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Diving the Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig - Collier Wreck

The Ailsa Craig with her 56m is one of the smaller wrecks to dive in Lyme Bay. As typical for Lyme Bay, what I remember the most, she is heavily silted up and covered in dead man's fingers and a number of snagged fishing nets.


She is very easy to navigate,the skipper will typically drop you off right on top of her. The bow has the anchor winch (and supposedly the anchor as well - I have seen the winch and somebody in the group claims there to be anchor, but videos and photos couldn't substantiate that - maybe somebody can help in the comment section). Just under the bow, in the collapsed cargo hold you can see the anchor chain covered in heavy silt. The rest of the cargo bay doesn't hold much of interest.


Swimming towards the rear you will come across the boiler (and you can't miss it) - the fire tubes of the fire tube boiler are visible as the gas and exit flange and rear covering plate are gone. On the other side the engine is well exposed and can be seen. Behind the engine the rear deck and funnel (what is left of it) can be seen (it is fully silted up). You can drop over the side and have a look at the rudder. 


Overall a pleasant dive, but again you are at the mercy of Lyme Bay with her strong currents. As there are other famous wrecks in the area she is not dived that often giving her a bit more an undisturbed feel.



History

The Ailsa Craig is a typical turn of the century coastal cargo ship. Hundreds of these vessels run up and down the coast delivery general cargo from and to the larger ports - plying their trade along the coastal waters and the channel. The Ailsa Craig was built by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd in Troon, Scotland and owned by Craig H.& Co. in Belfast. With her 601 grt and 80 horse power engine, she would be able to plough along around the 10 knots mark. Like many of counterparts, she deployed being a coal carrier and shuttled coal from Cardiff to the various ports up and down the British and French coast.


On her last trip, she was sailing from Cardiff to Granville, France carrying a cargo of Welsh coal. The German U-Boots were known to hunt in the channel trying to stop vessels from crossing the channel bound for France. Rather than to risk a run across the deep water from Cornwall and minimise the risk of deep water and the U-Boots, many skippers risked running across Lyme Bay and then try to cross over to Cherbourg and than back down the Normandy coast. 


The UB-80 under command of Kapitänsleutnant (Navy Lieutenant) Max Viebeg was in the area and used the staging point as an effective hunting area - even though this was done at relative high risk. The watch tower at Portland Bill kept a close eye on the Bay, especially on clear nights, as the submarines often had to emerge and fire up their diesel generators to recharge their batteries. Max Viebeg patrol area was between Start Point, Devon and Portland Bill, Dorset. He saw the defensively armed collier and with a single torpedo took her out. She took on water quickly and sank within 5 minutes, the small crew was able to escape unharmed. 


An additional note on the UB-80. She survived the war and was surrendered to Italy in 1918 and was scrapped in 1919. Max Viebeg sank a total of 25 ships when in command of the UB-80 and retired in 1920 and moved to Java, Dutch East Indies, where he ran a tea plantation until his death in 1961 aged 74.

Key numbers

Dive type: Wreck

Length: 56m

Depth:  26m (top deck) to 32m

Visibility: 2m to 10m

Location: 50°33.60N, 2°47.50W 

Difficulty: 3 Stars

Dive: 2 Stars

 

Pictures
Dive Log

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Ailsa Craig Log Book