This steam collier, sunk towards the end of World War One, lies off the north of Ireland and offers plenty to see in good visibility, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
FOR THIS MONTH’S WRECK TOUR, we venture across the North Channel of the Irish Sea to the wreck of the Castle Eden, located just a few miles back from Malin Head, the most northerly point of Ireland. While the wreck lies off the Donegal coast, diving access is easiest from Portstewart in Northern Ireland.
Wreck Tour of Castle Eden near Malin Head
At a depth of 31m, and exposed to the deep groundswell of the North Atlantic, the wreck of the steamship has been broken down to the seabed.
Also read: Malin Head, Ireland’s wreck-diving magnet
Like many wrecks in this situation, the main bits that stick up and show well on an echo-sounder are the bow, boilers and stern, so our tour of the Castle Eden begins with a shot hooked across the boilers (1) among a typically dense shoal of pouting.
The boilers are reasonably intact, with a few gaps in the plating providing a nice residence for conger eels. For orientation, the stern is towards the south and the Donegal coast. While a compass might not be much help, divers descending the shotline should be able to guess the direction from the angle of the line.
From the boilers, our tour heads aft to the broken remains of a triple-expansion steam engine (2). The engine has fallen to starboard, as have the greenhouse-like ventilation hatches from above the engine-room (3).
Descending and Exploring the Boilers and Engine
Back on the centre-line of the ship, the propeller-shaft is buried beneath the sand, and would run approximately beneath the hold coaming (4).
Behind the hold coaming and again a little to starboard, the aft mast (5) lies broken along the line of the ship. The foot of the mast is centred between the usual pair of cargo-winches (6), which are followed by the partly buried coaming for the last hold (7).
The stern (8) is of stronger construction and, as mentioned above, is partially intact, rising a few metres from the seabed.
Propeller Shaft, Mast, and Stern
Unlike debris encountered so far, the stern has fallen to port, indicating that the collapse of the wreck has occurred in at least two distinct stages, perhaps on opposing tides. Towards the keel, a stub of propeller-shaft is exposed, indicating that the shaft broke as the wreck collapsed.
Fallen from the port side of the stern are two pairs of bollards and the long spindle of another winch (9) that must have crossed pretty much the whole width of the ship.
The deck planking has rotted away to leave a grid of beams nicely covered in anemones. At the back of the stern, a large steering quadrant (10) is orientated for the rudder straight ahead. Below the stern, the rudder is buried in the sand, with just the tip of one blade of the propeller showing.
Stern Gun, Bollards, and Steering Quadrant
Torpedoed by U110 in World War One, the Castle Eden was fitted with a 13-pounder stern gun. Its mounting is also tipped onto the sand at the port side of the stern (11), with the supports disappearing into the sand.
The gun might have been salvaged, or it might still be in place, attached to the mounting and buried below. Ammunition is reported to have been found in this area, but I found none when I dived the Castle Eden.
We now head back along the port side to tour the forward part of the wreck. Less debris from the hull has fallen this way, except for a large box-section (12) level with the engine.
Forwards of the boilers, the bunker space is marked by the remains of a bunker-hatch (13) to the port side, just inside the outline of the hull. Across to the starboard side, a domed water tank is tilted across
the wreck (14). Also on the port side, a pair of boat-davits curve out of the sand (15).
Forward Wreck Debris and Holds
The forward holds have sunk into the sand even further than the aft part of the wreck, with a hold coaming (16) only just showing.
The top of a single winch (17) just about shows between the forward holds. Nearby, the forward mast (18) has fallen to port.
The forward hold-coaming (19) is also just visible above the sand before our tour reaches the bow.
Like the stern, the bow has fallen to port and stands clear of the seabed. Unlike the stern, the starboard side has collapsed to leave pairs of bollards to either side of the deck, and the deck-plate supporting a big anchor-winch (20) slid out to the port side of the wreck.
The anchor hawse-pipes (21) have also broken from the bow, and lie further out to port, together with a strip of three small bollards that would have been a fairlead for a mooring line.
The starboard side of the bow (22) lies curved right over, covered in anemones and dead man’s fingers.
Bow and Starboard Side
For a no-stop dive, the typically good visibility will make it easy to relocate the shotline to ascend. With anything more than token decompression, a delayed SMB to decompress while drifting with the rising tide and groundswell will be much more comfortable.
STRUCK BY DOOMED U-BOAT
CASTLE EDEN, steam collier. Built 1914, SUNK 1918
KORVETTENKAPITAN KARL KROLL, 4th U-Boat Flotilla commander of U110, was not much interested in the westbound traffic coming out of the British ports.
They would be in ballast, heading to the USA to pick up war materials to help Britain survive the war, writes Kendall McDonald.
Kroll preferred to destroy the fully laden ships of the Atlantic convoys approaching the North Irish coast, carrying war materials to Glasgow or Liverpool. So he tended to avoid risking attacking ships going west past Malin Head – but he did make exceptions.
The 1949-ton Castle Eden was one such exception. She had left Glasgow at 3.30am on 4 March, 1918, heading for Lough Swilly with 2900 tons of coal and timber.
Built by Irvine Shipbuilding Co in West Hartlepool, she was 283ft long and owned by Furness Withy & Co. She carried a 13-pounder stern gun, which her crew had fired only once, in practice.
Karl Kroll might have taken exception to the gun. As Castle Eden chugged towards Malin Head, she was hit in the starboard side of the engine-room by a torpedo from one of U110’s four bow tubes. A firemen was killed in the explosion.
But Castle Eden didn’t seem to want to sink, possibly because of the huge timber cargo on her decks.
Kroll surfaced, and ordered his gunners to finish the job with their 4in gun. The Eden’s crew had abandoned ship only minutes before the German gunners fired 20 shells into her from 800m away.
His victim sunk, Kroll headed off to join other U-boats ravaging Allied convoys. Ten days later, he chose the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co liner Amazon as she loomed in his periscope, 30 miles north-west of Malin Head.
Failing to notice two escort destroyers, HMS Michael and HMS Moresby, on the horizon, he sank the Amazon with two torpedoes before submerging again.
The destroyers raced to the scene and started picking up Amazon crewmen from their boats. The surface swirl left by the U-boat was soon spotted.
U110 dived to 45m, but Michael dropped two depth charges and Moresby added four. Set to explode at close to the sub’s depth, they damaged her hydroplanes so badly that she plunged out of control to 100m-plus.
Kroll blew his tanks and shot out of the surface like a rocket, only to be sent down again by the destroyers’ gunfire.
Only four Germans survived from U110’s 39 crew. Kroll was not among them.
TIDES: Slack water is essential, and occurs six hours after high water Belfast.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 55 19.361N, 007 03.382W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies across the tide with the bow offshore.
QUALIFICATIONS: Not a difficult wreck to dive, but the depth requires at least BSAC Sports or PADI Advanced.
LAUNCHING: There is a public slip in the harbour at Portstewart.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2811, Sleep Haven to Lough Foyle. Admiralty Chart 2798, Lough Foyle to Sanda Island including Rathlin Island. Shipwreck Index of Ireland, by Richard and Bridget Larn. Irish Wrecks Online by Randall Armstong.
PROS: A pretty steamship in typically excellent visibility.
CONS: Even at slack water there can be a fair surge from a big groundswell.
DEPTH RANGE: 20-35m
DIFFICULTY RATING: 2/5
Thanks to Richard Lafferty.
Appeared in DIVER April 2008