12th March 1937 - Mailboat in distress off Islay

Passengers who left Port Askaig, Islay, early yesterday morning for West Tarbert, at the head of the loch of that name, had an exciting voyage which had not ended at a late hour last night. Battling against a 50 mph gale, the paddle steamer, Pioneer, which maintains the service between Islay and the mainland, broke down outside the sound of Islay and drifted towards the shore, finally finding a dangerous anchorage on a lee shore at Proaig Bay, two miles south of McArthur's Head lighthouse. The steamer was still in Proaig Bay late last night, when an effort was being made to repair the damage which caused her disablement. With her were the MacBrayne steamers Lochinvar and Clydesdale, which had rushed to her aid along with the Port Askaig lifeboat. The passengers were not to be transferred until this morning.

The paddle-steamer MV Pioneer in the Sound of Islay

Drifting towards shore
The Pioneer, a steamer of 241 tons, built in 1905 by A. and J. Inglis, Glasgow, left Port Askaig yesterday morning at 8.30 on her usual service run to West Loch Tarbert. On board were about 15 passengers and a crew of 22, the master being Captain Lachlan Beaton. About 1 o'clock she was observed by the lighthouse-keeper at McArthur's Head to be flying distress signals, her position being five miles E.S.E. It was noticed that she was drifting towards the shore, driven by a north-east gale that at times reached a velocity of 50 miles per hour. Half an hour later she was in Proaig Bay, about one and a half miles off the shore, and two miles south of the lighthouse. There she was able to drop anchor, the measure of security, however, being slight, and fears were entertained at one stage that she would drag her anchor. The lighthouse-keeper immediately communicated with the owners in Glasgow, who instructed their steamer Lochinvar to desert her trip from Oban to Mull and proceed to the Pioneer's assistance. The Clydesdale, another MacBrayne boat, which was on the western side of the island, received similar instructions. Continue reading.....

Lighthouse-keeper's vigil
I watched the Pioneer battling through a very heavy sea about midday, the lighthouse-keeper told a representative of "The Glasgow Herald" last night. Suddenly she began to drift, and I suspected that she had engine trouble. She continued to drift until she was two miles south-west of our lighthouse and half a mile from Proaig Bay.” The Pioneer apparently passed the lighthouse about ten o'clock, and half an hour later appeared to get into difficulties. She hoisted distress signals, which we saw at once, the lighthouse-keeper added, and we immediately notified the coastguards. The Port Askaig lifeboat was called out, and she has stood by all the time.

Precautionary measures.
The Pioneer has remained in the same position ever since she anchored. We see the vessel's lights now and, judging from them, the Lochinvar is no longer beside the Pioneer, but the Clydesdale and the Port Askaig lifeboat are still there. As a precautionary measure, the Rocket Lifesaving Company from Port Ellen arrived at Proaig Bay in the afternoon, and are encamped on the beach. They have made preparations to stay there all night lest in the storm the Pioneer drags her anchor or her cable part. The Pioneer has no wireless equipment, and the message that the Lochinvar and the Clydesdale were hurrying to her assistance was semaphored to the lifeboat, which immediately conveyed it to Captain Beaton. The Lochinvar was ordered from Oban at 1.30pm yesterday just as she was on the point of leaving for her regular daily journey to Mull. Passengers and mails were quickly disembarked, and in a few minutes the steamer had left for the south.

The Lochinvar's Mull service from Oban was taken up by the MacBrayne steamer Lochearn on her return yesterday afternoon from Barra. Before the Lochinvar arrived, however, the Coast Line steamer Orkney Coast came to the assistance of the Pioneer. Observers on the shore saw an unsuccessful attempt to tow the disabled vessel. A hawser was taken from the Orkney Coast, but not long after it had taken the strain it snapped. Before further efforts could be made the Clydesdale as well as the Lochinvar had reached the Pioneer, the further succouring of which was left to them

Mails by aeroplane
As a result of the Pioneer's misfortune, mails will be officially carried for the first time by air from Renfrew airport this morning, the Post Office authorities in Glasgow announcing last night that they had made arrangements for the mails for Islay to be carried by aeroplane. A three-engined Spartan cruiser, piloted by Captain David Barclay, chief pilot of Northern and Scottish Airways, will fly first to Islay and then to Campbeltown. It will then fly local mails from Campbeltown to Islay before returning to Renfrew. Arrangements may be made today to transfer the mails on board the Pioneer, and it may also be possible to have them conveyed by aeroplane to Glasgow.

From the Glasgow Herald 12th March 1937, With thanks to Malcolm Ogilvie, the Museum of Islay Life and the Ileach local newspaper.

Tag: history steamer dougie macdougall sound of islay