Divernet

The Wreck Tour to date has featured fairly well-known wrecks. This months is a bit different. The Stassa is sufficiently out of the way to be rarely dived, but its an excellent wreck and well worth the effort if you are in the area.
A small freighter with a classic central superstructure, the Stassa has two holds forward and two aft. It lies at 20m, on its starboard side, on the flat, silty seabed of Loch Rodel on the Isle of Harris. When I dived the Stassa a small plastic can buoy was attached to the port railing just forward of the super-structure. The port side of the ship is just 10m from the surface.
Descending the buoy-line to the port railing just forward of the superstructure (1) the outstanding visibility allowed me to see most of the main structure, the forward mast and a fair distance towards the bows. Ten metres below me on the seabed, assorted debris from the holds could easily be distinguished.
At the closed end of a loch you dont see the spectacular anemones found in areas exposed to a current, just a carpet of translucent white tunicates, with a few sprigs of kelp on the port and upper side of the hull and tufts of hydroids lower down. If you have ever dived the Shuna in the Sound of Mull or the Breda in Ard-mucknish Bay you will know what I mean.
Turning aft it is easy to swim through the superstructure (2), entering through broken windows and exiting through a doorway on to the deck above the engine room. Inside, the wheelhouse is relatively open, with little risk of silting unless you dig into the debris at the bottom.
The funnel is intact, suspended above the seabed. Open ventilation hatches (3) provide easy access to the cavernous engine room. Once inside, a torch is useful but not essential, as daylight enters through the hatches and a break in the side of the hull (4) - perhaps the original damage that sank the ship.
The boilers are still intact and firmly attached to the floor, as are the steam engine and assorted railings and cat-walks. To the stern a narrow break in the bulkhead might provide access to the propshaft tunnel.
Exiting the engine room, again through the ventilation hatches, the number 3 hold (5) is pretty much empty, apart from a mixed pile of timber and silt spilling out on to the seabed. Rumour has it that hidden under the cargo of timber was a shipment of illegal weapons en route to the IRA. Perhaps this pile hides evidence which could back up this rumour.
Continuing aft between the holds you find another intact mast (6) with an enormous winch on either side. After more than 30 years it is amazing that rust and gravity have not broken it loose. The aft hold (7) is also fairly empty, except for debris as in the previous hold.
On the stern deck (8) is a closed hatch cover, assorted bollards and deck fittings and a large post almost, but not quite, in the right place for auxiliary steering. Presumably the spare propeller, now on the sea floor, was once attached to the deck here.
The railings at the stern show some sign of age, rusted through at the ends and completely broken in places. The marine life here includes some bright strawberry tunicates.
Moving round the stern towards the keel, the rudder and prop shaft are intact (9), but the prop has been salvaged at some stage. Crossing over the railing and descending to the seabed, youll see what I assume to be the spare propeller, because it doesnt look like bronze. It has broken loose and rests on the silt (10).
Heading for the bows along the seabed below the mast gives you an opportunity to poke around among the debris that has dropped from the deck and holds (11). The starboard railings are mostly buried in the silt.
Swimming out above the super-structure gives an opportunity to have a look down the top of the funnel (12). Alternatively, stay close to the decks and go back through the wheelhouse.
Staying on the seabed there is another spread of debris beneath the forward holds (13) before you come to the raised bows. An open hatch (14) provides access to the compartments inside.
The bow deck is dominated by the anchor winch (15). On either side are the usual mooring bollards. Anchor chains are still in place (16) and can be followed to the anchors on the seabed.
Time will probably be running out by now, but it is hard to resist a quick look at the top of the forward mast (17). You can then follow the mast down back to the winches and the buoy line where you began.
With the seabed at just 20m and so much to see, its worth taking a twinset with enough air for at least an hours dive. Making the most of a dive computer will enable you to have a good tour of the wreck without getting into decompression.



SHORT CUT TO THE SEABED 
There was no excuse for the navigation which put the 1685-ton Panamanian steamship Stassa on to the rocks some hours before dawn on 15 July, 1966, writes Kendall McDonald. The sea was calm, there was no fog, but as she ran down the Minch heading for the short cut between Skye and the Outer Hebrides, she drove straight on to Renish Point, South Harris.

Her voyage from Archangel in Russia to Limerick with a cargo of timber seemed over, but though the crew promptly abandoned ship, her master, his wife, the chief officer and the radio operator stayed aboard. The high tide in the afternoon lifted the Stassa off the rocks and the Stornoway lifeboat towed her into nearby Rodel Bay, where she anchored.

Any hopes the master might have had of continuing to Limerick were dashed when she filled with water until only her timber cargo kept her afloat. She took four days to sink. She turned on to her starboard side, her deck cargo of more timber broke free, and then she was gone.



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TIDES: The Stassa can be dived at all states of the tide.

GETTING THERE: By ferry from Uig, at the northern end of the Isle of Skye, to Tarbert on Harris, then a drive south on the A859 to Rodel. Alternatively by ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy on North Uist and by boat across the Sound of Harris. More conveniently, if you have the time, take a live-aboard from Oban.

DIVING AND AIR: From the Isle of Lewis: Murdo MacDonald, 01851 672381. From North Uist: Uist Outdoor Centre, 01876 500480. From Oban: Dundarg Charters, 01880 820720.

LAUNCHING: Most villages in the area have a small slip. I have heard that it is possible to launch at Rodel, within spitting distance of the Stassa, though I dont know the quality of the slip. In such sheltered waters and close to shore an enterprising pair of divers could probably shore dive the Stassa, but I dont know of anyone who has tried.

ACCOMMODATION: Am Bothan on the Isle of Harris (01859 520251) also supplies air. The Western Islands Tourist Board lists more (tel 01851 703088; website www.witb.co.uk).

QUALIFICATIONS: This is an easy dive suitable for newly qualified divers. The difficult bit is getting there.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2642, Sound of Harris. Admiralty Chart 2841, Sound of Harris to Ardmore Mangersta. Ordnance Survey Map 18, Sound of Harris and St Kilda. Western Islands Tourist Board (see above for details). BSAC Wreck Register, wreck number 176. The Stassa is not featured in any of the usual West Scotland dive guides.

PROS: A beautifully intact wreck in shallow sheltered water. Visibility can be very good.

CONS: Remote location. Visibility can also be very bad.

Many thanks to Arthur Wood, Brad van Hooijdonk, Bob Baird and Murdo MacDonald.