This sunken trawler off Scotland’s Summer Isles makes for a very easy and attractive diving experience – if you’re up for the journey. JOHN LIDDIARD leads the tour, leaving MAX ELLIS to bring his sketches to life
THE STERN TRAWLER FAIRWEATHER V sits upright and incredibly intact in just 25m in Annat Bay, at the mouth of Loch Broom. For convenience, local divers usually leave a small marker buoy tied to the forward mast.
Having found a buoy, check the co-ordinates and double-check with an echo-sounder, because there are quite likely to be pot buoys in the area, and just inshore of the Fairweather V is the smaller wreck of the Innisjura, which may also be buoyed.
Descend the buoy-line to the forward mast (1). It is covered in long, delicate plumose anemones. It’s amazing how big and dense the coating of anemones on the Fairweather V has become since it sank in 1992, especially as the Innisjura, which has been down much longer, has only a sparse coating of marine life.
With typically no current and clear visibility, there is no need to hang onto the wreck. The Fairweather V can be dived with the same sort of buoyancy skills and finesse that would be the norm for a coral reef, leaving the anemones to get on with growing even bigger.
Stays lead off the mast in all directions. Looking down, those to either side of the bow should be easy to identify and follow, to the tip of the bow (2). Here, a small offset winch is actually a line-hauler, and not the anchor-winch, which is located behind the foot of the mast.
On a wreck this small, there is plenty of time to swim its length and back, so a plan that is easy on decompression is to follow the hull to the stern and see the lower part of the wreck, then meander along the deck back to the bow.
Over the port side of the bow, the anchor recess is barely visible among the coating of plumose anemones (3). Searching aft below the railing, a pair of empty portholes are similarly well obscured by anemones, followed by an old tyre hung as a fender (4).
Continuing aft, the hull is featureless save for more anemones, though they are a bit thinner closer to the keel, where patches of red anti-fouling paint show through the encrusting marine life (5).
At 25m, the stern is the deepest point on the wreck. The propeller is still in place beneath a prop-guard (6), and the rudder is also intact, and pointing straight ahead (7).
From the back of the rudder, ascending the stern reveals the shape of a stern trawler, flattened across the stern, and a slight curve upwards to a roller that separates the hull from the deck (8).
Come time to retrieve the catch, the trawl-cables would be hauled in on the big winch-drum that spans the stern deck (9). Then the ship would turn to bring the net alongside, so that the catch could be hauled onto the working deck forward of the wheelhouse. To assist in this process, a small rope-hauling windlass (10) is attached to the end of a derrick mounted on the aft mast.
The stern deck is actually a deck below the main deck (11), low to the waterline to facilitate handling the trawl gear. It was an open hatch here that was the Fairweather V‘s final downfall.
When the Fairweather V ran aground on the way out of Ullapool, the hull was intact. The unfortunate trawler was then towed backwards off the rocks, but a hatch at the stern had been left open and water flooded in, sinking Fairweather V in its current position; intact, upright and well clear of the shore.
Now moving up level with the top of the cabins, the aft mast (12) is home to a coating of plumose anemones similar to that on the forward mast. Just below, on the starboard side, an aft-facing set of control levers manage the hydraulics for the trawl-gear.
The main access forward is also on the starboard side of the wheelhouse, which looks like the side from which the crew would recover the net and catch. An open hatch in the back of the wheelhouse (13) provides a narrow entry.
Most of the windows are intact, and covered in anemones. The few that are broken are enough to provide light, but would be a much tighter squeeze than the hatch to swim through.
Inside the wheelhouse, the captain’s chair is beginning to decay. To the side are echo-sounder and radar displays. The radar antenna has fallen on the roof of the wheelhouse (14).
Forward of the wheelhouse, a reel on the starboard side holds the deck-hose (15). Cross the deck, and standing at a similar position on the port side are a series of deep troughs (16), used for sorting the catch before it was stowed in the fish-hold (17).
