The wreck of the Oceana, Traigh Bhaigh

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‘In February Janet Bowler, our archivist, received an enquiry from Anthony Vaughan from Lynsted in Kent. He was looking for information about a yacht called the Oceana which had become stranded on Tiree in 1949. His own interest was sparked by some photographs he had inherited from his great uncle, Clinton George Vaughan, who had chartered the yacht several times in the 1930s. Anthony had done some research in archives in Southampton and the Isle of Wight and discovered some of the boat’s story. She had been built in Cowes in 1879, originally named the Thais. She was a two-masted sailing schooner 105 feet in length and 109 tons gross. One of her seventeen owners was Sir Percy Florence Shelley, the son of the poet, who changed the yacht’s name to Oceana in 1887. She was given a refit in 1923 and motorised with twin screws, although she retained her rigging. At her prow she had a striking figurehead of a woman blowing a pipe. In 1948 her registration was transferred to Dublin. On the 9th of March 1949 she was on passage past Tiree. Local tradition on the island is that the crew were Latvian, Finnish or Russian, and that the vessel was en route from Dublin to the Baltic. Early that morning the local coastguard crew, led by Murdoch Cameron, Balevullin and Alec MacLean, Hough, were called to a stranding half way along Tràigh Bhàigh, now more often known as Crossapol Beach. 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. Donald MacKinnon, Hough, then driving for Johnny Kennedy, had the contract to transport the coastguards’ equipment. He was told to park his lorry up on the dunes beside some wartime ruins to secure one end of the rope. The crew of around six were winched ashore, 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 ship broke up rapidly in the onshore winds and there was a sale of the yacht’s fittings on the beach the next day. Johnny Brown from the Scarinish Hotel bought two aluminium water tanks, but before most of the items could be collected there was another storm and everything was buried in the sand. It is said at low tide parts of the vessel can still be seen and exquisite brass bolts can found on the beach from time to time. How the yacht came to be grounded in reasonable weather is still a mystery. The crew were adamant no one could touch a large chest on the deck. Rumours that they were smugglers or they were going to Russia to pick up a dissident flew around the island. One suggestion was that they had been steering for the light on the airport control tower instead of the Scarinish lighthouse. We will probably never know, although it’s nice to think that the answer is still lying beneath the sands of Tràigh Bhàigh!’ (from Sìl Eòlais, 2010)

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