The tramp steamer War Wonder was built at 2363 tonnes and 80m in Tampa, neutral America 1917, officially for Cunard, however was intended for the British government to replace the losses inflicted by German U-boats on Allied shipping.

stern of the rondo

Stern of the Rondo


However, as the USA joined WW1, all ships under construction in the States were requisitioned for its own war effort. War Wonder was renamed Lithopolis, and was ready to sail two months before the war ended. In 1930, she was renamed a third time as Lauire. In 1934 she was sold and became the Norwegian Rondo.


During early January 1935, the Rondo left Glasgow in ballast, intending to round Scotland to collect cargo in Dustan, Northumberland bound for Oslo.


On the 25th of January, the Rondo sailed into and unrelenting blizzard in the Sound of Mull. She found shelter in Aros Bay, near Tobermory. In the dead of night, her anchor chain snapped, and the Rondo was driven 10 miles down the Sound by howling winds and strong tides.


In the Rondo’s path stood the rocky islet of Dearg Sgeir with its little white lighthouse. She was driven high onto the rocks by the wind and waves. For the rest of the night, distress flares whirled away in the wind. At dawn, the 22 man crew discovered that despite being precariously perched on the islet, they were in no immediate danger.


Divers decompressing above the Rondo's rudder, photo Mike Clark 2009.

Decompressing on the Rondo

The crew remained onboard for 2 weeks during numerous failed salvage attempts. Tugs and trawlers couldn’t free the Rondo and finally the decision was made to break her apart where she lay. Over the coming weeks, the machinery and hull sections were removed.


As the salvage crew began to cut her up, the she screeched as months of winter seas battered her superstructure, and inched the ship across the 100ft wide islet.


First her bow dipped. Her decks sloped down, and the salvers raced against the inevitable.


Finally, the Rondo slipped down the face of a sheer underwater cliff. She now rests against the cliff, bow down into the seabed.


Diving today


The Rondo is one to the Sound of Mull’s classic wrecks, and never fails to be a favourite among divers. The ship is relatively intact, lying bow down at approximately 54m against a steep slope with the stern resting between 6-9m.


A dive on the Rondo usually begins at the shallowest part of the wreck at the rudder post which is conveniently at the end of a marker buoy. Progression out of the current from the rudder post naturally moves into the wreck, where most of the hull has been salvaged to a few metres above the keel.


The prop shaft itself was salvaged, however not far into the belly of the wreck, sections of the broken prop shaft tunnel remain and are large enough to swim through.


Either side of the tunnel, the hull plates fold towards the keel, giving the wreck a rounded appearance. Until a few years ago, a intact archway of hull and decking spanned the wreck. Giving a lasting impression of how large the Rondo was pre-salvage.


Further on between the ribs, a small plated deck holds a winch above the mangled remains of an a-frame mast lying along the inside of the hull.


Diving further downhill to the bow, the sides of the wreck are featureless and sparse before one rib projects from the port side at around 40m. At around 50m, the slope on which the Rondo rests levels off to a coarse gravel and pebble seabed. Here the bow rests at about 1m above the seabed. The weight of the wreck has dug the keel into the seabed, allowing a maximum depth of 52m to be found inside the bow, at the base of the keel.


After diving the inner structure of the wreck from the stern to the bow, the next leg of the dive continues outside to admire the vibrant marine life that grows from the hull and rock slope around the wreck.


Life here, is situated in strong currents that whip around the wreck and stir up the water, carrying nutrients. At around 36m the keel lies across a dip in the cliff slope, forming a colourful swim through surrounded by large, dense arrays of plumose anemones to the other side of the wreck.


If the current is running, by returning from the bow on the up current side of the wreck you can make a relaxed, struggle free swim through with the current beneath the keel.


If you want to explore both sides of the hull a little rather than continuing up the one side, there is another swim through beneath the keel at around 24-27m, although this could mean you swim against the current if your previous swim through was with the current, and you aren’t diving on slack water.


As you return to the stern, the keel extrudes above the rocky slope. If you have time, a swim underneath the hull once more before returning to the impressive, weed-wrapped rudder for any decompression stops makes a nice end to the dive. Any further decompression stops can be complete on the buoy line.


MacDonald, 1993:35-48;
Moir and Crawford, 1994:188-90;