Two men saved themselves from being swept away by strong tides in the Cromarty Firth by clinging desperately to the anchor chains of a berthed oil rig.
The pair – an open water swimmer and a friend in a support kayak – had to be rescued by a lifeboat crew who said they were lucky the outcome was not more serious.
The pair set off on Friday evening from the public slipway in Invergordon, but soon got into difficulty in the strong ebbing tidal current.
The swimmer managed to grasp the anchor chain of the 14,460 tonne Well Safe Guardian drilling jack up, which is moored in the firth, and was joined by the kayaker after he abandoned his vessel.
Workers on the rig spotted the pair and raised the alarm. Aberdeen Coastguard alerted the Invergordon lifeboat, stationed just a few hundred yards from the rig, and the Inverness-based search and rescue helicopter Rescue 151.
The lifeboat crew launched its small inflatable daughter XP craft to navigate into the location and pick up the stranded men. They were then brought on board the all-weather lifeboat and taken back to Invergordon’s west harbour, “cold, wet and shocked” but with no medical issues reported.
The helicopter had pinpointed the kayak further up the firth and marked it with a flare for the lifeboat crew who recovered it once the two men were safely ashore.
Michael MacDonald, RNLI volunteer press officer and Invergordon lifeboat crew member, said: “It was flowing fairly quickly and the swimmer got caught in the tidal current and it pushed him along quicker than he anticipated. He tried to swim out of the current but the best swimmer in the world would have struggled with that.”
He said the swimmer and his friend then grabbed the rig anchor chain: “It was very lucky that the rig was there and they managed to hold on to the anchor chain. If they had missed that I shudder to think where they would have ended up.
“With the firth being a fairly busy shipping port, vessels coming in may not have seen them, which is the scary thing
“They were a bit cold, wet and shaken up, but otherwise they were OK. It could have been a lot worse.”
The pair were given advice, including the RNLI’s Respect the Water and Float to Live key messages.
Mr MacDonald said the incident highlighted the need for planning ahead, including checking weather and tide conditions and having a means to communicate if difficulty occurs.