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M.Y. Alastor, Ringhaddy Sound Wreck

The following article was sent in by Kelly Edgar...

The Alastor Story (told by Queen's University)

As you may be aware, The Alastor is a wreck lying at the bottom of Ringhaddy Sound in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland. Built for Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith by Camper & Nicholsons in 1926, she was a luxury diesel yachts 43 m long and displacing 340 t. After changing owner in 1929, she was eventually acquired by the Ministry of War Transport at the outbreak of WWII, and served as an armed transport and anti-submarine vessel throughout the war. She finally sank after a fire broke out on board in 1946 while being moored in Ringhaddy Sound for repainting.

The wreck was locally known as "Alisdair" or "Allister" for the 58 years between her sinking and the findings of this report due to a mistake in the original newspaper articles. Measurements taken from the wreck and historic background research carried out during the course of this project have now however proven beyond reasonable doubt that it is indeed the Alastor lying on the bottom of Ringhaddy Sound. The Allister was a 3600 t cargo freighter under Panamese flag which probably never came near Strangford Lough, and the Alisdair is still afloat and serves as a luxury home in the Loivre area of France. See the bottom link for the full story..

A Dive to the Alastor

The M.Y. Alastor - This 1930s motor yacht hit the news last year when her true identity was revealed. John Liddiard travels to Northern Ireland to dive this rich man's toy. Illustration by Max Ellis

(1), while for a shore dive, a line from the quay leads into the port side of the stern (2).

Between the two, an open hatch (3) leads down to a small silt-filled compartment below the deck.

Forward along the centre line of the wreck, a pair of capstans stand on a pedestal clear of the deck (4), with a pair of small bollards nearby (5).

Most of the rear deck is just a framework of steel deck beams with the teak decking rotted away. The small hold area below the beams would have been accessed through a larger hatch (6) although, like the stern locker, it is silted almost to the level of the deck beams.

Continuing forward along the starboard side of the wreck, a covered walkway (7) leads alongside the superstructure, with a pair of boat derricks rising above the wreck and swung out in the position in which they would have been for lowering or recovering the boat.

Staying at the level of the main deck, the walkway ends and the forward part of the superstructure spans the width of the hull. The sides have folded in slightly along the middle of the line of rectangular window frames.

Below the window frames, a pair of crossed retainers (8) would have held doughnut-shaped lifebuoys to the outside of the hull, more as decoration than for ready deployment.

While the stern is buried low to the silt, the bow of the Alastor (9) is further into the current of the channel, and is surrounded by a considerable scour to 21m, the only part of the wreck not accessible to those with basic open water qualifications. The hull's covering of tunicates slowly gives way to patches of dead men's fingers and anemones at the tip of the bow.

Back at main deck level, the bow deck is intact and recessed with an anchor winch (10) and a pair of small bollards to either side. This is followed by two small hatches (11) to the bow locker and forward hold. Like the aft hold, these are filled almost to deck level with silt.

The forward part of the superstructure would once have been luxurious accommodation. Now the upper deck has rotted and the supporting beams collapsed inside. A pair of steel frames (12) would once have been panelled with wood, as would the sides of the wheelhouse. A little further aft, a mast lies across the deck (13).

Any wooden partitions between the cabins are long rotted to dust, though the bath and tiled floor of the bathroom (14), located to the starboard side where the superstructure narrows, gives evidence of individual cabins.

An unusual sight for any wreck is the funnel still standing (15). In the Alastor's case, the funnel is a purely decorative cover for the exhaust from the diesel engine below, not the essential flue needed for efficient burning in the boilers on a steam-powered ship.

To the starboard side of the funnel, looking down between the deck beams, you'll see an upright cylinder (16). This is the water tank, separated from the bathroom by an intact steel bulkhead.

Behind the funnel, a large opening

along the centre line of the yacht (17) would have provided ventilation for the engine-room below, though, as with the other hatches, the way down is silted and the engine itself is covered.

As on the starboard side, the port side was fitted with a pair of boat derricks, but the aft derrick has collapsed across the beams of the upper deck (18).

As a boat dive, a brief first pass round the wreck will have taken 15 minutes or so, leaving plenty of time to go round again more slowly before ascending the buoy-line. As a shore dive, one pass round is probably enough before following the line back to the shore. In either case, the departure point is back at the stern (19).

A good overview picture of the Wreck -

The wreck, which is 43m in length, sits upright and intact in 22m of water but comes up to 18m (HW) at its highest point. Visibility can be poor at times. This is a relatively sheltered dive which can be attempted on any state of the tide although slack is best and occurs approximately 1hr and a half - 2hrs after Belfast HW/LW. It is generally not very tidal (except mid-run on a spring tide) so is diveable at any stage.

The wreck is substantially intact and allows for a relatively easy circumnavigation. Little remains of the deck plates, promenade deck or upper structures. The funnel at eighteen metres is the highest point of the wreck; look for the large resident wrasse and conger in the stack. There are covered gangways going down both sides that allow easy access to the portholes looking into the remaining accommodation sections, including a bath visible on the starboard side just forward of the funnel. Underneath the bathtub and hawser bollards and winches in the fore section of the deck is a good place to look for conger eels, although the large resident eel who lived on the starboard side in the anchor winch was missing on our last visit and seems to have been fished. The wreck attracts large numbers of large velvet swimming crabs and edible crabs while the side plates are coated in dead-mans fingers. Dog-welks, shore crabs and hermit crabs litter the seabed beside the wreck and there are some large dahlia anenomes to be found.

Bring a good light, dive in small groups or by pair where possible and try to avoid stirring up the silt.

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For the full story by the Queen's University, click here.