Saturday 21 January 2012

Classic Sightings - Robert Badger

Date: August 8th 1971
Time: afternoon
Location: Temple Pier, Urquhart Bay
Witnesses: Robert Badger
Type of sighting: Underwater

Continuing our classic sightings series, we come to a most unusual encounter. Surface sightings of Nessie are rare, land sightings are even rarer but the rarest encounter of all are those experienced by those under the waters of Loch Ness. Looking back over the history of the loch, perhaps there are three claimed encounters in the last 130 years or so.

The first was in 1880 and (quoting from the book "The Water Horses of Loch Ness"):

An experience by another MacDonald in 1880 was of an altogether different nature and terrifying in the extreme. As a diver, Duncan MacDonald was sent down to investigate a ship that had sunk in the Caledonian Canal entrance at Fort Augustus. Not long after, he sent urgent signals on his line to be immediately brought back to the surface. Shaking and ashen faced, he refused to say what he had seen for several days. When he had sufficiently composed himself, he told the tale of how he had seen a “very odd looking beastie ... like a huge frog” lying on the rock ledge where the wreck was lodged as he examined its hull.

He refused to ever dive in the loch again though it would appear this encounter was where Loch Ness ends and the canal begins.

The other encounter is one I would like to know more on as my information is sketchy and concerns a diver who saw a large serpent like creature slinking away amongst the underwater rocks.

And going further afield there is the famous story from The Scotsman of 25th October 1933 and the divers in Loch Treig who

"came up with terrible stories of the weird creatures they had seen in the underwater caves"

But our main story concerns Robert "Brock" Badger who had an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster whilst swimming in Urquhart Bay on Sunday 8th August 1971. My attention to this exceedingly rare encounter was brought by an old story from the Glasgow Herald (dated 8th March 1999). It was recounting recent events at Loch Ness but Robert's story received the most attention. Intrigued to find out more, I managed to track down Robert and engage in an email conversation which he has kindly given permission to reproduce here today.


I first mentioned the Herald article which claimed he had seen and touched the skin of the Loch Ness Monster. His first reply was that he had indeed encountered the beast underwater but

"... the Herald article is nonsense, I certainly did not touch anything. ... The only totally correct story was by dear old Alex Campbell, the water bailiff, in the Inverness Courier on Friday 13th August 1971."

It always pays to talk to the original source where possible and clear up any media hype. We are also gratified to see that only the late Alex Campbell faithfully and honestly recorded the event for the Courier. I say this against the background of those who claim he exaggerated his reports to the Courier at other times.

In fact, I went to the National Library of Scotland to get that article and reproduce it here for your edification.

However, I asked Robert to retell the story (albeit after the passage of forty years) and this is what he said:

Narwhal was to be moored in Urquhart bay. A lump of concrete with a mooring ring was acquired together with a galvanised mooring buoy and chain to attach them together. A group of us took the gear in one of the vans down to Temple Pier from Achnahannet, and as there were no changing facilities at the pier, I travelled kitted out in a wetsuit.

We did the job of placing the mooring, and as the others loaded the tools and dinghy back into the van, I did a bit of snorkelling so the wetsuit did not get ripped on the gear. I swam out from the small floating jetty which was there in those days. A hundred yards or so from the jetty, the floor of the bay suddenly nose-dives into deep water. I had just passed this point and was about 10 or 15 feet below the surface, but was now in deep water and was thinking that I should turn and go back when I saw an object in front of me.

The water is of course full of peat and is like thick tea. As I got closer I could see a top and bottom to the object, but it extended left and right out of my vision. The surface of the object was rough textured and rounded in cross-section. I saw no protuberances in the part I could see. I'm not sure how far from the object I was, maybe 15-20 feet. It was moving from my right to my left, that is towards the main loch. This sounds like a long drawn-out sighting, but in reality it occupied only a couple of seconds. I realised what I was looking at, and decided that I should not be there. I have size 13 feet and my swim flippers are large and strong. I surfaced quickly and made for the pier as fast as I could.

Simon Dinsdale's eye was caught by me surfacing, and he said I was moving so fast that I was aquaplaning on my chest. As I made my way in, I was terrified that I was being chased, but I noticed Mr Menzies' nephews playing in a boat tied to the pier, and his black labrador coming into the water to meet me, so I risked a look back and realised that I was alone.

Simon and the others asked what had happened, and I told them that I had seen something. Later at Achnahannet, I sat down with Tim Dinsdale and completed a sighting report form and he interviewed me on tape. He and David James decided to make the story public, and the press came to Achnahannet and did the interview. This resulted in as many different versions of the story as there were newspapers represented.

