The Moonlight was a small coastal steamship built by the Larne Shipbuilding Company in 1913, she was originally launched as the SS Ormsa. Her dimensions were 66.7’x18.4’x8.5′, sized for canal work, her design was typical of the ‘Clyde Puffer’ of which there were many around at the time. At the time of her loss she was in the ownership of the Light Shipping Company, with Ross & Marshall being the vessels managers.
The Moonlight left Furnace for Ormidale, Kyles of Bute on 25th August, 1948 with a cargo of granite chips. She was under the command of her relief skipper Stewart Ross, and on board were the four crew and one passenger, the engineer Alexander Mair’s wife Jean. The crew expected an uneventful voyage but, as they steamed south towards Ardlamont Point, the wind steadily built towards gale force. Eventually, as they were hit by a fierce squall and took two or three heavy seas over the bow, Captain Ross decided to turn back and sit it out in the shelter of Skate Island. They turned round and ran with the wind back towards the island which lies just north of Ardlamont Point. Huge waves continued to buffet the ship but the crew were beginning to relax when suddenly the pressure of water on deck burst into the forecastle and the ship began to fill. She quickly took on a heavy list and began to founder.
The crew on board had very little time to prepare before the ship sank beneath the surface throwing them into the open water. James Cooper, the deckhand, was the only lucky survivor. He struggled in the stormy seas to reach and grab hold of the upturned lifeboat and held on grimly as the wind and waves pushed him the mile or so to the shore. Ashore, a woman guest at J W Turnbull’s estate had witnessed the sinking and James Beveridge, the gamekeeper, rushed to the shooting lodge’s motor boat with a guest to attempt a rescue. However they too were soon in difficulties as the boat’s engine was flooded in the heavy seas. Luckily they drifted ashore and escaped safely. Meanwhile, Turnbull himself organised a shore search party who found Captain Ross’ body. Before another rescue attempt could be launched the exhausted deckhand staggered to the lodge and after knocking at the door collapsed on the step. Mrs Beveridge helped him indoors and quickly revived him with a hot meal and a change of clothing. The bodies of the three other people aboard the Moonlight were never found. A single lifebelt with the name Moonlight was the only trace of the ship washed ashore.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Moonlight lies in seabed depths between 36-38 metres on a flat mud and shell seabed in position 55°50.378’N 005°16.628’W. She lies 010/190° with her bow pointing south. The hull rises approximately 3-4 metres above seabed level and what is left of the engine room casing perhaps another 2.0 metres. The wreck is on an even keel.
The wreck is substantially intact although her engine casing appears to have been damaged on the starboard side, perhaps by trawl gear. There are no hazards to diving this wreck which often provides an excellent dive with shoals of fish and generally good visibility.