A real loch mess: Navy larks sunk by a truculent torpedo

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the... BOOM


Who, Me? The weekend is receding, and Monday lumbers into view. Delay the inevitable with a tale of nautical nonsense from The Register's regular Who, Me? column.

This week's confession comes from "Colin", and takes us back a good few years to when the Royal Navy was in the throes of validating the torpedo designs of a favoured contractor.

Back then, "I was a real engineer," said Colin, his chest puffed out, "and not a code-slinger. I worked on underwater weapons for a certain company, which had a contract with the Royal Navy."

Colin was involved in the guidance system of the torpedo and so, when the Navy decided it was time for a user acceptance test, he and the rest of the design team accompanied the prototype to a remote loch, deep in the heart of Scotland.

We can imagine the scene. Skies of flinty grey, an icy wind and an awful lot of boot polish.

As Colin recalled: "On the shore was a small stand, with a collection of chairs and tables, where were seated about half a dozen uniformed Navy types, each equipped with the mandatory pair of binoculars and clipboard."

All eyes were trained on the loch as the carefully crafted prototype was delicately manoeuvred toward the water atop the appropriate platform. "A converted tea trolley," admitted Colin.

Once in, a countdown was solemnly intoned. The torpedo was activated and, being a self-propelled device, began to move.

"All binoculars followed the white furrow on the surface of the water," recalled Colin, "while our chief engineer enthusiastically showed the Navy guys how the remote control worked."

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It all seemed to go swimmingly at first until Colin noticed the chief engineer was getting even more enthusiastic with the controller; waving it around wildly and then smacking the side of it with his hand.

Oh dear.

While the engineer struggled, the uniforms had got to their feet and were following the white furrow made by the torpedo with a renewed, fixed interest.

Colin pulled out his own binoculars to see what had attracted the attention of the brass.

Oh.

The white furrow, recalled Colin, was "unswervingly heading towards a small boat, from which one of the locals was fishing".

There is a certain inevitability that, with the whole of the loch to choose from, the torpedo would head for the chap enjoying a bit of alone time, with only rod and bait for company.

"To give him his due," said Colin, "he had probably seen enough movies where a white trail in the water, coming towards your vessel, usually ended badly. So he leapt from the boat, a few seconds before the impact."

And end badly it did. There was no warhead on the torpedo, but it still remained a substantial chunk of metal and machinery. The impact made short work of the fragile fishing boat.

The unfortunate fisherman was swiftly rescued by a Royal Navy inflatable, "while our chief engineer mumbled things about lawsuits and damages while pointing to us engineers".

However, although down a fishing boat, the victim waved off the Navy's enquiries over his health and the, er, legal implications of the incident. "To everyone's surprise," remembered Colin, "he said his only condition was to be taken home in an official Royal Navy car."

Scarcely able to believe their luck, the team immediately agreed. And the reason?

"If I tell my wife I was torpedoed while fishing, she'll never believe me."

We can imagine the conversation: "So, tell me again: what happened to the boat?..."

Let he or she who has never told a tall tale to a significant other in order to cover up an act of foolishness, or an extended visit to the pub, cast the first stone.

And the uncooperative underwater weapon?

"Someone," said Colin, "had left out an 'O' ring during the final assembly, and the electronics got introduced to the health benefits of the loch water."

Ever had a sinking feeling when your project veered out of control and threatened the innocent? Or had to come up with an excuse when reality was simply too implausible? Confess all with an email to Who, Me? ®

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