Highlands & Islands

Rig Galore: Could grounded rig inspire arts?

Rig at Dalmore beach Image copyright ALEX BOYD
Image caption A photograph of Transocean Winner taken by Lewis-based artist Alex Boyd

The grounding of the drilling rig Transocean Winner on a Lewis beach poses significant challenges to salvors and islanders alike, but could it have another, more unexpected, effect - inspiring the novelists, songwriters, filmmakers and artists?

Seventy-five years ago, a large structure ran aground in a storm on a shore of the Western Isles.

The cargo ship SS Politician was headed for Jamaica with 28,000 cases of whisky when it got into difficulty and eventually sank off Eriskay in 1941.

Islanders recovered hundreds of cases of whisky from the wreck and some of the bottles were buried to keep them hidden from customs officers.

The grounding, and hoarding of the spirits, inspired Scottish author Compton Mackenzie to write his 1947 novel Whisky Galore.

The story was adapted for the cinema in a 1949 Ealing comedy starring Basil Radford.

Since 1949, Whisky Galore has been turned into a musical and a remake of the classic film has been made.

Grizzly bear

In the 1950s, there was the comedy Rockets Galore which was inspired by establishment of a massive military missile test range on the Uists in the Western Isles.

And then, 36 years ago, there was another large arrival on the Western Isles that got creative juices flowing.

Tame grizzly bear Hercules had been brought to Benbecula for the filming of an advert in the summer of 1980. He escaped and was on the loose for 24 days before he was safely captured.

Author Bella Pollen was a teenager on a family holiday on Benbecula when the bear went on the run.

The incident inspired Pollen to later write a fictional story, Summer of the Bear.

Image copyright Alex Boyd
Image caption Artist Alex Boyd was able to get close to the rig before an exclusion zone was put in place

Lewis-based artist Alex Boyd believes the grounded hulk of Transocean Winner could have a similar effect on the arts.

"From my home in the village of Bragar, only a few miles from where the Transocean Winner unceremoniously crashed ashore, I can see the towering derrick of the rig looming over the horizon like a particularly bad piece of public sculpture," he says.

"The rig joins the ever growing wreckage of industry which litters the peripheries of Hebridean villages, from farm machinery to broken down buses on an island that the writer Jonathan Meades once re-christened 'Rust'.

"Less than a day after her arrival, several artists from our village had already walked along the headland to see the new arrival, documenting the unwelcome addition to one of our most loved beaches and sharing the images on social media."

Image caption The escape of Hercules the bear on the Western Isles inspired a fictional story

Boyd, who is an arts officer at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway, Lewis, has also been inspired to explore the potential of the rig's grounding. He, along with another artist, were able to get close to the site of the grounding before an exclusion zone was put in place.

"I let curiosity get the better of me and, along with artist Jon Macleod, we made our way along the cliff path to view the rig, a walk of several miles due to the closing of access routes to the beach by police and the coastguard," says Boyd.

"Following the coast south, we watched as the rig grew larger on the horizon, and the smell of diesel oil grew stronger.

"On a cliff top overlooking the scene below, we watched the gentle sway of the rig on the waves, and worried about the possible effects that a spill would have on the fragile local environment.

"As artists, however, we also got to work, documenting the scene before us, I loading film after film into my camera, while Jon hid his solargraph cameras in the landscape for an upcoming exhibition Deiseal (Sunwise) at An Lanntair.

"Over the course of several months his camera will silently record the scene, picking up the movement of the rig, its hopeful removal, and the rise and fall of the sun.

"It's probably one of the first artworks to be made of the event."

'Certainly cinematic'

Boyd plans to document the salvage of the rig using a Victorian field camera.

Image copyright ALEX BOYD
Image caption The top section of the Transocean Winner seen from a cliff top

He adds: "Since the first days of the incident many artists from here and abroad have been out to record and document the rig, countless images have been made, and I'm sure at the next open art exhibition, Grinneas nan Eilean, at the An Lanntair there will be wall to wall paintings and photographs of oilrigs. I hope so anyway.

"In the longer term, I hope that the incident will be recorded in other ways. Lewis and Harris are fantastically creative places, and the community will reflect that in the way that they record the event."

Meanwhile, Scottish filmmaker David Hutchison believes the grounding could influence screenwriters.

He says: "The image of the oil rig on the rocks is certainly cinematic and did make me think how I could write that into a film.

"I like to use real events if possible.

"When I wrote the script for my film Baobhan Sith I knew that the Cockenzie Power Station towers were going to be demolished so their destruction was woven into the script and filming was delayed a year until they were captured."

Hutchison adds: "So yes real event can trigger inspiration. It still needs to be mixed with a character story."

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