The Glen Shiel was a steel motor coaster of 195 gross tons, built by Livingston & Co., of Peterhead and launched in 1959. Her dimensions were 105.8′ x 22.4′ x 8.9′ and she was powered by an Alpha diesel engine of 280 nhp. The Glen Shiel was owned by G & G Hamilton Ltd., of Glasgow although at the time of her loss she was under charter to Glenlight Shipping Limited of Glasgow.
The Glen Shiel left Ayr Harbour around 12.40am on 29th June, 1973 bound initially for Shieldhall in Glasgow, her final destination being Portree with a cargo of 215 tons of coal. Aboard were five crew and one passenger under command of her master Tom West.
She proceeded north west across Ayr Bay in a stiff south-westerly breeze and although the sea was not rough, spray was continually blowing over her port rail. Prior to departing Ayr, the tarpaulins had not been spread over the main hatch boarding and this allowed spray to run between the hatch boards into the hold. Over a period of time, thought to be just over half an hour, the steady build up of water in her main hold suddenly caused the coaster to develop a pronounced list to port and she soon began to go under. The crew were only alerted to the danger shortly before she sank, probably due to the gradual build-up of water prior to a final deluge. This may, in part, account for the loss of five of the six persons aboard.
James Scott (21) of Portrush, the sole survivor later commented ” I was below at the time in my bunk, when the mate John McInnes shouted: It will not be safe if you stay down below. At that point the ship took a heavy list to port and I heard the crashing of crockery in the galley. I scrambled up to the wheelhouse and noticed that the port side of the ship was under water. I saw the mate jump into the sea with a lifebelt and I followed him, but my lifebelt caught in the rigging and I went over the side without it“. James and the mate were joined by the second engineer, the only men aboard known to leave the ship before it sank. The three remained in the water for three hours before the second engineer was unable to remain afloat and tragically sank from view, to be followed 30 minutes later by the mate. James managed to remain afloat for another 3 hours before being washed ashore on Troon’s South Beach where he was later discovered by a local resident and taken to hospital in Ayr, where he made a full recovery.
A formal investigation into the tragic events of the 29 June were later held in Glasgow Sheriff Court in late March 1974. The investigation found that the loss of five lives and the vessel was caused by the failure of the Master to properly prepare the ship for sea.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Glen Shiel is located approximately 2.75 miles WNW of Ayr Harbour in position 55°29.166’N, 004°43.078’W. She lies on her port side oriented 000°/180° with her bow pointing south. Seabed depths around the wreck average 25 metres while the least depth over her is 19 metres.
The wreck is completely intact except for her mast and propeller which were removed by a commercial diving company in 1977.