Monday, 6 February 2012

The Torry Coo that Doesn't Moo

The Torry Coo is not a bovine, but the foghorn situated below Girdleness Lighthouse on Greyhope Road.  Sadly the horn has not sounded since the late 1980s, as it and all others in Scotland were shut off by the Northern Lighthouse Board, modern ships thought to be too large and enclosed for the captain to hear a fog signal.  However, there are still signals near some Scottish lighthouses, and in the south of England, ‘fog cows’ regularly bellow as the mist envelops the coast.

But our ‘Coo’ was completed in 1902, replacing an earlier fog signal east of the present site.  The ‘moo’ was ingeniously created by means of 25bph oil-fired engines which produced compressed air, then forced it through a rotating siren.  The large tanks on the fog horn stored the air as the ‘Coo’ sounded her warning to ships.  The lighthouse and fog signal were introduced to patrol Greyhope Bay as a result of the terrible sinking of the Oscar, a whaling ship which ran aground in a storm in 1813, with the loss of 42 lives.  However, it would be another twenty years before these safeguards were in place and the Stevenson-designed lighthouse was opened in 1833.

It was a Scot who invented the automated fog signal after centuries where only a bell was used (Aberdeen’s fog bell can still be seen near the new Marine Operations centre in Fittie).  Robert Foulis, who had emigrated to Canada, heard his daughter’s piano playing as he returned home on a foggy night and noticed the low notes carried further.  He built a steam-powered device which sounded sonorous bass notes and it was installed on Partridge Island, New Brunswick in 1859.

The sound of our Torry Coo not only resembled the bovine braying, but to a legendary sea monster that lived in Greyhope Bay it sounded just like a male of her species.  The story goes that she cried back to the fog horn’s sound, thinking it was a potential mate, yet was eternally disappointed as although she heard the returning call, she could never find her handsome male monster!  The echoes of the fog signal out at sea were apparently the lady monster’s anguished utterances, until of course, the Coo was silenced forever.

Ships today are full of technical wizardry which have made the Coo and her ‘herd’ obsolete, but you never know when we will need them again!

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