In 2009 members of Tyneside 114 travelled to SW Mull with the two club ribs with the intention of venturing out to the Toren Rocks and searching for the wrecks of the DS Nyland and the SS Cathcartpark. On that particular expedition we were dogged by strong winds and big seas which made travelling out to the Torran Rocks all but impossible and whilst we had still enjoyed some excellent diving, we left with a sense of unfinished business.
Now in 2014, we returned and with a renewed sense of determination to explore the waters around the Torran Rocks and weather permitting, find the two elusive wrecks.
We had been joined on this trip by a two members of South Bay Scuba Scarborough branch, Simon Exley and Libby Anderson and Tom McCrickerd from West Cumbria BSAC.
Equipment wise, in addition to the Tyneside 114 club compressor, Simon brought his 10 metres RIB, Fyne Pioneer, and managed to secure the temporary use of a mooring in the small harbour at Fionnphort. This RIB, given its size and seagoing qualities, opened up the possibilities of travelling to a wide range of exciting offshore possibilities providing the weather gods were kind to us.
Expedition base was to be two comfortable self- catering holiday cottages down the road from Fionnphort.
We soon settled into the routine of expedition life, planning each days diving as well as each evening filling cylinders, cooking and eating and generally relaxing after long hard days in the great outdoors.
Prior to the trip, expedition organizer Andy Hunt had been carefully researching a number of promising ‘target marks’ for further exploration.
First of these targets was to try and locate the wreck of the SS Cathcartpark.
After a couple of dives, we successfully located the remains of a small steam ship amongst the reefs that make up the Torran rocks. This particular wreck site was in line of sight with the settlement on Iona, so fitted in with a report in the Oban times (27/04/1912) newspaper accounts of her sinking in 1912 that recorded that the stranded vessel could clearly be seen from Iona.
The wreck itself however is now very broken up and scattered amongst a number of gully’s and shrouded under a thick forest of kelp.
Down in deeper waters at around 20 metres we also located other lumps of wreckage including mooring bollards.
The site had clearly not been the subject of a lot of previous diver activity, as we also located a number of intact portholes. Was this the wreck of the SS Cathcartpark? The wreck was certainly located very close to some marks that we had been given for this wreck and whilst we had not found anything that conclusively identified the wreckage as the SS Cathcartpark, we felt reasonably assured that there was a strong likelihood that this site was indeed the wreck site of this particular vessel.
The other wreck target we had on our target list was the wreck of the DS Nyland, a Norwegian steamship lost in December 1940, which founded after hitting one of the reefs of the Torran Rocks, with the tragic loss of all 20 members of her crew. Members of Tyneside 114 had dived this site in 2009 whilst diving from the MV Hjalmar Bjorge so we had a rough idea of her location and depth in relation to the Torran Rocks. After a relatively short search, a promising mark was located on the sounder and the shot was dropped. The first divers down arrived on a white sandy seabed, and whilst the visibility was excellent, there was no immediate sign of the wreck. Looking up however on the edge of the visibility was a hazy dark shadow. Swimming towards this shadow the upturned bow loomed out of the green background. We had found the DS Nyland.
The wreck itself is resting upside down and has started to break up in places.
The stern area proved particularly spectacular with the large propeller and rudder rising several metres up from the seabed and well covered in soft corals, the result of the strong tidal currents that sweep over this area of wreckage.
Again the number of portholes and other non-ferrous ‘fittings’ observed by members of the team pointed to a wreck that has not been visited by many divers. We also came across a number of items including an intact toilet bowl that served as a poignant reminder that the crew had been lost when the Nyland foundered.
The wreck itself rests in 45-50 metres of water. Needless to say, expedition members made the most of the opportunity to dive this wreck in the clear water that we were fortunate enough to experience on this particular site.
With the good weather continuing we also took the opportunity to use the range offered by Fyne Pioneer, travelling 14 miles offshore to the Dubh Artach lighthouse with the intention completing an exploratory dive in the waters around the rock on which the lighhouse is constructed.
