My Account

4 Shipwreck Stories of Cornwall

The Ben Asdale wreck at Meanporth in turquoise water and sunshine
Dan walking down Castle Zawn with RMS Mulheim wreck in background.
A piece of large pipe left over from shipwrecked German U Boats

Adventure:
Shipwreck Hunting

Tides:
Spring Low

Warning:
Tetanus

Conditions:
Calm

I have only been on one full-on shipwreck, RMS Mülheim – Dan and I went onboard at spring low and explored her to our hearts content. Surrounding the ship is a graveyard of huge twisted up pieces of rusted metal – a spectacular sight but extremely dangerous. Our visit to Müleim ended in A&E due to a slip and slice on the back of my leg. Mum couldn’t remember if I had the tetanus jab so the nurses gave me one and patched me up.

My other shipwreck experiences involve the Ben Asdale, a little closer to home. This vessel is a rusty skeleton and amazing when the tide is out but very creepy to dive. Have you heard of Submechanophobia? I swear there is nothing more terrifying than a man-made object underwater.

There are thought to be countless undiscovered shipwrecks in Cornish and UK waters. As our technology and exploration techniques improve, so do the number of wrecks found lurking in the reefs surrounding our shores

In any case, shipwrecks remind us of the unrelenting power of the tides, weather currents and the sea itself.

RMS Mülheim, Sennen

📍 Where: Castle Zawn, Sennen
🚢 What: German cargo ship carrying scrap car plastic
🕰 When: 2003

The rusted back end of the ship RMS Mulhiem with Kate exploring in a yellow coat.

This is Zeus (original name), a rusty vessel that sits in a zawn on the SWCP between Sennen and Landsend.

Just shy of her 5th birthday RMS Mülheim was driven off her chartered course between Ireland and Germany and succumbed to the reefs that surround Land’s End. Apparently, the Captain got his trousers caught and on a lever and fell unconscious steering the ship to danger – but I do wonder if he had too much of a tipple and knocked himself out under different circumstances. 🤔

👩‍🚒 In any case, the RNLI and Culdrose came to the rescue of the 6 shipmates on board so no one got hurt, unfortunately the same can’t be said for the ocean. The cargo spilled was 2,200 tonnes of scrap car plastic and diesel leaked into the ocean from punctured fuel tanks.

One of the many heavy seas that dominate this section of coastline split the vessel in half leaving a rusty ship scarring the zawn she sits in.

Ben Asdale, Maenporth

📍 Where: Maenporth Beach
🚢 What: Scottish freezer trawler carrying mackerel
🕰  When: 1978

A large portion of Ben Asdale that still remains on the Maenporth rocks.

Meet Ben Asdale, the wreck that is a short scramble over the left side of Meanporth beach rocks at spring low tide.

The vessel was a freezer trawler who was dropping off some mackerel to Russian ship, Antarctica, during a December storm. It was a big storm too. More accurately, it was a blizzard with force ten gusts and heavy snowfall.

Once the cargo had been transferred trouble hit when the stern rope caught her rudder causing the steering to stop working. Being at the mercy of the sea, Ben Asdale dropped an anchor but unfortunately it didn’t hold and they called Mayday as she approached the rocks.

I’ve snorkelled this wreck when the tide is over it and my goodness, it sends chills down your spine. 11 crew were eventually saved by the emergency services. Sadly, 3 people lost their life that night and were found on Maenporth Beach the next morning.

The Ben Asdale Wreck rusting and lying on sits side in calm seas.
“Ben Asdale,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed December 11, 2021.

M.V Alacrity, Portheras Cove

📍 Where: Portheras Cove
🚢 What: British Cargo Ship transporting anthracite (coal)
🕰  When: 1964

Portheras Cove in Pendeen Cornwall

This cove is beautiful but it has a history and comes with a warning – wear your shoes 👇! Just over the hill from the popular Pendeen Lighthouse this beach holds a fascinating history with a ship called M.V Alacrity.

In thick fog, 13th September 1964, Alacrity became stranded on this beach for several years. The true miracle was that she managed to reach the cove in one piece and not be completely torn apart by the prominent reefs and rocks. That being said the ship did take un-repairable damage below the waterline so she couldn’t be moved.

The vessel sat rusting for about 18 years before the Royal Engineers hatched a plan to blow up Alacrity into smaller pieces to remove her from the beach. It wasn’t a huge success.

The explosives meant small and large pieces of metal were scattered all over the beach and embedded in the sand creating a hazardous environment for any beach goer. (I’m not entirely sure what else they thought might happen.)

It was only in 2004 that the beach was reopened to the public after years of cleaning up. It is still advised today not to go in bare foot – just in case metal fragments remain in the sand.

When we visited I didn’t take off my shoes because we were searching for tidal pools – there is one around these parts.

Villagers watching M.V Alacrity from the cliffs as she sinks in the water.
“Alacrity aground at Portheras Cove, 1963,” Morrab Library Photographic Archive, accessed December 11, 2021.

9 German Submarines, Falmouth

📍 Where: Castle Drive, Falmouth
🚢 What: U Boats from the war reparations scheme
🕰  When: 1921

In the ocean somewhere just off Castle Drive in Falmouth lies the broken skeletons of a few German submarines. If you look closely, on this road there is a gap in the wooden fence that takes you down to the rocky reefs of Pendennis point.

In 1921, a group of German submarines were anchored on the rocks along Castle Drive. Originally allocated to Falmouth under the War Reparations Scheme, these were to be used by the Royal Navy for gunnery practice and certain experiments.

Two were intentionally sunk during the Navy’s experiments, but the remaining six were caught up in a fierce winters gale and swept onto the rocks that stretch along Castle Drive, and abandoned. For many years they were left rusting in the shallows, so close into the shore that it was easy for people to walk out at low tide and board them. They were heavily salvaged and their ownership changed many times.

There are reports of locals playing on them as children. Now only a few scraps of metal can be found at spring low tide! For all the amazing images and information Maritime Archaeology Trust did a paper on ‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’. Site Report: Pendennis U-boats (May 2018)

Two submarines half on the rocky reef and half in the water.
‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’. Site Report: Pendennis U-boats (May 2018) accessed December 11, 2021.
Share on socials
Read more:
Portreath’s Tidal Baths

There are baths cut into the cliffs of Portreath, a visit at low tide and you will discover many of Lady Basset’s Baths.

If you have any questions or comments, pop them below or email me. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *