Newton Stewart Sub Aqua Club - BSAC branch 1853

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S.S. Woodburn

The S.S. Woodburn was a small coastal steamer belonging to the Kelly Line of Belfast which regularly transported coal from Cumberland to Northern Ireland.

She foundered in a bad storm 18th February 1923 with the loss of all hands.  The masts of the wreck were still visible at low water next day, however within a week it had totally broken up and disappeared from sight all but forgotten until she was rediscovered by our club in April 2010.  

The wreck lies just south of  Stein Head near to the Isle of Whithorn in only 12 metres of water.  It is close into shore and protected from the tidal stream in Wigtown bay by the underwater reef at Stein Head.  This means that it can be dived at any state of  the tide.  Its sheltered location also means that it is diveable with the wind blowing from any direction other than N.E. through S.E.

As can be seen from the diagram the Woodburn is very much broken up with huge boulders actually sitting on top of wreckage in some places.  This is as a result of it’s shallow depth and it’s exposure to ninety years of winter storms.  Around where the wreck lies are numerous rocky reefs and outcrops, but fortunately most of the wreckage lies in an open cobbled area making it easy to explore.  

During the winter of 2010/2011 the wreck was pounded by heavy seas which redistributed many pieces of wreckage and badly damaged the boiler causing most of the rivets to pop.  

Probably the best place to start the tour is the boiler (1) which is the most prominent piece of wreckage.  This lies upright, with its two stoke holes now facing to the east. Previously they were to the north which gives us an idea as to how the ship lies since the stoke holes were usually located at the forward end of the boiler.   The boiler itself is around 3 metres in diameter and filled with heavy gauge pipes.  It is open on the port side where it once rubbed against the cliff face giving a good view of the interior.  Kelp has also grown on the top most surfaces giving the boiler the appearance of a large rock from a distance.

Moving northwards from the boiler into the shallowest area you cross various pieces of  riveted plating and girders (which reveal the age of the vessel) until you come to what looks like a capstan or winch assembly lying just next to the cliff face (2).  Nearby are pieces of grating and two mooring bollards as well as what looks like the hawser hole faring.  It is in this area that letters from the ship’s name were found among the cobbles.  These were slopping in shape showing that they came from the bow.  Many more artefacts will no doubt lie beneath these cobbles which have piled up since the vessel sank.

Moving southeast follow the line of wreckage until you come to a small section of the keel with the ship’s ribs attached (3).  This is heavily covered in marine growth.  Just off to your left you can find a piece of plating which has been folded around a prominent rock outcrop showing the power of the winter storms (4).  If you go on past this folded plate you can head into a maze of underwater canyons where small pieces of wreckage have been deposited.  This is a good area to explore as a separate scenic dive.  

Returning to the section  of keel with attached ribs to your right lies a long shaft which may have formed the base of the mast or was an auxiliary drive shaft from the engine to power pumps etc.  Ahead of you are large sections of hull plating with ribs attached (5) which lead you to a curiously shaped piece of heavy steel lying under two long girders.  This may have been a strengthening girder from the stern of the vessel which helped support the rudder.  Here you come to the beginning of the rock outcrops and reefs, but in the gap in front of you is an oval shaped plate which seems to have been one of the stoke hole doors and a little further ahead is a heavy structure with hinges which seems to be what remains of the rudder post (6).  

Turning to your right here and moving out from the rocks you come to the large two cylinder steam engine (7).  This is close up against a rock face with kelp growing on top of it.  However it is easy to see inside the framework where the cranks and camshaft as well as the gearing and drive shaft protrude.  Just behind the engine is another section of drive shaft with what looks like the boss of the propeller attached to it.  Only one partial blade of the propeller still remains.

This covers the main area and the largest pieces of the wreck, however scattered all over the site are many small fragments of wreckage and many more must lie under the cobbles waiting to be discovered.  It is pretty obvious from the brass items lying on the sea bed that the wreck has never been dived, however there is one puzzling thing which is noticeably absent.  Coal!  On the wreck of the Kelvinside which is a far more exposed location the site is littered with huge lumps of furnace coal.  However on the site of the Woodburn so far not a trace of her cargo of coal has been found.

To find out more about this wreck, have a look at it’s wreck history page.

Wreck Tour of the SS Woodburn WRECK TOURS
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