No.20: Ray Clark in conversation with Nigel Harris

Ray Clark has interviewed numerous people involved with Radio Caroline for documentaries and his book, Radio Caroline: The True Story Of The Boat That Rocked (reviewed here).
One of his interviewees was Nigel Harris.
Nigel first joined Caroline in 1976, when he used the name Stuart Russell, and can still be heard on the station today.
As Nigel Harris he has written an excellent book about his offshore career called Ships In Troubled Waters.
We are grateful to Ray for sharing this recording with us.

Stuart Russell

Nigel / Stuart in 1978. A photo shared by him on Facebook.

I particularly remember one morning shortly after I'd joined Caroline, so we're talking about the Mi Amigo now, back in the late seventies, and the anchor broke. It was a calm day. Why it broke, I don't know. I think the chain was a bit on the short side and it was pulling a bit so it broke and no one really noticed it had gone. The Captain we had at the time was a bit of a worrier. He came running downstairs to the studio about half past eight in the morning and I was on the air. He said (foreign accent): “No mentioning anchor break. You stay talking normal.” So I carried on doing the programme. The idea was that the authorities wouldn't know we'd broken the anchor so wouldn't be watching for us drifting into territorial waters or anything like that, which luckily we didn't. But en route to the studio he popped into various cabins to tell the assembled multitude that the anchor had gone. He nipped into one young lady's cabin. I won't name her. She was fast asleep, on her own I hasten to add, and in he popped and said “the anchor's broken. Don't worry about anything.” She hadn't been on the boat long either so was a little bit on the worried side. There I am doing my Breakfast Show. I look to the right. The door opens and in she walks - stark naked - and sits down opposite me. Half past eight this was and she's sat there stark naked for an hour while I carried on doing my programme. Nothing like that's ever happened since. How I continued I don't know but I managed it in the end. That was one of the funny stories from the Mi Amigo days.

click to hear audio Stuart Russell from very early in his Radio Caroline career on 15th May 1976, the first day of the 24 hour service (duration 1 minutes 54 seconds)
click to hear audio Stuart Russell battling against the background noise of a new generator being installed on Radio Caroline's morning show, 29th November 1977. This clip is taken from a recording shared on the Radiotrefpunt (radio meeting point) forum by Steksis. Our thanks to him (duration 4 minutes 28 seconds)


Stuart Russell

Nigel / Stuart on the mv Mi Amigo. A photo shared by Stevie Gordon on Facebook.

Early in my days out on the Mi Amigo we set sail from Ostend. I remember it was a particularly bad day. Most of the days I set foot on small boats on the way to Caroline were (laughs). It was blowing a hooley. We went down to the harbour in Ostend and the guy said “we go now”. I said “it's too rough. We can't go in this.” “Oh, don't worry. By the time we get out there it's calm”. “How long's it going to take?” “Oh, in this weather, 12 hours, maybe 15, but don't worry...” So halfway out there, after about 3 or 4 hours, it is horrendous. They're up in the galley of the fishing boat cooking and stewing, and there's fish smells and diesel smells... I'd just had enough of it. I went out onto the deck and I don't know if you've ever suffered from severe seasickness. You just have to get off the boat. You need to end it, have done with it. I was seriously considering jumping over the side. I just could not take any more of this. I am not very brave when it comes to things like that. I was hauled back in and actually tied in a chair! And the chair was secured to the deck of the boat. I couldn't move. There I was until we got alongside the Mi Amigo - tied up! All the way out! One of the worst tender trips I've ever done.
Going out to the Mi Amigo once with this rather weird sea-faring type chappy, he had this very small wooden boat. Inside he had a radar and downstairs a cabin light. They couldn't work at the same time. If the radar was on, you had to feel your way around the boat and, if the light was on, you had no radar. Now, most of the time, we used to sail out under the cover of darkness so therefore we needed a few lights on so most of the time the radar was off. Which meant every time we set sail on this particular boat, we hit a sandbank. If we were at sea for more than 3 hours and hadn't hit one, we began to worry. When we got out to the ship, the people coming off would say “how many sandbanks did you hit on the way out?” “Three”. “Oh, for crying out loud. Here we go”. On one particular case, he ploughed so quickly into a sandbank, we were there for about seven hours. Just couldn't pull the boat out of it. High tide came, low tide came, there we sat. In the end I think we dug ourselves off that thing. He was a character. Whether he's still hitting sandbanks these days, I really don't know. I hate to think. (laughs)

Nigel Harris, Caroline Martin, Neil Gates

Nigel Harris, Caroline Martin and Neil Gates on the mv Ross Revenge. Photo by Chris Cooper. More of his pics here.

It was November 1987 and it was about a fortnight or 3 weeks after the major hurricane that we had. I remember the night that the storm was building up to the tower coming down. It was rough but we'd suffered rough seas before. It wasn't particularly bad. About 10 o'clock that night the ship decided it was going to sit sideways-on to the swell. Thinking back to the hurricane, that was only a few weeks beforehand, the tower had been under a lot of strain in that obviously, when the ship faced bow-wards into the high seas. Now we're rolling side to side so we're weakening the base of the tower the other way, if you see what I mean. The station went off the air, not because the tower came down at that point. One of the feeders had come off the top so the station was now off the air. Peter Chicago, the engineer, was on the bridge using the telex of some description to get a message to shore as to why we were off. It was in the middle of this. We were sitting on the bridge at the time and it was quite choppy. People were being thrown from side to side all over the boat and I nipped downstairs and got my video camera. I switched it on probably about 15 seconds before the crashing and the banging started. Now, as the film is rolling, upstairs on the bridge you can see people falling one way, then the other across the record library where we were sitting. An almighty crash was heard. Someone was heard to say - it was actually me - “oh don't worry about that. It's just something's fallen over on the bridge” and I looked around the record library and people weren't taking that one in. Then there was an almighty crash as cables went and 300 ft. of steel just went, almost right down to base level. Seven inches above the deck it snapped. Straight over the side. Almost immediately Chicago, who was on the bridge at the time, pressed the alarm bell and everyone ran down to the corridor. It was a pretty frightening experience because at that time we didn't really know how much of the tower was down, how much was up and where it was actually falling. As I said, luckily it mostly went over the side of the ship. It was now just after midnight so there was very little to see or we could do at that point, and the seas were still pretty rough. The ship was still sitting sideways-on to the heavy swell. Our Captain at the time made us put our lifejackets on, quite wisely, and we assembled downstairs in the galley - just outside the galley actually - and we were ready just to wait and see what state the ship was in before calling for assistance. Chicago and the Captain went off to assess the damage. They went outside onto the deck. The tower - most of it had snapped off. A lot was still hanging onto the stays over the side of the ship. About 3 or 4 hours later they cut it all away with oxyacetylene and the thing fell off and went to the bottom of the sea. The storm that brought the thing down lasted another week so we didn't see any more boats out there. We could get no supplies out or any repairs underway but we did stick this very, very baby aerial up and, blow me down, we were back on the air within 8 days. It was a pretty scary experience.

A video by Wim van Egmond shared on YouTube of Caroline's mast coming down. You can hear Nigel saying “It's only stuff on the bridge” just before an almighty crash.

Kevin Turner's memories of the tower coming down are here.
Back to Ray's chat with Johnny Lewis.
Ray's conversation with Ian MacRae is over the page.

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