The British steel cargo vessel Tapti was built in 1945 and ran aground in a storm while navigating the Treshnish Isles on its way to the north-east of England. Heavily salvaged, but still an excellent wreck.
Taking a ship in ballast from the Mersey to the Tyne around Scotland in January 1951, the journey proved too much for the motor vessel Tapti and her skipper Captain Coney, who had orders to pick up a cargo for India at Tynemouth.
The 416ft-long Tapti made good progress until 17 January. That’s when she found herself short of the Minch and in the middle of a violent rainstorm, with hail driven by a south-westerly gale wiping out all visibility, writes Kendall McDonald.
The onset of night made things worse for the captain, his officers and the crew of 60 Indian and Chinese seamen. They continued, as they thought, on course in the blackout, but were in fact running inside Tiree, with Mull to starboard. Suddenly Tapti struck rocks on the east shore of Soa Island off the southern end of Coll.
The impact of the 6609 ton steel ship was colossal, and though Captain Coney ordered “full astern”, Tapti would not come free.
Swell after swell from the south drove her further on, until finally the waves span her round, driving her stern higher on the rocks. Captain Coney admitted defeat, and sent Mayday calls to Malin Head radio station.
The Tapti stayed on the rocks all night. By dawn the rescue ships around her consisted of both Mallaig and Barra lifeboats, two frigates and two trawlers, but there was little that they could do. She settled deeper and listed more and more. Soon that list had reached more than 60°, and her captain ordered abandon ship.
Every member of the crew was soon scrambling down nets and into the lifeboats, which took them to Tobermory. Tapti stayed on the rocks for four days before a southerly gale gave her another battering. During the night of 21 January, she rolled off the rocks and sank in deep water. Salvage work soon began, and continued for several years whenever the weather allowed.
The Tapti is broken into 4 parts and she lies in depths between 9m and 25m immediately south of Soa Island, south of Coll. It has broken into four parts, but has apparently seen little salvage so that the outline of the hull (particularly at the bows) and a wide range of fixtures and fittings remain identifiable.
The wreck has collapsed to starboard, bows out to sea, leaving the keel against the rocks and the deck laid out flat on the sand. The boilers have rolled out of the hull, the orientation of the fire holes showing that they are upside-down. Almost off the wreck on the starboard side, a cargo winch indicates the location of a hold between the wheelhouse and the stoke hold and engine-room. The short mast serving the derricks for this hold is easily visible on old black and white photographs of the Tapti before it sank. Continuing forward, the wheelhouse has collapsed and folded to leave the T-shaped open bridge and wings that would have formed the wheelhouse roof almost level with the seabed. The railings round the bridge wings are still in place and are prime real estate for yellow dead men’s fingers and small anemones. Staying to the starboard side of the wreck and crossing the area of the number 2 hold, the boundary between the forward holds is marked by a cargo winch, then a very substantial mast. This has pulled over with it the deckhouse that served as its foundation. Another cargo winch lies on the other side of the deckhouse.
Rather than continue along the wreck, a diversion to the top of the mast will lead to the starboard anchor chain trapped under the end of the mast which leads out in a short loop and back to the bow. By some strange pattern of sinking, however, the anchor itself rests against the side of the anchor winch. Contrary to the description in all the guide-books, the bow rests on its starboard side, the port side rising 5m from a 20m seabed. All the books note the bow as standing upright with the tip pointing to the surface, but either someone diving the wreck many years ago made a mistake and the erroneous report was propagated, or the bow has fallen to this orientation more recently. Sticking out into a gentle current flowing outside the bay, the tip of the bow is home to a thick colony of plumose anemones and more dead men’s fingers. On the upper port side of the bow, the port anchor remains secured firmly in its hawse pipe. Having explored the side of the wreck closest to the seabed, the simplest route back to the boilers is straight along the top of the port side of the hull.
Aft of the boilers, the guts of the engine-room are now beneath the collapsed hull. There is enough solid machinery inside to hold the hull up and provide a simple but low swim-through, giving access to the crankshaft and connecting rods from the steam engine. On the opposite (starboard) side of the deck, a pair of boat davits are arched into the sand with another cargo winch between them. Inside the aftmost of the pair of davits are two substantial curved tubes with rolled ends. Original photographs of the Tapti show some ventilators in this location, so perhaps they are part of these units, though they are much thicker and heavier than I would expect ventilators to be. Also, if they are part of the ventilators, what happened to the rest of them?
Continuing towards the stern, we are now in the area of the aft pair of holds, separated by a mast and deckhouse that is identical to that between the forward holds, then another cargo winch. At the stern a large deckhouse containing cabins has collapsed, the steel roof now resting between the stern deck and the seabed.
The stern itself is rather narrow and almost pointed, twisted by the keel so that the deck is just short of upright. The remains of the steering gear are just visible inside if you peer through gaps in the deck. Below the stern, the rudder has been removed and the propeller salvaged. With the depth of the Tapti ranging from 20m to as shallow as 13m, a dive is unlikely to get into decompression. With typical west coast of Scotland visibility, it should be easy enough to navigate forward and ascend the shotline.
Moir and Crawford 1997, 195-7
With thanks to www.divernet.com