With the effects of the storms still with us, I have recently been processing quite a number of reports of shipwrecks uncovered by recent storm activity. The latest is the SV Carl, a German ship said to have been wrecked in Booby’s Bay within Constantine Bay, north Cornwall in 1917.
Images of the archaeological remains are stunning and certainly show the lower ribs and plates of a steel-hulled vessel which clearly stranded in this location in the inter-tidal zone (thus certainly not “sunk”!) As the sand cover has been scoured away, the wreckage has been exposed to a greater extent than recently. She was first charted by the Hydrographic Office in 2007.
An extensive gallery appears here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2567490/First-World-War-German-shipwreck-uncovered-storms-remote-Cornish-bay-century-sank-towed-Royal-Navy.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490
But – and there’s always a ‘but’ – the history of the vessel herself is difficult to establish. If she is the SV Carl, she was impounded at the start of the First World War in Cardiff as an alien vessel. She then entered Admiralty ownership. Three years later, while under tow to be broken up in London, she struck the Cornish coast; when they attempted to re-attach the tow she simply broke her back.
This information comes from the Daily Mail report, which cites a letter to the local press in 1966, from a gentleman citing his mother’s eyewitness testimony, thus within living, or recent, memory in 1966. An anecdote about a ‘wrecker’ coming face to face with the coastguard as published in Cornish Shipwrecks, Vol.2, Clive Carter, 1970, suggests that this also came via the oral history route as repetition of a contemporary rumour that she had been captured at sea involved in clandestine minelaying.
This last illustrates how secondary sources can break the chain of evidence connecting a wreck event to the site. The Carl has so far proved very elusive although her builder and date of build are said to be as follows: Ritson of Maryport, 1893. She did not appear in the Times reports of the Prize Courts in 1914, while from fairly early on in the war British newspapers were subject to censorship on shipping losses (as were American newspapers from 1917). As she was neither British, Allied, nor neutral, nor was she lost to war causes, she falls outside the scope of Lloyd’s War Losses for 1914-18; as a sailing vessel she similarly falls outside von Munching’s list of Allied, Neutral and Central Losses for 1914-18.
What seems clear is there exists a photograph annotated “The wreck of the Carl of Hamburg, Constantine Bay” http://www.wrecksite.eu/imgBrowser.aspx?15265 (full view available to wrecksite subscribers) in handwriting consistent with that era, which is complemented by a similar photograph from a different angle further to the landward in the Mail photo gallery; however, both are undated.
A sailing vessel named Carl, built at Maryport in 1893 and in Admiralty ownership, appeared in the Mercantile Navy List in 1920, and her register was closed in 1923. So what, exactly, is going on here? How can we fill in the gaps between 2007 and 1917? First-hand testimony from 1966 is a help, but it has come to us fourth-hand. Was this another ship? Do any local residents have any memories or remember stories from their forebears of the wreck event, or any subsequent sightings of the wreck? The identification as the Carl is clearly based on local knowledge, which tends by its very nature to be oral history, with all that implies for the potential for disappearance.
Can you help?
If she is indeed the Carl, then she may well prove to be another example of a ship lost while destined for the breakers: see also http://thewreckoftheweek.com/2013/06/28/28-a-tourist-attraction/
For another wreck which was revealed by storm damage last year, please see: http://heritagecalling.com/2013/08/13/uncovering-englands-shipwrecks/