Tag Archives: shipwreck

The ghost of the Oceana rises again

oceana wreck image

As the ghostly timbers surfaced above the wet sand, memories of the 1949 stranding of a boat in unusual circumstances came back to haunt one of Tiree’s beaches last week.

Sheena and Charlie Berlie, Crossapol, were among the first people to notice the curve of iron ribs made visible by the low tides and force of the waves half way along the beach at the spring low tide mark.

The Oceana, a two masted schooner, was on passage between Ireland and the Baltic in March 1949 when a southerly storm blew the vessel onto Tràigh Bhàigh, now more commonly known as Crossapol Beach (as Crossapol has grown and Baugh shrunk).

Early that morning the local coastguard crew, led by Murdoch Cameron, Balevullin and Alec MacLean, Hough, were called. The boat was grounded over a hundred yards out and the beach party had to fire a rocket to the stricken vessel to allow the bosun’s chair to be used. The crew of around six were winched ashore. One observer remembers their “backsides dipping in the waves”.
The captain came ashore last, with his “cap glued to his head!” according to Archie Brown, Kilkenneth, the only surviving member of the coastguard team. The crew were taken to the Crossapol Hall and seemed to have left the island the next day.

The Oceana, 105 feet long, had been built in 1879 as a private yacht. At her prow she had a striking figurehead of a woman blowing a pipe. Engines were installed in 1923. Reasons for the boat’s grounding were hotly debated at the time. Some people said that the skipper had been confused by the lights on the aerodrome and was making for them. Others were sure the crew were drug smuggling. As the crew were Russian or Latvian, it is unlikely we will ever find out!

To see the remains, go to the centre of the beach at very low tide, park next to the war time huts and then walk 100 yards towards Crossapol.

Tiree Welcomes HMS Sturdy Families

HMS sturdy ceremony

The sound of the waves, driven by the storm of the night before, onto the gravel beach in Sandaig mingled with the playing of the Tiree Pipe Band. We gathered around the new memorial to HMS Sturdy as the rising wind showed us a glimpse of the fury felt by the sailors seventy years before.

HMS Sturdy ceremony

The service, led by the Revds Peter Williams and Bruce Neill, was attended by around eighty people – three families of the crew (one had come from New South Wales to be there) alongside families from the township who had done so much to look after the exhausted men, representatives from the coastguard and Commodore Charles Stevenson who was representing the Royal Navy.

A special wreath was laid at the cairn to honour the work of Captain Donald ‘Dan’ Sinclair, Greenhill, who had instructed the crew to wait on board until low tide and had saved many lives as a result.

After the service we left to go to Soroby graveyard where we laid wreaths on the graves of the five sailors who drowned that day, as well as honouring the dead of the air forces who are also buried there. Tea was provided at An Talla and this gave a welcome chance to get out of the weather and swap stories about the Sturdy. There was also a huge display of items from the war from the collection of Mike Hughes.

At night Mike gave an illustrated talk on the impact of the war on the Hebrides, bringing his usual passion to the subject, and some stories. Apparently potatoes from the Sturdy stores have been grown in Middleton until recently. The families who had come for the event left the island full of memories, both happy and sad. Then Monday saw a huge storm batter the island, giving a taste of what it must have been like on that fateful day.

Thank you to everyone who supported the weekend, which had been initiated by Mike Gibson and organised locally by An Iodhlann.

Tiree Remembers HMS Sturdy

HMS Sturdy

“It was a Thursday, I remember it well. Willie got up – he heard something moving outside, something being blown by the wind…This would be about 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning. It was quite a rough morning and it was raining. I would call it force 9-10, a severe gale… Just before we got down there we could make out it was a naval vessel – the paint, the colour, you see. There were a lot of people there; you’d hear “Help!” [The wreck] would be about 60 yards from the gravel beach on the rocks out there. I remember – I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional – the first thing we met there, a body, a beautiful, young fellow. I picked him up and took him beyond the reach of the ocean and put him on the grass”

– the late Hugh MacLean, Barrapol.

