"Winchman" by Chris Murray Q.G.M. is, as the author explains in the opening paragraph, the biography of William Iain Murray, universally known, for complicated reasons, as "Chris". Between the covers we read of Chris's early life in Dornoch in Sutherland, of his decision to join the Royal Navy, and of his time spent as part of the elite diving team based at the nuclear submarine base at Faslane in western Scotland.
After leaving the navy Chris did a number of offshore diving jobs working for different companies, before following his policewoman wife when she was posted to Stornoway in the Western Isles. There he did various diving and crewing jobs on local boats before hearing, from a pal in the pub, that Bristow Helicopters were recruiting aircrew for the rescue helicopters they operated under contract to the coastguard from Stornoway. This is very much a book of two halves: of Chris's life up to 4 April 1988, the day he first flew as aircrew in a Bristow Sikorsky S61N rescue helicopter, and then of his 22 years service as a winchman on the S61N and, latterly, on the Sikorsky S92 helicopters that replaced it.
It is good to be able to report that both halves of Chris's story are equally entertaining, even if the focus is very much on his time as a winchman. Chris comes over as the sort of bloke you'd like to meet in a pub, and in many ways his book has a relaxed, flowing and enjoyable style that makes it sound a little like a series of tales recounted over a pint or two. The story is largely told chronologically up until the moment his feet leave the ground, and thereafter it takes a more pick and mix approach, with incidents and anecdotes emerging with no obvious pattern or organising principle, but in a way that feels natural and keeps the reader interested. The story ends with Chris's retirement from Search and Rescue Helicopters in 2009 as a result of an arm injury originally picked up while landing on the deck of a French trawler in the Atlantic some six years earlier, and the reader is left wondering what, apart from writing this excellent book, Chris did then. Whatever it is, and will be, we wish him well.