December 1985, saw the tragic sinking of the Banff trawler, the Bon Ami, with the loss of six lives off the coast of Loch Inchard. The 14 m vessel, registration BF323, which had been built at Macduff, just across the mouth of the Deveron from Banff, was returning to Kinlochbervie on the evening of 19th December when it ran aground on a reef on Minister’s Point on Rubha Leacaig on the northern side of the approaches to Kinlochbervie. For it and the other members of the fleet this would have been the last fishing trip before returning to the east coast for Christmas.
The Bon Ami radioed another east coast boat in the area, the Bon Accord, which had been just a short distance ahead of it, asking if they could tow them off, and this message was picked up by the harbour master in Kinlochbervie, who passed it on immediately to the Stornoway Coastguard Maritime Rescue Sub-centre. There was a heavy swell, but at this stage there was optimism that the crew could safely be taken from the boat.
The shore-based Coastguard Rescue Team was called out and made their way across the rough ground between Cnoc na h-Eannaiche and Càrn Ruadh, about a kilometre from the harbour and nearest road and were able to shout to the crew. However, the ground was too rough to get a landrover with equipment to the nearest spot on the shore and the poor weather helped to frustrate all attempts to get a rope across to the boat.
Once it became clear that the Bon Accord couldn’t safely reach the Bon Ami to get the men off, the Stornoway rescue centre called out a helicopter from Lossiemouth. However, the cold temperatures that night meant that the helicopter crew had to take the circuitous route around the coast to avoid the danger of icing if they took the direct route across the mainland mountains, this meant it would take well over two hours to get there. The Lochinver lifeboat was also on its way, but it could only travel at 8-9 knots and would also take a couple of hours to reach the stricken trawler.
On advice from the coastguard and reports from previous incidents it had been established that it was generally safer for the crew to stay with their ship rather than attempt to get off, especially in the high swell that obtained on this December night. The boat had now started to list and eventually one huge wave rolled the Bon Ami off the reef, capsizing the boat before the eyes of the horrified and powerless onlookers on shore. Resulting in the loss of all six crew members on board.
The loss of the Bon Ami that terrible night did at least have the effect of leading to the decision soon after to station a rescue helicopter permanently in Stornoway from then on. It was also made mandatory for all vessels to carry an electronic distress beacon soon after.
The crew lost on the Bon Ami were:
Eric Mitchell: Age 38 (captain)
John Sim: Age 26
Chris McInnes: Age 38
Mathew McFarlane: Age 38
Derek Lovie: Age 32
Christopher Hunt: Age 16