Bob Orrell

Bob Orrell was born in Manchester, England in July 1934 and at the age of fourteen ran away from home and worked as a deckhand on west coast Scottish fishing vessels and on a deep-sea trawler off Iceland. He learnt navigation and how to handle sailing boats in the turbulent waters of western Scotland while living on the Isle of Skye and at age eighteen, when called up for National Service he volunteered for the RAF Air Sea Rescue Service but someone misread the paperwork and he was sent join an RAF Mountain Rescue Unit in Wales. Leaving the RAF after fours years he joined the Northern Lighthouse Board as a lighthouse keeper at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse in the Hebrides and at Ardnamurchan Point at the western entrance to the Sound of Mull. He was later offered a post as a sailing instructor at Brathay Hall Outdoor Centre at Ambleside in the Lake District and after a couple of years he joined the staff of a Merchant Navy Training School as an instructor in seamanship. He left to join the Outward Bound Trust as an instructor at a school in Wales and while there made the first crossing of Cardigan Bay by canoe. Leaving Outward Bound he and a business partner opened one of the first Royal Yachting Association approved sailing schools in the north of England. He was authorised to grant RYA certificates of competency to clients who successfully completed one of his courses but somehow the RYA forgot that he was also entitled to one. He later withdrew from the partnership to go into business delivering sailing and motor yachts between the UK and the Mediterranean but when work became scarce he joined an American oil exploration company as the radio operator on a rig drilling for gas in the North Sea off Yarmouth in Norfolk. At the height of a winter gale the rig suffered a blowout and after being rescued by jumping from the rig into a helicopter Bob volunteered to go back to the stricken rig with Red Adair the Texan oil rig fire fighter. Because of the debris on the rig the helicopter was unable to land and encased in gas-tight survival suits and helmets the pair had to slide down ropes dangling below the fuselage. Red Adair saved the rig but back at his home in the port of Ravenglass on the Cumbrian coast the offer of the loan of a small fishing boat led Bob into a new enterprise as a lobster fisherman and inshore trawlerman. But the boat’s engine broke down in heavy seas and the boat drifted onto a reef and was wrecked. Bob managed to jump into the sea and swim ashore. The boat was uninsured and penniless Bob hitch-hiked to Aberdeen and managed to find employment as the radio operator on a rig drilling for oil between Shetland and Norway. But when the rig he was working on broke away from its anchors in storm force winds, and later when one of the engines seized up on the helicopter that was flying him and the rest of the crew back to Shetland in a snow blizzard and the helicopter crash-landed at the airport, Bob decided that rigs were not for him. He opted for a less hazardess occupation as one of the crew of a container ship sailing between ports on the Irish Sea.

Following an invitation to join BBC Radio he left the sea and worked as a producer/presenter with BBC Radio Cumbria and was also seconded to BBC Television to write the script for, and present, a TV documentary about the Lake District National Park. A follow up commission to make a TV documentary about Sail Training Ships foundered due to the withdrawal of BBC funding.

During this time Oxford University Press commissioned him to write a second childrens’ book, this one about taking two children on a sailing adventure in an open boat from the Clyde to the Isle of Skye. Parts of it were to be filmed by BBC Television Scotland but unfortunately a combination of severe weather and one of the youngsters having to return home caused the trip to be abandoned at Tobermory and the book was never written.

Resigning from the BBC he bought a 40’ steel ketch and for three years he and a new partner operated skippered charters from a base in Oban taking paying guests on weekly cruises around the Western Isles. Very expense repairs to the engine eventually put the enterprise out of business and the boat was sold. An invitation from a large company in Carlisle to edit their monthly magazine and a commission to write the company history persuaded Bob to return to Cumbria but when he acquired the wreck of 26’ wooden yacht in exchange for a bottle of whisky he spent two years restoring it then sailed it from Cumbria to the Hebrides and back. It resulted in a book, ‘Amulet –a charm restored and sailed to the Western Isles’. Shortly afterwards he and a close friend were offered the opportunity to buy Halcyon, a 32’ a Laurent Giles designed gaff-rigged wooden yawl and he moved to live at Fairlie on the edge of the Clyde to be nearer to what he describes as ‘the finest sailing area in the world’. He sailed Halcyon extensively in the Irish Sea and the west of Scotland and a book about his wanderings in Scotland, ‘Halcyon in the Hebrides’, is to be published in 2011.

He has written twelve books on a wide range of subjects and, in addition to sailing, lists his interests as amateur film making and mountaineering – he holds a Mountain Guides Certificate and a Mountain Leadership Certificate.

Now on the wrong side of ‘three score years and ten’ he moved from Scotland to be nearer his family in Cumbria and lives at Ponsonby on the Cumbrian coast where he hopes he’ll find another boat restoration project.


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Blogs by Bob

Should Bugs or Boats Take Priority?

Are Marine Conservation Areas and Marine National Parks a good idea? Almost certainly but there is no freedom to roam at sea, so what are the implications? .....


Marinas – do they give value for money?

Bob's thoughts about UK Marinas. .....


Is An Amateur-Built Boat a Dodgy Investment?

The pros and cons of amateur built boats. .....


Is a Yacht Surveyor Worth The Fee?

Another great article from our sailing expert and Author Bob Orrell .....