The wrecks of the S.S. Craignair and large, square rigged barque Chile lie in shallow water just off Port Counan Bay (the next small bay to the north west of St Ninian’s Cave). This is a sheltered site, particularly suited to trainee divers since the water is usually clear, light penetration is good, there is wreckage to explore and fish and sea life are easily seen. This is a high water dive with slack occurring one hour after HW and lasting for up to two hours. Even on big spring tides diving is possible outside of slack water since the tidal streams are weak.
The easiest place to start the tour is at the largest piece of wreckage, the boiler (1) of the Craignair. This was a small steam salvage vessel, registered in Liverpool, which sank on top of the Chile while it was carrying out salvage work. Despite nearly a century of battering by the sea, the Glasgow style boiler is still solid and intact. It lies on its side in a sandy patch with the firebox opening facing towards the shore. This is the place to get your bearings to explore the rest of the scattered wreckage.
Heading towards the shore on a bearing perpendicular to the firebox end of the boiler you pass over an area covered in Sugar kelp beneath which are various unidentifiable riveted steel plates and girders which may be parts of the Chile or Craignair (2). After about 30 metres you will see an object looming up in front of you. Standing upright this is probably the salvage winch of the Craignair (3), which originally stood on the 35 foot long working quarter deck of the vessel. The winch still stands fixed to the remains of the wooden decking with the large gear wheels and cable drum easy to identify. Around it on the seabed are a number of other cogs and pulley wheels which once formed part of the mechanism.
Off to the left (as you approached the winch) are the remains of the capstan lying among the weeds. The capstan head and the locking ratchet mechanism can be seen. Nearby are the solid remains of a small hatch coaming which may have come from either vessel but was probably from the Chile.
Once again near to this, lightly covered by a thin layer of sand are intact remains of well pitted wooden decking. Most of the items described so far have come from the Craignair but all around the site buried beneath the kelp and cobbles are what remain of heavy gauge steel plating with attached ribs. These are most likely parts of the lower hull of the 2000 ton Chile which would be what was left when salvage operations were coming to an end.
Head back towards the boiler, turn left and swim for about 50m. Here you will find the massive steel beam which was once the keel of the Chile with the equally massive steel lower ribs of the hull attached to it. Under the weeds in this area are more sections of teak decking and a circular clamp with attached stay shackle which probably was part of the bowsprit of the Chile
Retracing your path to the boiler now turn right and swim parallel to the end face. You will soon see to your right some large sections of steel plate and girders standing proud of the seabed. Beyond these and to your left is an upright piece of steel like a capital letter F (4). This was once part of the Craignair’s engine, the rest of which lies on its side just ahead of you (5). The vessel had a two cylinder compound engine with 11 inch and 24 inch bore cylinders. The two cylinders are easily identified with the two piston rods and their guide rails protruding from the base. At the far side of the engine the disconnected crankshaft is visible among the weeds.
Just beyond the snapped off propeller shaft points up, resting on a piece of wreckage (6). This can be followed down to what remains of the propeller hub itself which has the stubs of two broken blades clearly visible. The split pin which once helped keep the propeller fixed to the shaft is also still in place. Near to this is a curved section of heavily riveted steel plating which looks like it may have formed part of the stern gunwale of the Craignair.
From here, swimming on a northerly bearing, it is a short distance to two pieces of wreckage, which because of their dimensions, were most probably mast sections from the Chile (7). These lie partly buried in a sandy area and one of them has a heavy collet ring with attached V shaped shackle. This looks like the attachment point for the mast stays. This is the last identifiable piece of wreckage and it now remains to retrace your steps to the boiler. On your way back however it is worthwhile searching around and exploring beneath the weeds and cobbles as the whole site is littered with wreckage and something identifiable may be found.
As regards sea life the shallow depth of 5-6 metres (parts of the site actually dry out on low water springs) means that fish are not permanently resident but come in to the shallows at high water. Ballan, Cuckoo and Goldsinny wrasse can be seen as can Dogfish, Plaice, Dragonets and Sand eels.
To find out more about these wrecks, have a look at their wreck history page.