Home Planet Blue THE WRECK OF THE S.S. ULYSSES

THE WRECK OF THE S.S. ULYSSES

During our northern “classic wreck tour” we visited approximately 18 different wrecks in one week.

The Ulysses, one of the most popular wrecks which is often overlooked by visiting safari boats, either because the wreck is difficult to find, or time does not permit. Often the “Gobul triangle”, a small area of confused sea where opposing currents and wind meet off Bluff Point forms a psychological barrier, the easy option of “its too rough” often applies.

Those then, who make the effort, are well rewarded. My guests often demand to “do that again” my reply is we will, next trip! The Ulysses was at the Leslie yard on the Tyne for the Ocean Steamship Company. She joined other vessels on the fleet with Greek Mythology names; amongst them Achilles, Ajax, Hector, Priam, Menelaus, and Sarpedon.

She was launched in 1871, and was described as an “iron hulled single screw steamship”.  She was 310 ft long with a 30 ft beam, a draught of 20 ft and grossed 1900 tons. Like the Carnatic, Dunraven and Kingston she was rigged for sail, with a single 2-stroke, 2-cylinder steam engine capable of producing 225 HP driving a single propeller.

This style of engine was later to help us in her identification.The board of enquiry records show that she left London docks in August 1887 bound for Penang via the Suez Canal. Two days out of Suez S.S Ulysses cleared off Sha’ab Ali. The calm seas, and light air meant that many of the uncharted reefs were invisible; no line of white surf, no sound of waves breaking over a reef. In the early hours of the 16th, the Ulysses struck Gobal Seghir.

At first it seemed that the damage was slight and the pumps could easily handle the small amounts of water being taken on. Regarding the incident as nothing more than an unfortunate grounding, her master decided to wait and seek help from any passing ship. Just before daybreak the lights of the British Steamship "Kerbela" came by and raised the alarm on reaching Suez.

Stuck fast on the reef, the master refused to jettison any cargo, convinced the vessel would eventually be pulled free. For four days the vessel held fast on the coral. Slowly the coral ground its way through the iron hull. By the 18th, the sea had come up and the   stern was down, her stern rails and steering gear awash. The following day, escorted by H.M.S FALCON two barges with salvors arrived from Suez crews from all vessels worked in the hot sun to unload the cargo but soon the pumps failed.

As the wind got stronger the barges moved inside Bluff Point for fear of being swept onto the same reef by the mounting swell. That meant the cargo had to be man handled over the reef, lagoon, sand spit, more coral then out to the barges. Despite these gallant efforts which lasted nearly two weeks, the ship began to slip back off the reef with her bow slowly reaching for the sky. She was abandoned and left to her fate.

By September 5th the stern was on the seabed, 27 mtrs below and the ship broke her back, her fore section on top of the reef that was relentlessly pounded by the waves and has now become totally disposed over the shallows.

IDENTIFYING THE WRECK

For many years the wreck’s identity remained obscure. Known only as “the cargo boat at Gobul Segeira” gradually the list of “suspects” was reduced as contenders such as the Kingston, Carina and indeed the Carnatic were identified - the first two by myself, and the latter by Lawson Wood.

The Dunraven was identified back in the mid seventies, of similar style she could easily have been a contender in the late eighties. I obtained a set of books affectionately known as DODAS; The Dictionary of Disasters at Sea during the age of steam. Therein was a record of the Ulysses “aground at Gobul”. It took several more visits to the wreck before she finally confirmed her identity to us. The steamship companies name on a piece of crockery, confirmed along with close inspection of the drive system and power unit as well as the remains of the cargo. DODAS also told us where she was built; here in the north east of England, where more evidence of her identity was to come to light.

THE WRECK TODAY

Her beautiful rounded stern lies in 29 mtrs, embedded in sand, with her hull open to the sea lying on her port side. Her prop and rudder, still intact and are covered in a luxuriant gown of soft corals and the hull and keel form a cave in which huge groupers lurk and are covered in corals sponges, hydroids and anemones. The hull itself forms a current point and is a great place to observe travellies, and jacks marauding. The hull also forms a V-shaped area with the reef and here resident Crocodile fish can be observed along with superb fan corals with resident long nosed hawkfish.

Some of the cargo lies scattered around the seabed, covered in lush soft corals. Mid-ship and aft sections are totally accessible, as all the planking has long since been devoured by marine worms. In this respect she is like  the Carnatic, with iron cross braces for each deck forming a criss-cross pattern;
stunning when viewed from inside and some of her general cargo remains inside. There are also branches of the delicate black coral growing here so care is needed when entering the hull. Forward the bow and fore sections are mangled up with the remains of the older wreck. Inside the hull the huge fly wheel and engine can be observed. Dead eyes, bollards, winches and railings, even a bath and the steering assembly can still be seen.

Back in the mid section the almost obligatory Glass fish hang in clouds with Lionfish ever vigilant. Scorpion fish too are in abundance and the entire wreck site is a delight for the photographer. Strong currents can be experienced flowing over the wreck so good dive site knowledge is essential. The shallows are teeming with fish including Tangs, Surgeons and Triggers, which dart in and out of the scattered remains in only 2 mtrs.

STUNNING MARINE LIFE

The wreck is a haven of life, turtles, several types of moray eels, surgeon fish, scorpion fish, anthea’s fusiliers, sweepers and glass fish, each with their own patch, the inevitable but fierce clown fish, plus for the sharp eyed frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish and a host of nudibranchs, plurobranchs and flatworms, while jacks, trevellies and tuna patrol the surrounding wat
ers, especially off the stern. Add to all of this a covering of lush corals, both hard and soft and you have a paradise for bug hunters and photographers alike.

Perhaps the reason for this is that the wreck lies on one of the very best reefs in the Sinai area and the brisk current which sweeps past the wreck.

RED SEA PIRANAHS

Huge shoals of Sergeant Majors patrol the wreck, and in the past few years we have noted a strange phenomenon. Observed from the surface these fish shoal and go about their business like any other reef fish, but as we approach the wreck wearing scuba they take on the persona of . . . PIRANAS and appear to devour sections of the wreck! They gather in huge swarms, clouds and gangs so is there a collection for frenzied Sergeant Majors? At first we thought they may be stimulated into a feeding frenzy and were eating either egg masses or algae. The most recent suggestion is that we are scaring away another specie which is guarding its eggs and the Sergeant Majors are simply using the opportunity to have a feast. Whatever the reason behind this behaviour, it provides superb video and still’s footage at close up range, as close as you want mate because these fish ain’t moving.

VISITORS BY DAY

Several years ago we always buzzed by 3 dolphins when ever we dived the Ulysses. They gave us a “oh just divers” look and buggered off! Then one day they brought along a calf.
The behaviour was quite amazing the “guardians” brought the calf right up to us and seemed to be teaching the youngster about these fumbling strangers from above. We all felt like we were behind bars in a zoo.

The gestures and noises from the adults left us in no doubt this was baby biology lesson! Since then on almost every occasion we have had 20 minute encounters with a pod of 30 plus playful bottle nosed dolphins.

The Ulysses is now dubbed the dolphin wreck.

 

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