Seaman who skippered tugs on the Clyde:
Born October 27, 1921; Died February 17, 2013.
Archie MacDonald, who has died aged 91, promised his mother he would never join the navy. She had already lost her elder son at sea during the Second World War and endured the trauma of seeing Archie so badly hurt in a crane accident that he was not expected to live.
Though he had grown up surrounded by the waters of the West coast, shown an early aptitude for navigation (and would have loved to have joined the Royal Navy), he was the only surviving child and bowed to his mother's wishes. As a result he spent almost all his adult working life on the Firth of Clyde where he earned a reputation as a fearless tugmaster, determined never to be defied by the elements.
The son of a Skye crofter, Malcolm MacDonald and his wife Chirsty he was born in Uig where he went to school until the age of 14. He initially helped out on the croft before obtaining general labouring work at Uig's small pier.
It was there, when he was 16, that he sustained terrible injuries in the crane incident. Both his arms and legs were broken and his year-long rehabilitation included three months in hospital in Broadford.
Then, 18 months into the Second World War, his elder brother Calum was in mid-Atlantic serving in the Royal Navy on the Clyde-built passenger liner SS Britannia, then operating as a troop ship, when it was shelled by a German vessel. It swiftly sank. He did not survive.
Two years later Archie MacDonald finally left Skye for a job in Glasgow as a deckhand with the Clyde Shipping Company. He rose up the ranks being promoted to mate, then to relief skipper at the age of just 27, becoming skipper the following year, the youngest master ever appointed in the company.
By that time he had married his wife Rachael, a Glasgow-born Gaelic singer whom he had met after attending a concert in which she was performing. The couple, who went on to have five children, set up home in Dalmarnock Road before moving to Bishopbriggs.
Meanwhile Mr MacDonald was responsible for the safe handling of thousands of towing manoeuvres within the firth. He was also master of the first fire-fighting tug on the Clyde. Among the vessels he guided up the channel, as skipper of the Flying Falcon, were 200,000-ton tankers carrying oil to be pumped across Scotland from Finnart on Loch Long to the Grangemouth refinery.
But one of his most curious tows was the transport of a lighthouse to Kish Bank off the coast of Dublin. "It was to replace a lightship stationed there," he recalled, "and the base kept spinning around taking us from side to side like a drunken duck."
Another memorable voyage involved the towing of a 9000-ton cargo ship to Dublin when his vessel was caught in gale-force winds and dragged, stern-first, for 10 miles before being able to regain control. What should have been a short haul ended with the crew running out of food after sheltering for five days off the Isle of Man. Though he would never endanger his crew, his determination to get the job done was typical of a man who prided himself on never turning back. He had gained his experience on the job, without paper qualifications, and once acknowledged: "Classrooms are all right but they don't help you to know what to do if you are caught in a difficult situation. Then you must work by instinct otherwise danger could turn to disaster."
Mr MacDonald, who also sailed on the Flying Foam, the Flying Petrel and the Flying Fulmar, was always aware just how dangerous the seas could be and played a vital part in numerous salvage operations involving cargo ships, passenger vessels and warships. Over the space of a few days, in October 1971, he carried out three rescues: he took the Loch Seaforth ferry off the rocks after she ran aground just off Skye; rescued a fishing boat's crew of five between Kyle and Uist and secured a Navy frigate in Loch Maddy.
He retired in 1986, the same year he received the BEM for his long service to Clyde Shipping and the Merchant Navy.
The citation highlighted not only his exceptional skill in the confined waters of a port but the special reputation he built up for his work on the west coast and the Irish Sea: "His navigational and ship handling skills and his courage in coping with extremely adverse weather conditions are well known and he has been regularly commended by ship owners, pilots and the Royal Navy."
His character, illustrated by his loyalty, hard work, fearlessness and sense of duty, had been shaped by his Highland upbringing. And it was there he returned in retirement, to the family croft at Uig, where he indulged his love of gardening and river fishing.
Widowed in 1976, he is buried beside his wife in Cadder Cemetery, Bishopbriggs, and is survived by his sons Calum and Alasdair, daughters Christine, Catriona and Nancy, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
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