You’ve heard of the infamous Titanic, and you’ve seen the ship sink again and again on your many tearful rewatches of James Cameron’s titular film, but you’ve probably never seen the ship in person. Along with the Titanic, there are over three million other ships that have sunk to the bottom of oceans and lakes. Likely filled with significant historical artifacts and records from anywhere up to thousands of years ago, most of these ships will be lost from our eyes forever.
Thankfully, that’s not the case for all ships. Some ships, for various reasons, have wrecked but have not sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Here are some of the most famous sea wrecks in the world that you can visit and see today.
In Scotland’s River Clyde, hundreds of birds and other animals can be seen resting and socializing on a strange object resting in the middle of the wide river. It’s the MV Captayannis, a Greek sugar transport ship which collided with a BP oil tanker during a massive 1974 storm. Thankfully, there were no casualties or injuries. The ship, sometimes nicknamed “The Sugar Ship,” is massive, and perfectly tipped-over. Her starboard side is completely submerged underwater and her port side perfectly above the surface. She has never been removed from the river, because it is unknown to whom she belongs, so there’s nobody who has taken responsibility for moving her. At one point, there were plans in motion for a demolition of the ship, but they were aborted out of fear of destroying a nearby bird sanctuary. She’s a strange sight, and is accessible by boat from either side of the river.
The SS Maheno is another large ship whose wreck is easily visible today. Originally a New Zealand commercial ship traveling from Sydney to Melbourne, she was converted into a Navy hospital ship in World War I, where she carried many soldiers to and from the bloody Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. After the war, and after she had resumed commercial use, she was washed ashore on Fraser Island in 1935 by a cyclone. There, on the beach, slowly decaying, she remains. Though she is a beautiful and haunting sight, unfortunately, tourists are no longer allowed physical access to the ship because of her potential as a site of unexploded ordnance contamination.
Skeletal and mysterious, the ruins of the Peter Iredale are a remarkable tourist attraction located in Fort Stevens State Park, Oregon. Built in Maryport, England, in 1890 as a shipping vessel by British businessman Peter Iredale, she is the oldest ship on this list. The ship was headed from Salina Cruz, Mexico, to Portland, Oregon, with 27 crew members and two stowaways. While entering the Columbia River on the final leg of her journey, violent north and westward winds forced the captain to bring the ship ashore to Clatsop Spit, with three snapped masts but no casualties. Plans were initially made to relaunch the ship, but they were abandoned when the ship became deeply embedded in the sand. In 1942, Fort Stevens was a sight of Japanese bombardment, but amazingly, no damage was done to the exposed ship ruins. The ship (or, more accurately, what’s left of it) is still visible today.
Bessie White was a 200-foot Canadian coal schooner. Sometime in 1919 or 1922 (historians dispute the date to this day), a deadly fog caused a collision and the ship quickly filled up with water. The crew barely escaped on two lifeboats, with no casualties but one injury. Some of the ship’s wreckage was salvaged before it disappeared out to sea. She remained hidden for almost a hundred years, until the strong winds of Hurricane Sandy revealed the remains of the schooner’s hull, now located in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. You can still see the hull today, and there are occasional organized hikes to the coastal wreckage.
Shipwreck Beach is one of the most famous and regularly photographed areas in Greece, and for good reason. On the island of Zakynthos, in October 1980, the smuggler ship MV Panayiotis washed ashore. Though there are many speculations as to why it washed ashore—including illegal smuggling, mutiny, betrayal—the captain himself has recently cleared the air and told the true story. The ship was forced to beach due to bad weather, and because the beach was so secluded, the captain and crew were forced to leave her alone to get help. As a result, the ship was heavily looted, but upon a formal report to the police by the captain, all of the items stolen were found during an investigation on the island and 29 thieves were jailed for their crimes. Upon returning to the sight of the shipwreck, the captain decided to leave the ship where she was, because she looked so beautiful. And she’s still beautiful—golden brown, resting upright on a secluded white sandy beach—truly a sight to behold.
SS POINT REYES
Perhaps the most intact and the most beautiful on this list, the SS Point Reyes was a fishing boat originally dragged ashore in Inverness, California, where the landowner had planned to repair and renovate her. He eventually gave up and left the boat beached. The boat’s owner and origin are both unknown, and many are drawn to the wreckage because of that fact alone. Originally slated for removal during a wetlands restoration movement, local photographers and visitors pushed to have her remain. Today, she still stands, decaying but largely intact. She is ghostly, unique, and stunning. Bring your camera and waterproof shoes!
More about shipwrecks
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This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2019 issue