The Coastguard’s Tale

Tales from End to End
The Coastguard’s Tale

by Nigel Wales

Nigel Wales
Nigel Wales

I joined the Coastguard Service at Filey nine years ago and I still get excited when the pager is activated, as you never know what the job is going to be.

On the morning of 21st September 2002 my pager was activated instructing me to attend Filey Beach as an animal had been washed up on the shore. I jumped into my car taking four minutes to arrive at the station where I met up with one of my colleagues, Mike, who had arrived a little before me and had contacted our Headquarters at Bridlington to get an update on our original paged message. Mike was smiling and suggested that I take control of this incident which would have been my first overall control since joining. Mike and I jumped into the Coastguard 4×4 and proceeded to go on to the beach heading south towards Reighton. With blue lights flashing and the occasional whoop of the siren to warn the odd dog and owner that we were coming, we closed in on a large lump on the beach, which had attracted a large crowd around it. As we got closer an acrid smell percolated through the vehicle’s ventilation system and seemed to grab the back of the throat and bring tears to the eyes.

As I alighted from the vehicle I was approached by a reporter from the local paper, who bombarded me with a series of questions about what was it, what we were going to do and my name and rank. As soon as he heard my name he smiled and said ‘What’s the chances of a story like this “Coastguard Officer Wales takes charge of removal of Whale from Filey Beach”?’ Yes, the lump on the beach was a dead ten ton Minke whale some 30 feet in length in a very bad state of decomposition.

At this point I remembered a law brought out in 1307 which stated that a whale found washed up on the British coast automatically became the property of the Reigning Monarch and divided into two. The head was for the king and the tail for the Queen so she could use the bones for her corset.

On advise from control a sample of flesh was taken to be sent the British Museum for examination and a team of removal men were summoned. They duly arrived with an eight wheeler tipper lorry, a JCB and six men with chain saws, who sent about dismantling the creature, which took a couple of hours. The completion of the task coincided with the dismantling crew’s lunch break, so they moved along the beach to a point level with the Tea Bar, a popular watering hole for many visitors taking a stroll along Filey’s Edwardian promenade.

The takings at the Tea Bar plummeted for an hour when the wind changed direction to a shore wind and visitors were seen to quickly divert into town for refreshments.

Twelve months on, my knowledge was increasing about nautical matters, things like: I now knew the difference between Flotsam and Jetsam, Derelict and Lagan and I understood my role within the receiver of wrecks. So when my pager was activated, the message displayed read ‘A strange object in the sea north of the Brigg’.

A well-rehearsed team assembled at Filey Coastguard station, donned on their personal protection equipment, jumped into the liveried vehicle and off we sped to a location called Black Hole, a natural bay surrounded by high cliffs. On our arrival we were met by the first informant who directed our attention to an object bouncing around in the sea about 100feet down the cliff and 20 feet from the shore. Due to the terrain and distance from our position on top of the cliff we took out our two pairs of binoculars and took it in turns to observe the object which repeatedly rose slightly and then slipped back under the waves.

The object had a domed top, yellowish in colour, but its length was hard to estimate and the only way to get to it would be by boat. It was at this point we were joined by the coxswain of the Filey Lifeboat who observed the object for some time. Our collective view was that it was a cold water cylinder which needed to be removed from the sea as it could be a danger to vessels. The coxswain was just about to call the inshore Lifeboat to tow the object away, when a freak wave hit the object which rose out of the water like some sea monster, and then plunged head long back into the water exposing its rear end, which you could clearly see had four fins and a propeller. The cry of ‘it’s a torpedo’ was clearly heard from our lips followed by figures scurrying around as the realisation of what it was and the potential damage it could cause.

The Navy bomb disposal team were summoned from their base in Scotland and arrived some hours later. After further examination the torpedo was towed approximately three miles to a quiet section of beach, where a controlled explosion made the torpedo safe to be handled. Portions of which can be found in the Filey Museum.

There are 3500 volunteer Coastguards stationed all around the coast of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Every one will have a tale to tell.

Before becoming a Volunteer Coastguard, Nigel Wales had served his time in various roles with the Manchester Police Force.