This small coaster lies in Strangford Lough and can be dived at any state of tide, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
OUR WRECK TOUR THIS MONTH is of a nice little coaster of the classic rear-engine layout that changed little from the beginning to the end of the Age of Steam.
Located just outside Strangford Lough, but free of current, the Bangor makes for a convenient dive without you having to travel that far in the boat.
Our tour begins on the stub of propeller-shaft (1), which emerges from the rear of the engine. This is where the buoy is usually tied.
The two-cylinder compound steam-engine (2) has fallen to port, but is otherwise intact. Even when triple-expansion engines became commonplace on larger ships, many coasters were still built with the less-efficient two-cylinder engines, because they took up less space.
For the same overall length of ship, the hold could be a few feet longer, and the increased hunger for coal was not critical on short coastal journeys.
Forward of the engine, the boiler (3) is level with, but skewed slightly from, the line of the keel.
The hull has collapsed outwards with the weight of the cargo of Portland stone and the deck has fallen down accordingly.
A section of coaming (4) from the larger aft hold runs partway across the wreck and forward along the port side, where the deck remains intact.
In the middle of the hold, the big blocks of stone (5) are piled in a heap that rises a few metres from the 31m seabed, forming an artificial reef of natural stone inside the reef of steel that the wreck has created.
Continuing along the port side of the wreck, the deck and hull are broken down to the seabed for the forward part of the hold (6). The hull then resumes between the holds, where the mast and winch gear would have been located. A cargo winch (7) is tipped forward and the mast lies partly buried to starboard.
The coaming for the smaller forward hold (8) is intact, with a surrounding area of deck, though pushed up from the hull by the pile of stone blocks inside the hold, and held at the forward end by a bulkhead.
The bow deck is largely gone, with the anchor-winch (9) tipped backwards and upside-down.
Some debris from the deck has fallen off, and the port side and upper plates from the bow have bent right over (10) to leave a small swim-through. A slight scour at the bow (11) gives a maximum depth of 32m.
Returning aft along the starboard side, the hull is less intact. A fishing-net (12) has been trawled into the starboard side of the hull level with the cargo-winch.
Perhaps trawling caused some of the damage to the bow, or possibly it was salvage damage while the Bangor rested on the rocks. Or maybe the damage came from the original impact with the rocks, or when the Bangor slipped off into deeper water.
The hull on the port side of the main hold is buried beneath piles of stone blocks that have spewed out across the broken hull-plates (13).
Past the hold, the starboard side of the hull to the stern (14) has been twisted out almost perpendicular to the main line of the wreck.
This leads me to think that the Bangor finally settled stern-first, tearing away the starboard side as the rest of the hull continued aft. There is little to be seen to starboard and beneath where the engine has fallen (15).
On any wreck this damaged, it’s worth having a look further out for more debris. Off the port quarter is a pair of bollards (16) from the stern deck. Then, a few metres out, almost in line with the keel, is the badly bent rudder (17).
Further out, the sandy seabed gives way to a flat area of reef (18), with a few scraps of wreckage. Don’t expect any more; the engine was mounted aft, so that’s pretty much it.
A buoy tied to the propeller-shaft or engine should be easy enough to find for the ascent, and any necessary deco.
FATE CAST IN STONE
THE BANGOR, stone-carrier. Built 1894, SUNK 1934
THEY BUILT HER OF STEEL in the Bowling yard of Scott & Sons in 1894. She ended up 147ft long, with a beam of 22ft, and drew less than 9ft. However, her shallow draught would not save her when she struck a rock in County Down’s Strangford Lough 40 years later, writes Kendall McDonald.
But they had built the small ship well. Ross & Duncan of Glasgow had been responsible for fitting her machinery.
Her single screw was driven by a 67hp two-cylinder compound engine positioned aft, with a single boiler. The layout meant that she had plenty of space in her holds.
Owner Stephen Gray was pleased, and was often to be seen studying his 340-ton steamer at her berth in the port of Beaumaris, which is on Anglesey across the Menai Strait from Bangor, from which she took her name.
Not that Mr Gray had much time to look at her, because he worked the Bangor hard over the next 40 years.
By 1930 he had formed an association with the Portland stone quarry companies, and Bangor was on regular runs, first in ballast to Portland, and then heavily laden with Portland stone to regular customers in the building trade.
Her last voyage on 26 February, 1934, followed this pattern. She went first to Portland and, once full of stone, headed to Belfast via Strangford Lough. She arrived in thick fog – and struck Butter Pladdy Rock, near Ballyquinton Point.
She stuck fast at first, but the tide was rising and the weight of her cargo made sure that her keel was bent, and she was taking in water fast. The captain and his crew didn’t wait, and took to their boat.
They were wise. The Bangor floated off the rock, but didn’t go far before she sank swiftly in deep water. The stone blocks in her holds pinned her down on the seabed in what the locals described as “over 100 feet”.
GETTING THERE: Norfolkline Irish Sea Ferry Services, Liverpool (Birkenhead) to Belfast, 0844 499 0007. From Belfast take the A20 to Portaferry.
HOW TO FIND IT: The Bangor lies with bow to the north at GPS 54 19.706N, 5 26.602W (degrees, minutes and decimals). Local divers often leave a small buoy attached to the engine.
TIDES: The Bangor can be dived throughout the tide. A little current often helps to clear the silt.
QUALIFICATIONS: A comfortable depth for a PADI Advanced Open Water / BSAC Sports Diver, and an ideal depth to make the most of nitrox.
LAUNCHING: Boats can be launched at the ferry jetty in Portaferry, though care must be taken not to obstruct the ferry.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 2156, Strangford Lough and 2093, Southern Approaches to North Channel. Shipwreck Index of Ireland, by Richard & Bridget Larn. Irish Wrecks Online by Randall Armstrong.
PROS: Convenient for planning a day together with a slackwater dive in the outer part of Strangford Lough.
CONS: A small coaster can feel a bit crowded when a full boat-load of divers descend onto it.
DEPTH RANGE: 20-35m
Thanks to David Vincent, Tony Vincent and Steve Phillips.
Appeared in DIVER July 2009