs down the barrel before touching it off. For that first test shot, for me to get far enough away, instead of using the lanyard to fire the cannon, I used several feet of fuse, one end of which I inserted into the touch-hole  before I lit the other end and ran for cover. After each firing it became my practice to swab the bore with a long handled wet and greased mop. All of the projectiles that I recovered were expanded to the full extent of the barrel's rifling.)


The largest shipwreck that I've seen on these shores was the SS Wearbridge, a large steamship that broke loose while it was being towed.  This ship was blown ashore and ran aground at the end of the West Sea road at West Bay. That event caused a lot of local excitement. Men of the Coast Guard arrived on the scene and fired line carrying rockets at the ship. After several attempts a line was finally put aboard the vessel. From this messenger line a pulley system was set up to get a heavy rope aboard the ship. To this rope was attached a breeches buoy system and one by one the crew were taken off the ship. Mostly their trip from ship to shore was by them being dragged through the sea.  About a month later at the height of a high tide, two powerful tugs managed to haul the ship off the rocks. 







S S Wearbridge 

Photo by Archie Campbell