‘THE SUN’ SHIPWRECK SITE …… Iron anchor in coral

While heading for Murray Island aboard Ben Cropp’s Freedom III we stopped at the wreck site of The Sun which is positioned on the edge of a reef in The Coral Sea.

A possible explanation as to why this anchor is raised from the reef floor might be that it was being carried on the deck, unattached to any chain.

Slowly the sunken timber vessel decomposed, surrounding wood washed away by surf leaving just this anchor as a marker to why the sailing ship sank. Nearby was a cannon.

Wrecked on 1st June 1826 was a ship called The Sun. In the National Shipwrecks Data Base the location is given as Eastern Fields Reef which is some 50-100 km from Ashmore Reef where experts believe The Sun came to grief.

Ben Cropp confirmed that we were diving at Ashmore Reef, not Eastern Fields Reef.

This was during a voyage to Murray Island. We’d stopped at Ashmore Reef especially for Ben to have a new filming opportunity at what he believes from his research is  The Sun wreck. As very few divers have been here, it is a very exciting dive with a major discovery always possible.

Wreckage is strewn around a northern section of reef. With a drop-off nearby just meters from a pair of Admiralty-style iron anchors, cannon, and iron remnants such as the L-shaped iron beam with a growing brain coral now cementing it to the reef.

Surf washed across this site although some relief is offered by the depth, about 10-15 meters.

What exists in the 30-meter or more depth zone nearby would be interesting.

Time did not allow our penetration deeper. Several big pelagic fish cruised by and a juvenile maori wrasse. It’s an exciting location where anything could suddenly appear from a minke whale to a tiger shark, such is the nature of distant Coral Sea reefs where reef fishing pressure is different to that close to the mainland.

“Much shipwreck data contains mistakes (says historical shipwreck expert and diver John Sumner this continues to be repeated”.

This reminded me of the once commonly quoted 36.5 foot long  Great white shark caught at Port Fairy, South Australia a long time ago.

Those shark jaws are now kept in a British museum “and more likely from a 16.5 foot specimen” said Dr Walter Starck after he visited the museum.

A typographical error (from 16.5 to 36.5 feet) was quoted by various ‘authoritative’ publications for decades and may still appear from time to time.

Errors with shipwreck data is a much more common distortion.

Few people have the necessary passion and ability in government departments to correct these mistakes which get perpetuated in new publications and eventually become accepted ‘facts’.

We know that a large shipwreck, believed by experts to be the  The Sun exists at Ashmore Reef.

The yet-to-be found ship’s bell would confirm the identity.

A tentative ‘discovery’ might be considered listing instead of the current ‘yes’ or ‘no’ system.

Any experienced diver will spot the Admiralty anchor in the top picture. The round “eye” for attaching rope is at the opposite end. For untrained divers this may seem just another lump of coral.

Ben believes this anchor may have been a spare carried on the deck.

When all of the surrounding timber rotted and washed away except for that preserved below the anchor which now appears raised above the surrounding flat coral reef.

It’s a fascinating location worth spending more time on.

CYCLONE APPROACHING – Southern section The Coral Sea

cyclone (45k image)

We made two visits to Lord Howe Island and Middleton Reef while aboard Coralita – and as fate would have it, a bad cyclone arrived at Middleton Reef on both occasions.

Captain Wally Muller was concerned and kept his cool. A Captain sets the mood for the rest to follow. A nervous skipper would be a bit of a worry.

Wally got us through some very difficult days – years later confessing that it would not have been a good outcome without our help.

Ron Taylor has good technical suggestions. He anchored his 15 foot aluminum dinghy a hundred meters away to provide a reference point as Coralita was predicted to drag anchor in the shallow sandy lagoon.

A deep water lagoon would allow extra anchor chain and a spring effect to be possible eliminating drag. This is not possible in the shallows of Middleton, therefore it’s not a safe anchorage for large boats in strong winds.

Pictured may be Runic (the 10,000 ton shipwreck of Middleton Reef) or, more likely one of the international long liner fishing boats aground out there.

There are many shipwrecks at Middleton Reef – a legacy from the era pre satellites when strong currents played havoc with old style navigation methods.

(Cyclones in the southern hemisphere – typhoon and hurricane above the equator. All the same things).

The southernmost Coral Sea boundary is south of Middleton Reef – Lord Howe Island misses being a part of The Coral Sea by less than 100 km.

SEASCAPE Ancient ship anchors on coral reef

Once, travel by sea in sailing ships through uncharted coral reef waters offered the chance to become seafood for sharks yourself. The northern shipwrecks like the twin anchors at Great Detached Reef just south of Raine Island are evidence of the Australian sea disasters of the 19th century.

This picture of exposed soft corals and twin anchors at low tide, was taken near our favourite part of the Great Barrier Reef during a filming expedition in the spring 2003.

In their time, a shipwreck like this was equal to an airline disaster of today. As the sailing ship was blown across the reef from the seaward side, anchors were thrown over but to no avail.

The ship was smashed to pieces by surf. Those who did survive were later eaten by cannibals on the mainland. Tough times indeed.

(copyright 2004)