History of the Wreck




The "M.Y. Alastor" started her life as "M.Y. Vita", built in 1926 by the renowned shipyard Camper & Nicholsons for the millionaire Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith, the man behind the famous World War I fighter "Sopwith Camel", and the World War II "Hawker Hurricane", to name only two of many. In the shipping world, he was renowned for several nearly successful attempts to bring the "America's Cup" to Britain, using purpose-built sailing yachts also supplied by Camper & Nicholsons, and for having built the biggest ever privately owned diesel yacht in the United Kingdom, "M.Y. Philante". Sir Thomas Sopwith used the Vita for "ocean-wide pleasure cruises" until 1929 , when he sold her to buy the bigger "M.Y. Vita II".

historic photograph
Vita shortly after launch


According to "Lloyd's Register of Yachts", the Vita was 143.0 feet (43.59 m), 24.0 feet wide (7.32 m), and had a draft of 9.6 feet (2.9 m). Driven by two 6-cylinder oil engines providing 300 bhp each, and twin screws, the steel yacht displaced 340 t (Thames Measurement), and grossed 345 t, respectively, resulting in a 100A1 classification through Lloyd's. She is equipped with electric lights, and a teak deck, and was commissioned in July 1926.

historic photograph
Vita in 1927 or 1928


In 1929, Vita was then bought by  Sir John Courtown Edward Shelley-Rolls, a son of Sir Charles Shelley, who in turn was a nephew of Mary Shelley, best known as the author of "Frankenstein", and her husband, the poet Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley.  After acquiring the Vita, Sir John C. E. Shelley-Rolls renamed her "M.Y. Alastor", presumably after the famous poem of the same title by his great-uncle Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley about the Greek god of revenge for crimes and blood feuds.

Sir John C. E. Shelley-Rolls kept the Alastor until 1939. In July 1939, she was acquired, most likely by compulsory purchase, by the Ministry of War Transport. During the war years, Alastor was repeatedly refitted and equipped with ASDIC to act as an armed transport and coastal anti-submarine vessel. She served at a number of ports around Northern Ireland and Scotland. In February 1945, the Alastor was transferred to Belfast where she stayed until the end of the war. The Admiralty kept her until 1946, when she was considered redundant and sold to the Greek government.

The Alastor presumably met her end sometime between 11th and 16th March 1946. At that time, she was relocated to Ringhaddy Sound, where she anchored on the mooring of the local sailing club, to be repainted at a later date in preparation for her new role in Greece. At some time during the 11th March 1946, a fire broke out on board, the cause of which has never been established. The crew managed to abandon ship safely and someone alerted the Fire Brigade, with units from Belfast and Bangor rushing to the site. However, the Alastor was anchored too far from shore, and the firefighters could not reach her. The yacht eventually burnt out completely. The burnt out hull stayed afloat for an unspecified number of days, but by 16th March 1946, she had finally sunk.

The local newspapers give the name of the stricken vessel as "Allister" rather than "Alastor", which means that there will always remain a certain amount of doubt about the true identity of the yacht. However, the vessel is attributed to Sir T. O. M. Sopwith, and her displacement is given as 350 t, which also approximately fits the Alastor's listed 345 t displacement prior to the modifications carried out during World War II. Furthermore, due to the measurements taken on the wreck matching very well the dimensions of the Alastor, and the fact that there is no record whatsoever of a yacht called Allister anywhere in the world prior to World War II, and the total lack of any yacht with similar dimensions in the 1947 Lloyd's Register of Yachts, it is reasonable to assume that the reporters of the Belfast Telegraph and Down Recorder  misspelled Alastor as the English name Allister.

Further historic details and a bibliography can be found in the full report, please see the Downloads section.