The Cairn Line steamship Cairnavon was originally built for NV Koninklijke Nederlandsche Stoomboot Maatschappij of Amsterdam and launched on 23rd January 1920 as the SS Baarn. She was purchased by the Cairn Line in 1922. She measured 411.7′ x 52.8′ x 27.9′ and weighed 5,245 gross tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Central Machine Engine Works, Hartlepool delivering 513 net horse power.
Some three years later she left Leith with a general cargo bound for Montreal on Saturday 31st October, 1925 with a crew of forty eight and one passenger aboard under the command of Captain Baker, an experienced skipper hailing from South Shields. The weather was calm but misty as she steamed north along the east coast of Scotland. As she passed Aberdeen the fog thickened and became very dense forcing the captain to order the engines slowed and regular depth soundings to be made. There was no indication from the soundings that the ship was in trouble as the water is deep close to shore in the area but the flood tide was gradually pushing them towards the coast and, at 12:32 am, the ship ran hard aground south of Dundonnie at South Castle Haven.
Although the ship was seriously damaged the weather was calm and it was clear the crew were in no immediate danger but the distress rockets they fired were not seen by anyone ashore due to the thickness of the fog. Their wireless SOS was picked up by operators at Peterhead but the crew of the Cairnavon could not give an exact position of the ship as they had clearly veered off their intended course. The Peterhead rocket brigade immediately set out to search the coastline but this was a difficult task with no real idea where exactly the Cairnavon had come ashore. As time passed the captain became concerned about the ship’s position and decided the take his crew and passenger ashore as a precaution feeling that the ship might, at any time, slip back into the sea and deep water as, despite the calm conditions, the ship was rolling due to a substantial swell. The second mate climbed down a rope ladder and managed to scramble ashore where he was able to secure a line and start to help other crew members ashore. Three of the crew then climbed the cliffs close to the wreck and, as they reached the top and set off to look for assistance, were met by the rocket brigade who had been searching the coastline. The rocket brigade lowered a ladder to the crew on the shoreline and everyone aboard climbed to the top of the cliff and safety.
Before leaving the ship for the last time the chief engineer went below for a final check on the state of the ship and he reported the engine room and two holds full of water and signs of cracking on the ship’s hull. The following day a visit by one of the surveyors of the Salvage Association confirmed buckling and cracking of the hull, the aft engine room bulkhead gone and holds one and two deep in water. Three days later the ship was declared a total wreck.
The wreckage of the Cairnavon is spread widely in depths of 6 to 20 metres in position 57°27.780’N, 001°46.502’W . The wreckage is broken and scattered although some substantial items including engine and boiler are still visible