Ship Wrecks on Cefn Sidan Sands 

 

Fforest yr Esgob

an archaeological  survey of Deserted Rural Settlements.

 

Carmarthen Bar 

and its shipwrecks

 

Carmarthenshire Place-name Survey

 

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Wrecks on Cefn Sidan Sands

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The coastline on each side of Carmarthen Bar is characterised by sand dunes and shallow-fronted beaches. The dunes are active: growing and eroding through a process called long-shore drift. On the west of the Tywi estuary lies Pendine Beach, a seven mile stretch famous for land-speed records in the 1920s. On the east is Cefn Sidan ('silken sands') of equal length, which contains in its inter-tidal zone the remains of at least five timber shipwrecks and two made of iron . 

We know little - indeed in some cases nothing - about their names or the dates that some of them foundered. Structurally the timber wrecks are iron fastened, so they are probably no earlier than the 18th century. Two are at least 100 ft long and one over 300 ft. They would have been capable of ocean voyages. What we need to do is use archaeological methods to record the wrecks, and from the derived evidence (especially dimensions) see if we can tie this into the historical information recording wrecks. This is a process of elimination. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the documentary evidence only starts when newspapers appear on the scene in the first decade of the 19th century. The iron ships we can identify with ocean-going cargo-carrying ships, Teviotdale and Craigwhinnie. 

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The Launch of Mount Whitney in 1919.

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Remains of the Paul in 1996

The largest timber wreck to be seen today is of the Paul, a four-masted fore-and-aft rigged windjammer. Launched in Seattle in 1919 (and named Mount Whitney, left) She was 230ft x 45 x 18, 1,538 tons. Sold to German owners in 1924 and renamed Margaret Sayer, in 1925 she was acquired by Flensburg owners and renamed Paul. In that year she crossed the Atlantic from Cadiz to St. John, Newfoundland and loaded 2,000 tons of timber at Halifax for Dublin. With 12 crew, a cook, master and a teenage stewardess Paul ran into severe gales, loosing many sails. She lost her anchors and eventually haplessly drifted towards Cefn Sidan sands on 30 October 1925. Without motive power she grounded. Several Cardiff tugs attempted to refloat her. A salvage company employed 26 local men to recover the cargo. Most was rafted and floated over to the nearby railway line. Over the years souvenir hunters stripped her of what they could remove. The hulk also shifted and then the coastline itself altered so that today she lies within the Gwendraeth estuary. The construction is massive. Huge timbers held together by innumerable wrought-iron fastenings are a fitting memorial to the Seattle shipwrights who built her. 

 

 

One of the most tragic shipwrecks occurred in 1886. The equinoctial gales of that year were the worst in living memory, and in just one week over a hundred vessels foundered in the Bristol Channel alone. One was the iron barque Teviotdale, of 1,673 tons (some records state 2,438 tons). She set out with 29 hands from Cardiff for Bombay with coals, initially being towed by two tugs. The winds freshened by 10 p.m. and 'blew so fiercely' that the vessel lost most of her rigging. At 6.30 next morning she took a heavy roll, shipped a quantity of water and her cargo shifted. As the Carmarthen Journal reported 'The sea was running a height seldom seen on the Welsh coast' and with the ship taking on more water, and with the loss of her sails, she was almost helpless. She failed in an attempt to run for Penarth Roads and the crew found themselves in Carmarthen Bay. Aground and being mercilessly pounded by the ferocious shallow seas the crew attempted to abandon ship: this failed as three lifeboats were stove in.  Eventually a boat was successfully launched with the captain, two officers, 13 men and 3 boys, pushing off leaving 10 men on board. Those that remained tried to dissuade the others from leaving. The lifeboat soon got broadside to the surf, and she was never seen again by those on board. Only two of its occupants survived (one died subsequently) - 17 others drowned.

Meanwhile those left on Teviotdale fired rockets of distress. The Pembrey lifeboat failed to get near her, but some hours later, about 3 p.m. the Ferryside lifeboat brought the 10 survivors ashore. Two days later the vessel was a mile further towards the Tywi estuary, lying on her starboard side, where part of her hull can be seen to this day.

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Today, the most dangerous obstruction on Carmarthen Bar is the wreck of the Craigwhinnie. Scottish built, she was an iron barque that foundered one hundred years ago this year (1899), fortunately without loss of life. The ever moving channels and sand-banks on the Bar result in the wreck being alternately besanded or more exposed. In 1991 so much could be seen that her bowsprit and parts of her masts were exposed, as well as her main anchor cable running at a right angle from the bow seaward. At half tide she is 'awash' and completely covered by water at high tide. She is about 3 miles off shore. Along with other navigational aids, the wreck is seasonally marked with a buoy by the Carmarthen Bar Navigation Committee. The Committee also undertakes surveys and provides guidance for today's mariners in an attempt to make the Bar a safer and more enjoyable place to sail - but only in good weather!  

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