This vessel was launched as the steel steamship Princetown from the Yard of J P Rennoldson & Sons, South Shields in August 1917 for her first owners the Hibernia Steam Shipping Company of Dublin. The vessel measured 188.5′ x 28.7′ x 11.1’ and tonnages were 719 gross and 272 net. The Princetown was sold in 1935 to J & A Gardner of Glasgow and with this came a name change to Saint Conan and she remained in their ownership until loss. The vessels official number was 140451.
The circumstances surrounding any wreck often result in controversy at the subsequent inquiry with arguments on who was to blame for the incident. In the case of the Saint Conan, the blame for the wrecking was unequivocal. The ship, which was owned by J & A Gardner and Co, Clyde Street, Glasgow and registered at Port Glasgow, had sailed from Ayr bound for Sligo with a cargo of 600 tons of coal at 10:30pm on 29th August 1939. She was commanded by Mr Donald Carmichael and he took charge of her as they steamed out of Ayr and set a course west by half south which would take them past Pladda where he then planned to turn towards Ireland. At midnight the captain handed over command of the vessel to the mate, George Moore, leaving instructions for him to change course to west south by three quarters south as they passed Pladda and to stream the log. On reaching Pladda around 12:15am, Moore went below to fetch the log and failed to return to the bridge. After the ship ran aground he was found lying, asleep, on the settee in the chartroom.
The night was fine and calm and, as the Saint Conan steamed on at nine knots, the lights on the east coast of Kintyre were clearly visible to the crew on board. Two hours later the mate still had not returned to the bridge and the vital course change, instructed by the captain, had not been made. At 2:15am the ship ran ashore. It is not clear why John McVeigh, able seaman, who was actually steering the vessel, did not take any action to avoid the stranding, although he later testified that he thought he was steering the correct course. After the ship went ashore the mate was found lying, asleep, on the settee in the chartroom. It is therefore certain that, despite his testimony to the contrary, he had not ordered the change of course that would have taken them safely on their way and as such he was fully to blame for the loss of the vessel. The mate attempted to explain his lengthy absence from the bridge by a heart seizure but this was not supported by medical evidence. The court of inquiry suspended his certificate for twelve months.
Like may other ships before her the Saint Conan had run aground on the treacherous reef of Arranman’s Barrels which extends more than half a mile from the shoreline. She ran onto the reef at full speed and the bow reared up over the top of it so far that, the following day, it was possible to row a small boat under the keel. She was lying at an angle of forty five degrees with her bow high in the air and her stern under water. The crew got safely ashore but the vessel was doomed. There were a number of unsuccessful attempts to pull her off, both under her own power and by tugs, but it was hopeless. For a few days it was hoped that the cargo could be off loaded and then another salvage attempt made but, later in the week, when the weather worsened she settled onto the reef and the vessel and cargo became a total loss.
The story surrounding the wreck of the Saint Conan was completed in October of 1939 when the steam lighter Kinsol ran onto the reef while working on the salvage of the wreck. She was badly holed and abandoned by her crew – she sank a few hours later.
The Wreck Today
The remains of the Saint Conan lie in approximate position 55° 19.466’N, 005° 33.346’W on the north side of the Arranman’s Barrels. The wreck was heavily salvaged in situ and this, plus the effects of the weather and tides, means that she is well dispersed.
However, substantial quantities of wreckage still remain at the site. Her boiler, lying on the seabed at the bottom of the reef in around 12 metres, is the largest recognisable item. The rest of the wreck lies scattered around the boiler, on a shingle seabed, to maximum depths of 14 metres and along the side and even on top of the reef with the shallowest parts in less than 5 metres. The site, which is easiest to locate at low water, is fairly exposed to wind and swell and careful boathandling is required to make sure that your boat doesn’t join the long list of casualties on the Arranman’s Barrels.