(For the uninitiated: USO is an Unidentified Sailing Object) At 6:40pm on Wednesday evening Stornoway Coastguard received call from the Police at Portree on the Isle of Skye reporting that one of their off-duty officers had sighted red and bright white flashing lights 200 yards off the beach at Staffin Bay in the North of the island.
The officer reported that he could see three of these lights in the water and that they appeared to be drifting. Thinking they were from a vessel he had flashed his torch at the lights but received no response. Another member of the public also reported seeing a flashing red light in the bay and went down to the beach to investigate.
The off-duty Police Officer then called Stornoway Coastguard to say that one of the red lights had now turned into a bright white light. No doubt at this point the off-duty policeman assured the Coastguard that he had been drinking only coffee.
Fearing someone may be in difficulty; Stornoway Coastguard sent members of the Duntulm Coastguard Rescue Team to investigate further from the shore and requested the Portree RNLI Lifeboat to attend.
When the Coastguard Rescue Team arrived at Staffin Bay the lights were clearly visible but no objects or vessels could be seen using their powerful search lights. On entering the bay from seaward the Portree Lifeboat crew were unable to see any lights in the bay so Duntulm Coastguard guided the lifeboat towards their location.
As the Lifeboat closed the position of the objects, one set of lights was seen in the surf line on the beach.
Duntulm Coastguard were able to recover the object, over an hour after the initial call, only to discover that it was an eight inch long model boat with a masthead light, a red light, a flashing white light on the bow and another red light on the stern.
Station officer kenina mackenzie from the duntulm coastguard rescue team onboard the portree lifeboat - .. .
On the yellow sail of the model boat was written HAPPY 42nd BIRTHDAY OLLIE XXX.
Martin Collins, Coastguard Watch Manager says:
This one had everyone baffled as to what these lights were attached too. It could have been anything from lifejacket lights from a vessel that had sunk or a liferaft, to marker lights for fishing gear. No one expected to find a model boat that seems to have been launched as part of a birthday celebration.
Im sure that Duntulm Coastguard and the Portree Lifeboat crew would join us in wishing Ollie a Happy Birthday and we hope that it was an enjoyable one.
If anyone is thinking about using a similar method for any celebration then please think about what it may look like from a distance, especially at night. This also includes the likes of Chinese Lanterns and, especially at this time of year, fireworks.
If you are planning any celebration close to the sea then call your local Coastguard station and let them know what you are planning. It may save us having to send Lifeboats and Coastguard teams out to investigate.