Forward on the main deck are hatches to the hold used to store the fishing gear. A hatch outside the railing (18) on the starboard side facilitated net recovery. A larger hatch in the centre of the hold (19) has a ladder leading down to a pile of nets inside.
Just forward, a second hatch in the centre of the hold (20) has a net draped out and across the starboard railing. Perhaps someone attempted to salvage one of the nets soon after Fairweather V sank.
Our tour completes a full circuit of the trawler at the anchor-winch, just behind the forward mast (21).
With only the lightest current to consider even at spring tide, it is easy enough to ascend the mast and then the buoy line. With the main deck of the wreck only 18m deep, most divers will see it all without getting into decompression.
HELPED TO SAFETY
THE TWO STERN TRAWLERS LEFT ULLAPOOL just after midnight on a dark February night in 1991, and headed out of Loch Broom for the Minch and the fishing grounds, writes Kendall MacDonald.
The trawlers were sisters, Fairweather and Fairwind, 31m long, built of steel in 1976, and registered in Peterhead. Their captains lived close to each other, as did all the four crewmen in each ship. They fished close to each other and looked after one another as sister-crews should.
At 2am Fairweather V ran onto the Carn Dearg rocks at the west end of Annat Bay on the mainland. It had run too far to port instead of working through the southern end of the Summer Isles and out to sea.
The rocks held it fast, and Fairwind risked closing with it to join in the pumping operation, which was needed almost at once. The pumps had little effect, and Fairweather soon gave signs of foundering onto the rocks that lay beneath it.
Help came suddenly from the Bittern, a fast personnel-carrier that was speeding home to Ullapool. It was only just in time, because Fairweather‘s stern was already going under as its bow lifted clear of the water.
Fairwind could get no closer, but the Bittern drew much less and pulled in to snatch three men from the starboard side of the stern just before it went under.
Another of the crew had got into a life-raft on the port side and was picked up by Fairwind. Only the skipper was left aboard. In the glare of the boat’s searchlights he was seen scrambling desperately upwards as the bow reared 15m towards the stars.
When he could go no higher, he clung to the rails on the prow of his ship. The bow started sliding down, driving the stern deep. As Fairweather levelled off at sea level, the Bittern snatched the captain from his perch.
The trawler did not stay level on the rocks for long. A local tug, the Finch, arrived. The trawler’s hull looked undamaged, so it tried to pull it away. As it came off, it foundered into water more than 30m deep.
The next day commercial divers arrived to inspect it as it sat upright on a sandy slope at the foot of the rocks.
They got more than they bargained for – lying within metres of Fairweather V was another wreck, the Innisjura, a London-registered steel motor vessel of 127 tons that had disappeared on 18 January, 1921 while carrying timber poles to Ullapool.
GETTING THERE: From Inverness, take the A832 and A835 towards Ullapool, turning left on the A832 where it splits off again to Dundonnell. Accommodation is at Camusnagaul, with the boat moored just off the beach.
TIDES: The Fairweather V can be dived at any state of the tide.
HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 57 56.35N, 005 21.84W (degrees, minutes and decimals). There should be a buoy tied to the bow.
ACCOMMODATION: Richard Ross's family businesses include B&B at the farm, a hostel across the road and holiday cottages round the corner.
QUALIFICATIONS: An easy wreck for the average Sport Diver or equivalent.
LAUNCHING: The best slip in the area is at Ullapool.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2501, The Summer Isles. Admiralty Chart 2509, Rubha Reidh to Cailleach Head. Ordnance Survey Map 15, Loch Assynt, Lochinver & Kylesku. Ordnance Survey Map 19, Gairloch, Ullapool, Loch Maree.
PROS: One of the prettiest wrecks you will ever see.
CONS: It’s a long way to Dundonnell.
Thanks to Richard Ross and Tim Walsh.
Appeared in Diver September 2006