Wreck Tour 107: The Thracian

The Thracian Wreck Tour
The Thracian Wreck Tour

Most sailing-ship wrecks retain too little detail to warrant the full Wreck Tour treatment, but JOHN LIDDIARD and illustrator MAX ELLIS have come up with a double-header – one Victorian sailing ship in Pembrokeshire, another in the Isle of Man, and both really nice dives!

THE TERM SAILING SHIP“ is somewhat moot with the Thracian, as she sank behind the Isle of Man while under tow to Liverpool to be fitted out. The rigging was never completed, and the Thracian never actually sailed.

The Thracian was of all-steel construction, with a hull of steel plates over steel frames, so there is a lot of intact hull standing up from the seabed, albeit upside-down. The highest point is the stern, rising to 29m from a 36m seabed.

When I dived the wreck, the shot caught on a hull-plate just to starboard of the stern (1), but it could just as easily have caught over the stern (2). With a tight V of ribs coated in anemones, the stern and frame of the rudder is a stunning sight. Further forward, the hull-plates are more intact (3).

Most of the upper works are spread to starboard from beneath the inverted hull. The Thracian was a four-masted barque, which would have given it an aftmost mast with fore-aft sail and the forward three masts with square-rigged sails (had they been fitted!)

The steel tube from the lower part of the third mast lies out square from the hull (4), with a boxed section where the first spar crosses (5). The upper parts of the mast and other spars would have been made of wood.

Further forward, the main mast (6) follows a similar pattern of construction. The ring that would have stepped the wooden upper part of the mast can be seen on the forward side of the mast towards the top of the steel section.

Near the base of this mast is a square-sectioned metal pillar with a louvered section at the top (7), which I would guess was a ventilator, but I have no confirmation of this.

Further forward again and the forward mast (8) again follows a similar pattern, with the steel lower part of the mast lying square to the hull on the seabed.

Steel ring where the upper part of a mast would have been stepped onto the lower part.
Steel ring where the upper part of a mast would have been stepped onto the lower part.

A section of steel tube poking through the side of the hull (9) may also have been part of this mast.
Now at the bow, the hull is just open ribs again (10). It makes me wonder whether perhaps the bow and stern were planked with wood rather than the steel plates that have survived well on the rest of the hull.

Off to the starboard side, one of the big Admiralty-pattern anchors lies isolated on the sand (11). The Thracian was a 2,154-tonner, huge for a sailing ship, and the anchors are correspondingly big. The other anchor is close in to the port side of the bow (12).

The ribs of the bow rise 5m from the seabed to the keel at 31m (13), which is broken just aft of the bow where the steel hull-plating begins. The anchor-winch is buried just beneath this section of the wreck (14).

The Thracian would have been designed with a donkey boiler to provide steam for the anchor-winch and other winches to handle the rigging, but it is impossible to tell whether this was fitted when the Thracian foundered.

The Thracian's anchor stands a few metres from the bow
The Thracian's anchor stands a few metres from the bow

Following the hull aft, the keel sags slightly towards the centre of the ship (15), then rises again by the open ribs of the stern (16). If time remains, a section of the fourth mast can be found off the port side of the wreck.

Ascent can be either back up the shotline or on a delayed SMB, depending on decompression obligations and whether any slack water remains.


THRACIAN, sailing ship. BUILT 1892, SUNK 1892

THE BAD WEATHER THAT HAD DOGGED THE ISLE OF MAN for a week grew much worse on Sunday, 14 August, 1892, writes Kendall McDonald. A south-south-west gale with heavy rain turned into a hurricane, but by 4 on Monday morning the wind had calmed to a strong breeze.

At 9am a tugboat, the Sarah Joliffe of Liverpool, sought shelter in Douglas harbour and her captain Owen Jones came ashore with a sad tale of shipwreck during the night‘s storm.

Captain Jones had been ordered to take his steam tug to Greenock to tow a new four-masted sailing ship, the Thracian of Liverpool, to the Mersey. He had taken 10 temporary crewmen and picked up another five at Greenock. The 2,154-ton, 282ft Thracian was under Captain Herbert H Brown, who was aboard with his wife.

The tug and Thracian made good time from Port Glasgow until the Sunday afternoon, when they were between the Point of Ayre and Belfast Loch. A gale sprang up and, as the Thracian was in light ballast, the tug could not tow her in the mountainous seas that grew swiftly but kept her head to the seas.

A lull in the wind came next but suddenly, at 11.30pm, when the two ships were three miles north of Port Erin, a huge squall struck them. The Thracian turned over and, to save the Sarah Joliffe, Captain Jones cast adrift the towing hawser.

When he next saw the Thracian, she had capsized. The tug cruised around for several hours, but no survivors were found. Wreckage was seen in the water from Peel to Port Erin, but it was not until 25 August, 1897, that a local fishing-boat hooked her nets on the wreck, three miles off the Calf of Man.


GETTING THERE: Ferry from Liverpool or Heysham to Douglas with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, 08705 523523.

HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 54 07.060 N, 004 47.150 W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies with the tide, bow to the south with the highest point being the stern.

TIDES: Slack water is essential and occurs one hour before high- or low-water Liverpool. The Thracian is best dived on low water.

LAUNCHING: Slipways at Port St Mary or Port Erin.

DIVING, AIR & ACCOMMODATION: Isle of Man Diving Holidays, 01624 833133.

QUALIFICATIONS: Best-suited to experienced divers prepared to do some decompression.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2094, Kirkcudbright to Mull of Galloway & Isle of Man. Ordnance Survey Map 95, The Isle of Man. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles Vol 5, West Coast and Wales, by Richard & Bridget Larn. Dive Isle of Man, Diver Guide, Maura Mitchell & Ben Hextall. Dictionary of Shipwrecks of the Isle of Man by Adrian Corkhill. Isle of Man Tourist Information 01624 686766.

PROS: A remarkably intact steel sailing-ship.

CONS: It‘s a shame that the hull is upside-down.

Thanks to Mike Keggen

Appeared in DIVER December 2007

Now check out the other half of this Wreck Tour pair – the Highland Home


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