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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: Between the Wars

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
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After the First World War there was a decline in trade, and there were very few shipwrecks around the Island's coast. In June 1921, however, the steam trawler Lois came ashore at Chale Bay and was marooned on the shingle. She was salvaged, but grounded on a nearby sandbank, and abandoned.

On 16 August, 1921, the former German Imperial Battle Cruiser SMS Baden was used as target practice by the Royal Navy, testing the battleship's armour against British shells. She was then scuttled in St Catherine's Deep.


On 3 March, 1930, Capable became lost in a heavy fog and was wrecked on the Atherfield Ledge. In the attempt to rescue the men on board, the motorised Yarmouth lifeboat became stuck on the Brook Ledge. The old oar-powered Brook lifeboat then went to the site of Capable, only to discover that those on board had been rescued by the Blackgang Life-Saving Apparatus rocket crew.

Capable was towed to Southampton for repairs. After four days' work (by engineers from Cowes shipyards and 150 soldiers from Parkhurst Barracks) the Yarmouth lifeboat was finally rescued and refloated.


On Sunday 5 May, 1932, the 2,600-ton steamer Roumelian, carrying 56 passengers and crew, was involved in an accident on the edge of Island waters.

She collided, 25 miles south-west of the Needles, with SS St Nazare, which received little damage and continued on her journey. Roumelian, however, slowly began to flood, and made for the safety of The Solent while her captain radioed for help. The Yarmouth lifeboat rendezvoused with Roumelian and guided her through the Needles passage. But her pumps failed, and Roumelian sank near the Hampstead Ledge, between Yarmouth and Newtown. She was eventually salvaged and repaired in London, but two crew members died in the attempt.


Near St Catherine's lie the remains of the Royal Cutter Britannia, the most famous yacht to be sunk off the Island's waters.

The Design of Britannia

Britannia was commissioned by the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. She was designed by GL Watson, one of the finest yacht designers of his time, at a cost of £10,000. The yacht was launched from the Partick yard on the Clyde in April, 1893.

She was the epitome of perfection in yacht design, having a long out-curving stem, high rig, and a great sail area. She was a vast improvement on the clipper bowed yachts of the time. Her career started as it continued, easily winning her first off-shore race against Valkyrie II, Calluna, and Iverna. By the end of her first year's racing Britannia had scored 33 wins from 43 starts. In her second season she won all seven races for the big class yachts on the French Riviera, and then beat the 1893 America's Cup winner Vigilant in home waters.

The Success of Britannia

Her later career involved her being used as a practice yacht for Sir Thomas Lipton's first America's Cup challenger, Shamrock I. Then after the coronation of Edward VII, Britannia was to be used as the royal cruising yacht.

After the death of Edward VII, Britannia was inherited by King George V, a keen yachtsman. In 1913 she was back on the racing scene, although during the First World War she rested unattended in a mud berth, until the king brought her out for racing again in 1920.

Her return to the sport was spectacular. Despite having what was considered to be an outdated rig, she met the challenge from the fastest modern yachts, including cutters Nyria and White Heather, and the American schooner Westward.

Britannia was so succesful that she underwent a refit to prepare her for the 1922 racing season. In 1923 she won 23 flags out of 26 starts, a spectacular achievement for a 30-year-old yacht.

The End of Britannia

By 1934, though, her age began to show, as she was outclassed by the new 'J' class yachts being built. Her last race was sailed at Cowes in 1935.

King George V died on 20 January, 1935, and it was decided that his beloved yacht would follow him to the grave. With all her spars, gear and refinements stripped away1, her bare hull was towed from Cowes at midnight on 9 July, 1936, past the Needles Lighthouse and St Catherine's Point to a position south of the Isle of Wight. There she was scuttled and sent to rest beneath the waves, with a simple garland of flowers placed on her stem-head.

In the four decades of her racing career she had won 231 races, and come second or third in 129 more.

Luigi Accame

Around 10pm on 6 April, 1937, the 5,000-ton Italian steamer Luigi Accame, carrying iron ore to Rotterdam, ploughed into Rocken End. All the crew were rescued by the lifeboats. By the end of May the ship had been refloated, taken to Southampton for repairs, and sold to a Dutch company. She was later sunk by a German armed merchantman during World War II.

1Many of them still survive. For example, her main saloon doors are now housed in the Royal Harwich Yacht Club library.

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