The Criscilla (FD23) was launched in March 1929 from the yard of Cochrane & Sons, Selby (Yard No 1045). She was a steel hulled steam trawler of 350 gt., and her dimensions were 135.0′ x 25.0′ x 14.5′. Her owners were J Marr & Sons of Fleetwood.
The life of a fisherman on board a trawler is a hard one particularly in winter. October and November of 1931 were no exception and so it was with some relief that the crew of the Fleetwood trawler Criscilla headed south from the fishing grounds after a week of bad weather with constant wind and rain. Skipper Charlie Walters navigated through the channels between various islands off the west coast sheltering where possible from the worst of the weather giving the crew some welcome respite from the continuous rolling and buffeting of their ship. The Criscilla was a fairly new vessel and they were making a steady 14 knots despite the sea conditions when they entered the north end of the Sound of Islay in the early evening of November 2nd.
The night was misty and visibility was very poor so as they approached the area of Black Rock towards the south end of the Sound, the skipper slowed engines and everyone on board, except the men in the engine room, were posted on deck to keep a lookout for the light on the rocks or the lighthouse at McArthur’s Head – the red sector of the light would indicate that they were too near the rocks. They did not know it but their luck was out. The light on the Black Rock was not working. At 10:40pm the ship ran onto the end of the reef at Black Rock and quickly became badly holed as she bumped up and down on the jagged rocks which soon could be seen protruding through the hull into the engine room.
For two and a half days the crew fought vainly with the rising water in an attempt to save their ship but, at 6am on 6th, the skipper decided that she was in danger of sinking and decided to abandon ship. Another Fleetwwod trawler, the Flydea, was standing by and the crew made it safely to her in the ships boat. They returned the following day and took off many of the removable items from the ship before abandoning her and heading home.
In early December salvage operations were started on the wreck using a new compressed air system and there were high hopes of saving the Criscilla. In fact she was successfully refloated but, just as the salvors felt that they had succeeded and the ship floated off the reef, her stern caught again on the rocks and she stuck fast once more. This time she was doomed. The falling tide caused her to keel over, the compressed air that had been keeping her afloat escaped and she sank beneath the surface. Her masts were visible above the surface for many years before they too finally succumbed to the rushing tides of the sound and all signs of her above water were gone.
Further information can be found here http://www.fleetwood-trawlers.info/index.php/2009/01/st-criscilla-fd23/
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Criscilla is charted and lies in an area of strong tidal flow in position 55°47.647’N, 006°03.909’W (GPS). It lies on the south west side of a small reef that almost breaks the surface some fifty metres from Black Rock. The wreck faces north with the bow the deepest section of the wreckage lying in 12 metres. The wreck itself, which is completely covered in colourful encrusting sealife, lies with a heavy list to starboard and is well broken but large sections remain intact. The bow rises 5 metres from the seabed with the remainder of the ship spread across a rocky seabed which rises gently past the huge boiler and engine amidships to the stern, with propeller still in place, in around 8 metres.
Spread across the seabed at the stern are piles of slates which probably formed the cargo of another ship which came to grief on the Black Rock. It is not certain, but the authors believe this to be the remains of the cargo of the Welsh schooner, Mary Ellen, which was lost in the Sound of Islay in the vicinity of Black Rock on 21st September, 1879. Close by, between the small reef and Black Rock itself, the authors found another small modern wreck, the Nancy B, a local inshore fishing boat that lies in just over 10 metres. As previously stated the tides in the vicinity are fierce, reaching 7 knots at peak of springs, making a dive on slack water, which is often only a few minutes long, essential.