Wreck Tour 48: The Shuna

The Shuna shipwreck
The Shuna shipwreck

This steamer that sank 90 years ago is the most intact in the Sound of Mull, but you might need to get there early, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS

The Shuna is the last of the main wrecks in the Sound of Mull to be covered by the Wreck Tour series, though I would be very happy for a new discovery to prove me wrong on this. Lying virtually intact on a flat silty seabed, it can sometimes be the best wreck-dive in the Sound of Mull, and sometimes the worst.

Get the wreck to yourself and it is hard to beat. Get there after three other boatloads of divers have stirred up the silt and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

The Shuna is located in a small bay on the mainland side of the Sound of Mull, less than 200m from the shore. While it was sinking, its bow was actually tied to the shore in an attempt to save the ship, but as the Shuna settled the hawser broke, and she drifted back as she sank.

I have heard of divers scrambling down the rocks from the road and shore-diving the wreck. It certainly looks possible, but a boat is a much more sensible option.

Like the other wrecks in the Sound, local dive-skippers keep a plastic-can buoy tied to the wreck, so our tour begins amidships, where the buoy is usually tied on by a mast at the port side of the superstructure in about 23m (1).

Nearby, the flue from the boiler is open (2) where the funnel used to be attached.

Inside, the ducting has rotted to provide access above the boiler, though there is not much space and there is a lot of silt to stir up.

Swimming aft, a shallow steel square (3) marks the foundation of a wooden deckhouse that has now rotted away, followed by a much larger opening that would once have been the location of the engine-room ventilation-hatch (4).

Now it is open straight down above the engine. Inside, a grilled catwalk runs round the top of a typical three-cylinder triple-expansion steam engine. The superstructure is slightly offset to port, leaving room for an outhouse on the starboard side of the deck (5).

Following the steps down to main deck level at 25m, the deck-planking is rotting but intact all the way to the stern. The first aft hold (6) is half-full of coal, with a good covering of silt. The beam from the hatch cover still bisects the opening.

Between holds (7) the aft mast is upright with large winches forward and aft. The last hold (8) is similar to the previous one, with silt-covered coal and a beam bisecting the opening.

The spare propeller is still attached to the stern deck (9), with pairs of bollards to either side. This is followed by a small hatch opening, much too tiny to get inside with diving kit on.

Steering is by a simple steering quadrant (10) above the stern deck, with cables still attached leading out to either side of the ship, where they would be routed forwards to the wheelhouse.

Exposed surfaces of the Shuna are covered in tunicates and hydroids, with the tunicates even denser over the stern and on the rudder (11). The rudder is also one of the few locations at which I found bright white and yellow daisy or fried egg anemones. Inside the rudder the propeller is still in place (12), the seabed here being about 33m deep.

Back at deck level amidships (13), a hatch and window to the engine-room in the port side of the superstructure have an arched shape. Such rounded openings are often used in steel structures to avoid stress and cracking at the corners.

Forward of the engine and boiler-room superstructures are a pair of short masts and another large winch (14). These service the midships hold (15).

The covering for the companionway past the forward superstructure (16) has rotted through, as has much of the deck above, which would once have supported a wooden wheelhouse. The interior is well lit through the broken roof, but crowded with rotting debris.

Like the other holds, the first hold forward (17) contains a silted-over bed of coal with a beam bisecting the hatch, this time with the added variety of a spar resting diagonally across one side of the hatch.

The forward mast has a noticeable cant aft (18). Masts would often have a slight rake aft, yet I get the impression that this one has tilted just a little further. Behind the mast is another large cargo-winch, but forward is a much smaller winch serving the forward hold (19).

Steps ascend to the bow deck (20), with a hatchway between them leading into the forecastle. Some of the decking above has rotted through, allowing a small amount of light to enter, but it is very silty.

At the back of the bow deck are a pair of drums for the mooring-cables. Further forward, the anchor-winch is intact, with chains leading down the hawse-pipes (21). Over the side of the bow the chain dangles (22) and leads out until it is buried beneath silt on the seabed.

The Shuna’s anchors were originally set back from the shore when the ship was beached, ready to pull it off again later.

Heading back towards the line, past the holds and the wheelhouse, the starboard companionway (23) retains a little more of its wooden cover than the port side does. On a ship this intact, it is easy enough to relocate the buoy-line to ascend (24).

So why is the Shuna sometimes the best wreck dive in the Sound of Mull? The structure of the ship is fairly normal, with nothing particularly unusual. It is just the privilege of seeing a ship this intact and upright, especially when the visibility is good.

Blinded by the storm

The shelter that Captain Elsper had hoped to find in the Sound of Mull for his heavily laden steamer, the 1,426-ton Shuna, was there but only just, writes Kendall McDonald.

A big storm had tried to push him onto the Scottish west coast as he bashed his way north from Glasgow on 8 May, 1913, heading for Sweden’s Gothenburg with a full cargo of coal and mixed goods. The storm wasn’t as bad in the sound as outside, but he was unable to see far through driving rain and sea-spray.

At 9pm daylight turned to dusk, and almost exactly an hour later the 72m schooner ran blind onto the Grey Rocks and started taking in water.

Captain Elsper went astern and, as his ship came free, tried to head for Tobermory. It was a forlorn hope. The pumps were beaten and, as the water gained, he beached north of Rubhe Aird Seisg.

The schooner’s bow was high and dry but the huge waves began filling her through her stern, and she soon began to settle.

The captain and his crew abandoned ship in the boats and ran a hawser to anchor the Shuna’s bow to the shore. That was another forlorn hope. At 10pm the hawser snapped and she went down in deep water. The crew rowed to Tobermory safely the next day.

GETTING THERE: Follow the A85 towards Oban. For Lochaline, turn right across the Connel Bridge just before Oban. Follow the A828 north past Tralee to take a short ferry across Loch Linhe at Corran, then head south again on the A861 and A884. Ferries crossing to Mull run from Oban to Craignure and Lochaline to Fishnish.

DIVING AND AIR: Lochaline Dive Centre. Alchemy Diving at Tralee. A number of dayboats operate from Oban and the surrounding area.

ACCOMMODATION: Hostel at the Lochaline Dive Centre. Oban Tourist Information.

TIDES: The Shuna can be dived at any state of the tide.

HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 56 33.433N, 5 54.866W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The location is within 200m of the shore and about 300m south-east of a fish farm. The Shuna is usually marked by a small plastic buoy tied close to the flue. If not, it is a simple matter to search parallel to the shore and pick the wreck up on an echo-sounder.

LAUNCHING: The closest slip is at Lochaline. Further afield, there are a number of slips in Oban, and a slip at Tralee where it is also possible to launch across the beach, or from Mull at Tobermory.

QUALIFICATIONS: The Shuna is best suited to Sports Divers or equivalent and above.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2390, Sound Of Mull. Ordnance Survey Map 47, Tobermory & North Mull. Ordnance Survey Map 49, Oban & East Mull. Argyll Shipwrecks, by Peter Moir & Ian Crawford. Shipwrecks Of The West of Scotland by Bob Baird.

PROS: The most intact wreck in the Sound of Mull.

CONS: Situated out of the main current, the Shuna can be a little silty, especially when there are lots of divers on it.

Thanks to Tony Jay, Victoria Jay, Tim Walsh, Rachel Locklin & Phil Robertson.

Appeared in Diver, February 2003


Get a weekly roundup of all Divernet news and articles Scuba Mask
We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Connect With Us

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x