Lancashire fisherman found themselves in the drink yesterday as they re-enacted scenes from the Ealing comedy Whisky Galore and pursued a liquid cargo that was lost six months ago but has surfaced in the Irish Sea.
Bottles of Scotch were selling for as little as pounds 5 in the port of Fleetwood as the local population took to their boats in search of an alcoholic catch.
"The conversation round here is `What bottles have you caught today?', not `What fish have you caught?', said a spokesman for the Harbour Control office. "It's not very good stuff, though, so I'm told."
The alcoholic cargo, worth pounds 50,000, was lost from the roll-on roll-off vessel Spheroid when a 26-ton container went overboard in October, off Drigg Point, in Cumbria.
It was thought the whisky had sunk 15 fathoms below the sea, but locals say the container has broken open and currents are dragging thousands of bottles along the seabed.
"The company knew where the cargo was lost, but they were keeping it a secret and hoping to send a salvage team to it," said Ged Lynch, senior watch officer at Liverpool Coastguard. "The locals might have beaten them to it."
The coastguard received calls all day yesterday from would-be salvagers checking weather conditions before heading out to sea in the hope of a liquid catch.
Fleetwood Police said no offence was being committed, but after local radio reports that Customs and Excise officials were taking a keen interest in the matter, silence fell over Fleetwood. "I've got a terrible headache," said one skipper. "I'm told the whisky is a fine blend, but the salt's got to it. I haven't had any myself. You won't find a skipper in Fleetwood who's touched a drop."
He said scenes at the port recalled Whisky Galore, a 1940's Ealing comedy based on the true story of the plundering of the SS Politician, which went down off the Scottish island of Barra with a cargo of Scotch. In 1990, a salvage operation was launched to rescue the underwater-matured blend.
A local poet lamented the loss of the Scotch with "The Quest For The Celtic Spirit":
"With sadness we learned of the Spheroid's message
It reminded us of that ancient adage
Worse things happen at sea
What could be worse than to lose all that whisky."
The poem in the Liverpool coastguard's newsletter, ends:
"Any coastguard that's worth his salt
Is partial to a nip of Irish Malt
So on patrol at weekends we go
If anything's found, you'll be the last to know."