by Maddy McAllister, Ph.D. author of The Shipwreck Mermaid
Are you a shipwreck addict? Heading to the “land down under” soon? If so, be sure to check out the idyllic, turquoise waters and pristine beaches that are found along our Australian coast. Now, I’m completely biased, but one of my most favourite places in the world is the north-west coast of Australia and the Ningaloo Reef. If you have ever visited it – you know what I’m talking about. The water is a turquoise blue and the wildlife is insane. It’s one of the top places in the world to see whalesharks and it is a World Heritage Site for a reason!
However, not many people know that it is also home to quite a few incredible shipwreck sites. I can’t do all of them justice in one blog but here are my two favourites.
The Rapid was a 3-masted, 367-ton American-China trader built in Boston in 1807. In 1810, the Rapid departed Boston for Canton, China (now Guangzhou) heavily armed and carrying a cargo of over $280,000 American dollars. On the night of 11 January 1811, it ran aground on a reef just south of Point Cloates. Due to the value of the cargo, the crew attempted to salvage what they could but had to leave a large amount behind. Consequently, before leaving, they burnt the vessel to the water line to hinder any other passers-by from seeing it and attempting to salvage the cargo. The site remained hidden until 1978 when local spearfisherman found the site. From 1979-80 the Rapid was excavated by the Western Australian Museum and they uncovered the remaining coins, Asian and European ceramics, glassware and an uninscribed ships bell. The preserved hull timbers and anchors still remain on the site.
The Rapid shipwreck site is a beautiful dive (or snorkel) in a protected area just inside Ningaloo Reef. It sits up against a large round coral bombie (a slang Aussie term for bombora, an indigenous word for submerged reef and breaking waves). It is only in about 4-5 metres of water and stretches approximately 15-20m in length. The site is a focus of continual conservation management and research for the Museum.
Slightly further south along the coast another equally incredible, yet very different shipwreck site sits on the outside reef. Stefano was a large (857-tons) Austrian-Hungarian barque that loaded 1,300 tons of coal in Wales and departed for Hong Kong at the end of July in 1875. On the 26th of October in the same year, the vessel struck the reef of WA’s coast during a storm. Unfortunately, seven of the crew died during the wrecking event. The tale of the remaining survivors making it ashore and having aid from the local indigenous people show their generosity, yet also represents just how harsh the Australian environment was for Europeans, especially shipwreck survivors.
Stefano was located by the Museum in 1997 with a large array of artefacts, including anchors and the windlass, remaining across the site. This site is one of my all-time favourites to dive. It’s a bit tricky getting there – the sea has to be fairly calm – but once you get in and down to the bottom its spectacular. The remaining wreckage lies at a depth of 12 metres between ‘towering’ reef bombies and in crystal clear water.
Much love and safe diving!
About the author: Maddy is a maritime archaeologist based in Perth, Western Australia. She has worked all along the WA coast on numerous shipwrecks. As an avid diver with a passion for underwater photography, Maddy loves to encourage other to visit some hidden sites along the coast.
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