Vanishing wreck, Westward Ho!

Every few years the shifting sands of Westward Ho! beach reveal the remains of a wooden ship which has been seen intermittently since at least the mid 19th century, when it was described as “a very old wreck”.

The vanishing wreck on Westward Ho! beachThe oak-framed ship lies parallel to the pebble ridge, about 650 metres to the seaward side.  It is around 25 metres long and 7.6 metres wide with semicircular bows (at the north end) and a more oval stern.  The planking is joined to the frames by trunnels (wooden nails, which swelled as they absorbed water).  Trunnels were used in shipbuilding from prehistoric times until the late 18th century.

As a wooden vessel would be driven ashore to the limit of high water and would settle into a scour pit, we can assume that the ship ran aground at the base of the existing pebble ridge.  The average landward movement of the pebble ridge has been estimated at about one metre per year over the past 125 years – so the position of the wreck suggests that it was beached at the end of the 17th century.

It has been suggested that it could be the wreck of the Salisbury, which was lost on Northam Burrows in 1750, or the Sally which wrecked on Northam Sands in 1769.  No other wrecks of this size are recorded until the mid 19th century, when the Pace was wrecked on 28th December 1868, but was later salvaged.

We know that the mystery wreck was visible in 1990, 1997 and again in February 2005.  In 2006 it remained covered by the sands.

Is it visible now …?

For more information, see the Historic Environment Record information about this site on Heritage Gateway.