A lot of people said that I was too shallow to have seen anything, but when we discussed it, we realised that this is exactly where Nessie would look for fish, as close to the shallows as possible, but still in deep water.


The Courier account adds that the estimated diameter of the object was about six feet. The Simon Dinsdale mentioned is the son of the famous monster hunter Tim Dinsdale who subsequently interviewed Robert. What Tim Dinsdale said about this encounter also adds some weight to the truth of this testimony as he recounts the tale in a later edition of his book "Loch Ness Monster". His conclusions about the now subdued and troubled Robert were that:

He had made no attempt to publicize his experience, even among the expedition people. At the time he had merely said ‘I thought I saw something underwater’, adding that he ‘wouldn't go back in the water’. As he was in no more than 15-20 feet of water at the time, some felt it was too shallow for the Monster, but I did not consider this to be the case. I was absolutely convinced of Brock’s sincerity, and his ability to describe his experience objectively.

It was later found by sonar that the loch side shelves precipitously at that point and so the beast could patrol close to the shore and yet be in deep water. It is to be noted that the salmon and trout entering and leaving Loch Ness tend to move close to the sides of the loch.

So what can we say about Robert's encounter? Sceptics suggest that he merely saw a tree trunk floating past him. I put this possible explanation to him to which Robert replied:

"As for the idea that I saw a log, well I'm not familiar with six foot diameter logs in GlenUrquhart."

Which we consider a good answer. I would like to read the LNI sighting report and listen to the audio tape interview. In that respect, I ask the current owner(s) of the LNI material how I may achieve this.

Robert could not see the entire length of the creature as its huge size filled his goggles' field of view but based on the six feet diameter and a standard 6 to 7 ratio of total length to diameter gives us a suggested head to tail length of 36 to 42 feet. In other words, a considerable beast and no surprise that Robert beat a hasty retreat back to shore.

However, whether Nessie would have made quick work of Robert is unlikely. The old Water Horses in Loch Ness were certainly labelled as man-eaters and livestock-stealers but the modern Loch Ness Monster has no record of attacking anyone we know of and even if she did, there is no way of proving that a person's disapperance is connected in that way. Mind you, that is easy to say when you are in front of a PC rather than in front of a 40-foot lake monster.


Quite topically, the recent sonar contact made by Marcus Atkinson (see story) was also made near the spot where Robert had his encounter but at a deeper depth of about 70 feet.

Now since this blog believes the Loch Ness Monster is mainly a benthic/littoral resident (i.e. it frequents the sides and bottom of Loch Ness and not open water) then such encounters come as no surprise. In fact, this is why the road blasting operations of the 1930s and the dumping of debris down the sides of the loch forced the creatures off the sides and bottom into the relative safety of open waters and led to the highest per annum sightings of all time.

It is also ironic that if the creature does stick close to the sides of the loch then it is more difficult to detect with sonar. Perhaps this form of Nessie hunting is not as effective as made out.

Indeed, if it also stays close to the surface (another difficult area for some forms of sonar), we have the somewhat unsettling situation that the creatures could be coasting a mere 10 to 20 feet below the surface and along the sides in opaque peaty water with no one just above being any the wiser to their presence.

As I understand, most divers stick close to the shore of Loch Ness and do not tend to swim out to the hundred yards extent that Robert did. So a suggestion as to a new avenue of monster hunting:

Employ a team of scuba divers to swim and patrol out to 100-200 metres from shore at a depth of 3-7 metres over deep water. Supply them with radio devices back to surface boats so as to maintain a narrative. Arm them with cameras and biopsy darts to collect any samples and then patrol the area looking out for any strange forty foot objects looming at them out of the darkness. Note that biopsy darts/harpoons are not a new idea at Loch Ness. Roy Mackal designed one for attachment to a submarine, but I understand they were never called into action.

So when the creature comes into view, shoot with the biopsy harpoon and head back to the shore ... as fast as you can.

A bit toungue in cheek and I must admit I would not volunteer for all the tea in China, but in theory the idea has some merit. Some might have done the odd foray into the loch but clearly in a loch this size, one would need a lot more than that as the beast could pass 40 feet past you and you would have no idea it was there.

Such is the darkness and mystery that is Loch Ness as Robert Badger found out on that day forty years ago.


