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June 7th 1881

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The wreck of the Gitana

Major-General Alastair MacDonald was commander of the land forces in Scotland during the later years of the 19th century. He was also Laird of Dunalastair, an estate a little to the east of Loch Rannoch. He conceived the idea of having a steam yacht on Loch Rannoch to run a public service up and down the loch as well as for his own private use.

He entered into negotiations with S.B. Seath of Rutherglen who had a reputation for building this type of craft. The boat was built in sections at Rutherglen and then assembled at a wooden slipway beside Loch Rannoch. By all accounts the Gitana, for that was her name, was beautifully built and lavishly fitted out. She was an iron hulled craft 90ft long and weighing some 54 tons. She was equipped with a 25 hp steam engine and was licensed to carry 360 passengers. She was launched in June 1881 watched by a large and exuberant crowd. But though there was great enthusiasm from the people of Rannoch there was an attitude of stony hostility from the landowners.

No one was prepared to allow the General permission to build a pier at the west end of the loch and neither was he offered safe anchorage at the east end. So the idea of running a public service was a complete non-starter and the Gitana was used merely in a private capacity for the General and his friends. For a boat licensed to carry 360 passengers it seemed a terrible waste of resources. The boat was moored for the winter near Kinloch Rannoch and in this somewhat exposed position it battled with the elements. In December a large storm caused the Gitana to drag her anchor and she was washed up on the shingle at the head of the loch. She was refloated with some difficulty and secured to a sheet anchor.

When the next great storm came on January 5th 1882, the new mooring remained firm but the severity of the storm smashed some of her elaborately etched saloon windows. The waters poured in and eventually the Gitana slowly sank from sight to the muddy waters below. There she remained, about 100 ft from the surface for the next ninety six years.

It was in 1972 that the British Sub-Aqua Club became interested in the possibility of raising the Gitana. Divers discovered the boat to be in an upright position, and more importantly, in an excellent state of preservation. Various momentoes were brought to the surface, tallow candles, the steam whistle from the funnel (still functioning), dolphin shaped brass lamps and the steering wheel. This last was left on the jetty to be collected by the Glasgow Museum of Transport but was last seen strapped to a German registered caravanette and is presumably now somewhere in Germany.

There was much discussion as to the best way to raise the Gitana from her position on the loch bed. It was finally decided to drill holes through the superstructure of the boat, run wire ropes through, and attach these to inflatable air bags. This decision in 1977 was the culmination of work first started five years earlier. There were still problems to overcome; the first air compressor sank in the loch and one of the air bags became detached and made a spectacular re-emergence rising some thirty foot above the loch. Eventually, on May 28th 1978 the Gitana was raised to a position about thirty foot below the surface.

Later she was brought to the loch side near to Loch Rannoch Hotel and for the next few years she was lovingly repaired and refitted. But the jinx that had pursued the Gitana for one hundred years was still waiting to strike again. The boat was moored in the same exposed part of the loch as when first launched. In December 1983 heavy gales caused her to drag her moorings and she was battered to pieces against the shore. This time nothing remained but pathetic pieces of smashed timber and flotsam.

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