On Sunday May 20th, as the awards for the Gaffers & Classics Regatta at Lymington were coming to a close, there was a surprise for Bob Fisher.
On a July night in 1988, he was at the wheel of the maxi-rater Drum some three miles due south of the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse in the Outer Clyde. The bowman, who was taking the spinnaker gear from the port side to the starboard side in anticipation of a possible shy spinnaker reach up the east side of the Mull, noticed something odd about 100 yards ahead and shouted back to his skipper: 'Come up NOW!'
Bob turned the wheel and there followed the most awful sounds and jerk, as though Drum had gone hard aground. This was impossible as the echo sounder was giving triple echoes because of the great depth of water, but Bob was aware of a strange movement as the port side 'fence' was torn away. In the darkness he saw nothing until the glow of the stern light picked up what for all the world looked like an Evinrude outboard motor, but it was not attached to the transom of a vessel. Perplexed, he waited until one of the crew remarked: 'Submarine.'
When, after making a 'Pan' call and receiving replies from Clyde Coastguard and the Royal Navy’s diving vessel, HMS Challenger that was anchored on the west side of the Mull, Bob, now in the navigation station with the VHF attempted to call up the submarine, but for 25 minutes there was no reply. This concerned him deeply as at that time it was known that hostile (Russian) submarines were active in the area, and the thought that it could have been one of those who would have had little compunction in completing the job of sinking Drum, the crew waited with some agitation.
Eventually the submarine made contact on VHF and identified itself as HMS Otus, an Oberon class diesel/electric vessel. Details were exchanged and while Otus returned, damaged, to her base at Faslane, Drum with a 40 foot long gash down the port side and a bent shroud roller, continued to race to Crinan. It was there that she was met by a Royal Navy Commander and there was an exchange of views during which it was ascertained that the damage to HMS Otus included the optical (search) periscope, the destruction of the communications dome and the air intake periscope. Little wonder that it had taken the submarine’s commander 25 minutes to make contact through a hand-held VHF.
Later the Royal Navy admitted responsibility, but not liability for the collision and paid Drum’s owner, Arnold Clark, around £40,000 for the repairs to Drum.
That might have been the end of it, but one of the crew of Fisher’s 1896 classic Solent One-Design, Rosenn, had been a member of Otus’s crew well after the collision and knew of the incident, recently saw her in a breaker’s yard in Portsmouth. Explaining that he had served aboard the submarine, he asked if he could have a keepsake and was told to help himself. He found the search periscope cotter pin, took it home and with Rosenn’s co-owner, Barry Dunning, polished the chrome-plated brass pin with an hexagonal head and mounted it on an oak base.
'Bob’s Bolt' was duly presented to Bob by his crew after the regatta to great hilarity and much to the bemusement of the recipient.