A little extra information on other divers' experiences at Loch Ness. I had completely forgotten about the famous "Beppo the Clown" case in 1959. Beppo aka Jon Newbold was monster hunting as part of a publicity stunt by circus ower Bernard Mills when he was brought up after 10 minutes semi-concious. What he said after hospitalisation has entered the apocryphal (or from his circus' media machine) as tales of bright eyes staring at him from the depths or even a tentacle grabbing him have been mentioned. Betrand Russell in his book "Fact and Fiction" gives us this summary:

John Newhold, aged 31, of Stafford, known as Beppo, the clown; was detained in hospital yesterday alter diving into Loch Ness in a frogman's outfit to try to get evidence about the ‘monster’.

He made a dive lasting ten minutes and surfaced in a semi-concious state. He was taken aboard a yacht belonging to Mr Bernard Mills, the circus proprietor, and recovered partly ater artificial respiration had been applied. Mr Newbold, who was unable to say what had happened while he was underwater, is an experienced high diver and swimmer - he had made several practise dives to a depth of more than 20 feet before yesterday‘s attempt. The water is several hundred feet deep at this part of the loch.

While the Milwaukee Sentinel of 15th August 1959 (these stories get around you know) printed this:

On the matter of the other diver seeing a huge eel-like creature, it seems the diver's name was Michael MacRae and this also may have happened in the 1970s. For now, I know nothing more. Any help here would be appreciated.


More information on last year's sonar contact
New witness corroborates 2011 sighting

Thursday 19 January 2012

One day it might end like this ...

From some less than accurate editions of the Weekly World News (1992 and 1995). One wonders how this mystery will finally end. Sceptical minded people will say it is already solved, but we prefer to keep an open mind. More than likely, it will be Nessie roadkill when she performs one of her rare land crossings in front of a speeding Ferrari. Then again, I wouldn't wish that fate upon her ....

Tuesday 17 January 2012

More information on last year's Sonar Contact

The Inverness Courier has gone online with the sonar contact we covered last year (here and here). The original article is at this link (I put this on the blog just for the record as news links can disappear forever after variable time intervals).

A FOURTH contender has been accepted into the competition for the Best Nessie Sighting of the Year, which has a £1000 cash prize up for grabs.

Quick-thinking pleasure boat skipper Marcus Atkinson captured a photograph on his mobile phone when an unusual sonar image appeared on his fish finder screen.

Mr Atkinson, of Fort Augustus, said the image, which shows something about 1.5 metres wide and 23 metres below his boat, was taken while in Urquhart Bay, Drumnadrochit.

The "sighting" will now be judged against three previously-reported Nessie encounters in the competition to be decided by Inverness Courier readers in an on-line vote.

It is the first time in several years bookmaker William Hill is presenting the award, following a dearth in encounters with Loch Ness’s most famous resident.

However, 2011 proved to be a bumper year with three "good" sightings reported to the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, which first launched the annual competition in conjunction with William Hill in the 1990s.

Although Mr Atkinson’s sighting was not registered at the time with the fan club, it was reported to full-time Nessie hunter Steve Feltham who is based at Dores beach.

Mr Atkinson’s encounter happened on 24th August while he was on his boat, Ness Express, waiting to pick some customers up from Urquhart Castle. "The time was around 11.30am-ish," he recalled. "I know this because we only do one trip that includes a stop off at the castle and 11.30am is when I’m bobbing around waiting for them to return."

He was approaching the shallows in Urquhart Bay (depicted in the bottom right-hand side of the image) after being over deeper water (bottom left-hand side).

"I could see loads of fish — the small speckles all over the screen — but as I got closer into the shore, I was surprised to see the long solid echo starting to appear on the screen around 23 metres down," said Mr Atkinson, who quickly grabbed his mobile phone.

"I took the photo as I seemed to go over the end of it and went around again going over my track using the GPS to put me in the same place. The fish were there but the white blob had vanished.

"I have been a skipper for most of my working life and I know that this is a very unusual echo. I don’t know what it was."

Although he acknowledges the photograph of his fish finder screen contains a lot of reflection, Mr Atkinson says it definitely shows something.

The sonar image shows a slice in time of about three minutes below the boat.

Nessie hunter Steve Feltham maintains the image is "the best bit of evidence" there has been for several years and dismisses any notion it could be the rudder of a boat.

"If you look at the chart, it is at a depth of between 20 and 20 metres," Mr Feltham said. "It is massive."

Sonar is an important part of the Monster Hunting armoury and many anomalous contacts have been made over the decades (though people will continue to debate what they actually mean). However, it has its limitations in that it is a blunt instrument. It can point towards the presence of large objects in Loch Ness but it cannot identify them as there is not enough data to make such a decision.

But then again, one could say the same about surface photography because only a portion of the creature is above the surface and the loch is so big that it more probable the creature will be further than closer to a decisive camera shot position.


New Witness Corroborates 2011 Sighting

More on the Hugh Gray Photograph