There are reputed to be numerous wrecks that have come to grief on this rock. Prior to diving however, with an oily calm sea the temptation to land on the lighthouse rock proved to tempting. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the hatchway to the lighthouse opened and a surprised maintenance team from Northern Lighthouse Board emerged to greet us.
After nine days on the rock they were clearly only too pleased to speak to other people. Indeed they could not remember the last time that a boat had managed to land people on this particular site because of its exposed location and the prevailing swell that usually surrounds the rock.
After an impromptu tour of the lighthouse we said our goodbyes and Fyne Pioneer headed north, with the aim of diving the wreck of the SS Labrador which was lost after stranding on Mckenzie Rock some 3 miles south of the Skerryvore lighthouse. The Labrador was a liner lost on 1/03/1899 whilst on passage from St John’s Newfoundland to Liverpool. This wreck is one of the West coasts most iconic dive sites, although its very exposed and remote location means that few actually get the chance to dive it. Usually this dive site is subject to heavy swell that sweeps in from the Atlantic. It therefore requires a period of settled weather and calm seas before conditions allow it to become diveable. On arriving at the site, the remoteness of its location was reinforced by the fact that in whichever direction one looked, there were just endless views of the sea with only a distant view of the Skerryvore lighthouse on the horizon. The effort to visit this site however proved very worthwhile with gin clear water and wreckage galore with gullies ablaze with the colours of soft corals and anemones.
The wreck itself has inevitably broken down under the onslaught of numerous winter storms. Much of the wreckage however is still very recognizable with the large boilers and the engine resting on the seabed.
Non-ferrous metal items including portholes gleamed amongst the wreckage and gully’s, reinforcing the fact that this is a site that is rarely visited by divers. On returning back to Fionnphort, we worked out that on this one day we had travelled nearly 63 nautical miles, making the most of the range offered by the RIB Fyne Pioneer.
During the course of the week we also enjoyed some ‘exploratory’ scenic diving picking some promising looking sites from the chart, usually with steep looking contours in the hope of finding some dramatic new ‘wall’ sites.
On one occasion we selected a site, which we named Rabbit Rock, for obvious reasons.
Whilst we did not find any particularly outstanding new sites we did enjoy some pleasant dives chasing squat lobsters. Tiago was also in ‘slug heaven’ taking photos of small nudi’s clinging to the kelp.
We also enjoyed a muck dive in Loch Na Lathaich, near the small hamlet of Bunessan, on the wreck site of the SS Ostende. In reality there is very little ‘wreck’ left of this once proud steam ship, which blew up after catching fire with a cargo of ammunition in January 1943. The wreck was subsequently heavily salvaged after the war. although numerous brass shell cases still litter the seabed. The real stars of this dive are the marine life that has colonized the wreckage and surrounding seabed. Here we found all sorts of weird and wonderful crabs, colonies of delicate seapens, and a beautiful queenie scallop.
All too soon it was time to pack up and head home. We had enjoyed some fantastic diving and the settled weather had allowed us to reach some very remote sites. We had also taken the opportunity to visit Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, where the calm conditions had allowed Simon to maneuver Fyne Pioneer into the depths of the cave.
We had undoubtedly been extremely lucky in this regard. Furthermore we had achieved our main aims of diving and locating two wrecks out in the Torran Rocks area. We had also dined in considerable style, thanks to Tiago’s culinary skills.
In short we had enjoyed a fantastic and adventurous expedition to this remote and beautiful part of Mull.
Andy Hunt (expedition organizer)
Fiona Hunt (expedition treasurer)
Hubert Desgranges (Sous-Chef de Cuisine))
Tiago Moreira (Master Chef)
Richard Booth (Expedition bard and photographer)
Simon Exley (skipper)
Libby Anderson (cabin girl)
Tom McCrickerd (old salt)