The Glenhead was an iron hulled steamlighter, owned by John Turnbull of Glasgow and was a typical example of this small, reliable workboat, dozens of which plied up and down the Clyde with small cargoes for the ports of the estuary. She was built by Scott & Son of Bowling (Yard No.65) and launched on 12 January 1887. She had a nett register tonnage of 34t and dimensions of 66.2′ x 17.6′ x 5.95′.
At 3:30pm on Sunday 23 March, 1890 she left Glasgow, under the command of Captain McCulloch, bound for Campbeltown with a cargo of 80 tons of coal for a Mr J C Boyd. Her route took her down river past Greenock, south to Toward where she turned west to pass through the Kyles of Bute and then south again into Kilbrannan Sound. All through the Sunday afternoon and evening and into the early hours of 24th March the weather was calm and fine and the crew relaxed as they looked forward to their arrival in Campbeltown early in the morning.
As they steamed on south the welcoming flash of Davaar Lighthouse appeared out of the darkness but, as they cleared Kildonald Point and Ross Island, the light northeast wind veered steadily to the southeast and soon the sea became rough and the night unpleasant. When the Glenhead was within a mile of the lighthouse she was struck on the port side by a large wave and quickly began to capsize. She sank within three minutes giving the four men on board only just enough time to jump into the ship’s small boat and cut the painter to avoid going down with her. The crew rowed ashore and landed safely at Ardnacross then made their way to Campbeltown on foot, arriving at seven o’clock in the morning where they were taken in and cared for by the Shipwrecked Mariners Association.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Glenhead lies upright in 36 metres of water in position 55°27.233’N, 005°31.216’W (GPS), which is about 400 metres northwest of the cardinal marker buoy at the Otterard Rock. The wreck is almost completely intact with only the simple wooden superstructure missing from its original condition. She lies, facing southwest, on a gently sloping shingle seabed.
The hull is damaged at bow and stern. At the bow, the hull is broken forward of the main hatch and the winch is found on the seabed, probably caused by the impact as she plunged down from the surface. Since we first dived the wreck in August 1990, the hull plating on the stern has fallen away to reveal the stern post and engine room area, the iron propellor is still in place with rudder on seabed. She is a very simple vessel with a large central hold, still full to deck level with the cargo of coal, engine room to the rear and a small forecastle cabin for the crew. The visibility in the area is generally good and, as she lies deep, the wreck is not subject to the same difficulties of swell and current experienced on many of the other wrecks in the area.