Fyne Pioneer, Loch Fyne

Site Name: Helena Faulbaums - Garvallachs


This 1188nt steamship was built by Grangemouth Dockyard Co. and launched in June 1920 as the SS Firpark. She had a steam triple expansion engine of 280 NHP, two boilers, single screw. Her machinery was made by Couper & Greig Ltd of Dundee.


The Latvian steamship wast lost on 26 October 1936. She left Liverpool early on 26 October after unloading her cargo of timber and was bound for Blyth, Northumberland, in ballast, to take on a cargo of coal for her return trip to her home port of Riga. There were only four survivors of her crew of 20 when she sank off the small island of Belnahua at the north end of the Sound of Luing during a terrible storm.



The steering gear either broke or was unable to match the force of the storm in the huge waves which forced the propeller half out of water. Capt. Zughaus ordered both anchors, each with 90 fathoms of chain, to be let go in order to try and bring the ship under control, but to no avail. Trawlers and other shipping which were caught at sea in the height of the storm limped into port, battered by the high winds and teriffic seas.


The first SOS radio message was sent at 8.48pm, but news of the Helena Faulbaums'difficulty in the Firth of Lorne only came late at night when indistinct SOS signals were picked up from a steamer in distress somewhere off the coast of Mull. She said she was drifting helplessly at the mercy of the gale, and asked for immediate assistance. Later came the message that she had gone aground, and from her position it appeared as if she has struck the rocks near the Isles of the Sea. As all communication with Islay and other lifeboat stations had been interrupted by the storm, the BBC were asked to send out a message requesting anyone who heard it to communicate with the nearest lifeboat station. The Port Askaig lifeboat later picked up the SOS and immediately set off for the Firth of Lorne. Two trawlers, believed to have been the Foss and the Shelby, were also reported to have gone to her assistance, but it is doubtful if they ever reached the steamer. She was pounded against the rocks broadside on and sank within 10 minutes off the north west corner of Belnahua. 


Meanwhile the SOS signals from the steamer itself had ceased, and just as dawn was breaking, the body of a seaman was washed ashore at Cullipool, on the west of the island of Luing. It was found by villagers who had gone down to the shore to watch the storm. Around the body was a lifebelt telling the name of the ship, Helena Faulbaums, registered at Riga. Close to the shore, tossing in the wild seas could be seen several other lifebelts telling their own mournful tale of death by drowning. Two other bodies were washed ashore further along the Luing coast at Port Mary, but it was impossible to recover the others on account of the seas that were running. Opposite Cullipool, the shore was littered with wreckage of lifebelts, spars, hatch covers and other gear. Of the steamer itself there was no trace.


To those on shore it did not seem conceivable that anyone of the 20 members of theHelena Faulbaums could have survived the relentless seas which pounded the rocky coast of Luing the previous night. It was so bad that the villagers at Cullipool could hardly open their doors on account of the wind. Spray and rain were described as like showers of gravel beating against the houses. No-one on the island had heard or seen any signals of a ship in distress. Then, when all hope had been abandoned of finding any survivors of the wreck, a message came from Crinan stating that the Port Askaig lifeboat had put in there with 4 members of the crew of the Helena Faulbaums, which she had picked up from the island of Belnahua opposite Cullipool. After battling her way through teriffic seas, the crew of the lifeboat had reached the Isles of the Sea at dawn. At first they could see no sign of theHelena Faulbaums or her crew, but after cruising about for some time, they had seen signals coming from the west shore of Belnahua. The seas were too rough to attempt a landing, but standing off the island some little way, they fired a lifeline which was picked up by those ashore, and they were taken aboard by means of a lifebuoy. There were only 4 survivors out of a crew of 20. After searching for some time along the coast, the Port Askaig boat turned about and ran for Crinan, where the 4 members of the Helena Faulbaums crew were put ashore.

The ship's carpenter, Karl Kalnin said "About 7 o'clock on the Monday night, the storm struck the ship while we were in the firth. The seas were so high and the vessel so light, and the screw was seldom in the water that we were hardly making headway, the the steering went. We knew we were doomed as we began to drift by the beam on to the rocks. She bagan pounding then slipped off and began to settle by the stern. We though about using the boats but saw it was hopeless. The Captain told every man to fend for himself. Guys were slung over the side and men began to scramble over. Some of them jumped for the rocks and others slipped into the water from the ropes. As I jumped, the water closed over me and crashed me against a small rock. I clutched and hung on. Then another wave pushed me further inshore and my feet touched the ground. When I looked back, the ship had gone. What became of the others in that terrible minute or two I do not know".

Kalnin told of the heroism of the young wireless operator who remained at his post and went down with the ship. "The last I saw of him", said Kalnin, "was shortly before we abandoned the ship. As I was scrambling over the side to take my chance in the water, I saw him still in his cabin, tapping away for help". The body of the wireless operator was one of the first to be washed ashore on the Luing coast.

The wreck was found in 1979 by EUSAC divers. Robert Sproul-Cran, Derek Borthwick, Geoff Hide and Malcolm Gauld were the first divers to dive it.

Dive Site Info

The wreck lies in a deep gully close to Belnahua, near Luing Island, in deep water on an even keel orientated 332/152 degrees. The bow is to the NW. It is about 53 metres to her deck and 65 mentres to the seabed. She lies in a general depth of 58 to 62 metres. The shoalest depth recorded by diver was 47 metres (low water spring tides) to the top of engine casing. Items reported to the Receiver of Wreck include a steering binnacle stamped 'Carron Company Stirlingshire', a porthole, a brass cigarette lighter, a brass door latch, sink fittings, 4 bottles, cups, and a telegraph handle.


The vessel is largely intact, although the bridge has substantially collapsed. The masts have collapsed. The almost completely intact wreck sits on an even keel, with her bows facing towards the island. Spare prop still in place. The close proximity of a shallow reef makes the wreck no hazard to navigation. The central section of the wreck is the most interesting, but the bow is particularly impressive. The plates have fallen away from the main frames to provide a bird cage effect. Shoals of bib can often be seen darting in and out of the focsle. The bow is tall, with port anchor chain runnin south and down onto the seabed.


When to dive

The wreck is sheltered from the worst of the tide which sweeps through the Sound of Luing especially on the ebb. The dive is best undertaken at low water slack.