Tiree had seen its fair share of wrecks driven ashore, but the scene on the rocks off Sandaig at first light on October 30th 1940 brought home the sickening reality of the Second World War. A Royal Navy destroyer broken in two, beaten up onto the oil soaked beach with scores of stunned sailors sheltering from the storm and five bodies left behind by the tide.

I was not able to walk very well because I had cut my feet on the rocks but the islanders seemed suddenly to appear…I was taken to a cottage where the people were very kind, my clothes were dried and I had a hot bath. I fell asleep exhausted in a beautiful bed.

– Leading Seaman Harry Springett, from the Sturdy

To honour the five seamen who lost their lives and to remember the great kindness the islanders showed to the shipwrecked sailors, a memorial has been built above the beach in Sandaig where the ship hit the rocks. 70 years, to the day, after the tragedy this memorial will be dedicated at a service on Saturday 30th October at 2pm. Relatives of the crew, along with Commodore Charles Stevenson, CBE, (Naval Regional Commander, Scotland and Northern Ireland), families of the islanders who showed such kindness to the seamen and the Tiree pipe band will be there.

After the ceremony there will be another short service in Soroby Cemetry to lay wreaths on the graves of those who lost their lives. Afterwards there will be teas at An Talla at 4pm where everyone will be welcome to meet the visitors.

In the evening at 7.30 Mike Hughes will give an illustrated talk on Tiree during the Second World War in An Talla (the last talk Mike gave at the Fèis was a sell-out! Be there early).

The memorial has been built by Bernie Smith and Sons and organised by Cmdr Mike Gibson, the son of the Sturdy’s chief engineer. The committee of An Iodhlann hopes the island will support this historic day.

Do you have anything salvaged from the Sturdy or connected with it? If so, we would love to borrow it for the evening of the 30th October. We plan to have a table of things from the wreck at Mike Hughes’ evening talk.

Please contact Dr John.

Shipwreck Information Sought

schooner

An Iodhlann recently received a request for information about the yacht Oceana that ran aground at Crossapol on 9 March 1949.

The Oceana was an impressive two-masted schooner with a decorative figurehead of a girl with flowing hair blowing a pipe. It was named Oceana by the son of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

The person who is enquiring after the Oceana has inherited some framed photographs of the yacht from his great-uncle who chartered it during the 1930s.

A couple of people on the island who remember the yacht have already kindly provided the location of the stranding, but perhaps there are others who can remember additional details. What were the weather conditions on the day it was stranded? What happened to it afterwards? What happened to its crew? Was the figurehead salvaged? Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Please contact An Iodhlann: telephone 01879 220 793 or email aniodhlann@tireebroadband.com.

Many thanks.

Sheaves from the Stackyard

an_iodhlann

H. M.S. Sturdy The Final installment

Once all of the 105 crew were accounted for, the captain’s priority was to remove all the secret papers from the vessel. Most of the crew, including the injured, were taken to Oban that evening on HMS Rhododendron, leaving a salvage party of 22 on the island.

The wreck held provisions that were too tempting to ignore for warhungry Tiree.
Angus MacLean, Scarinish recalled “I never saw so much tea in my life.”
He saw an old man from West Hynish wearing an old tweed coat with patch pockets at the Sturdy wreck. He held the pockets open and someone literally poured the loose tea into them.
“It would have done him for a year!”
“The first ‘Crunchie’ bar I had to eat was from the Sturdy”. Mairi Campbell, Corrairigh.

“It wasn’t very safe. It’s a wonder to me no one was hurt or even drowned. I was there myself looking for souvenirs, and I’ve got one of the clasp knives out there in the workshop. And as for tobacco! My goodness, tobacco! Cigarettes by the million! Rum if you wanted it, plenty of rum too. And some of the boys [the Navy salvage party]would pinch a drop for a person, too”. Hugh MacLean, Barrapol.

Willie MacLean, Balinoe, watched another old islander searching on the beach afterwards. There were piles of oilskins and boots tangled up in the seaweed and he stripped off his old trousers and put on the new Navy oilskin trousers. The Sturdy’s chief engineer had fractured his knee during the evacuation of the boat. His son, Mike Gibson, was sent to Tiree to collect what personal possessions he could:

The preceding was extracted from the paper version of An Tirisdeach.