Without question the most elegant wreck located so far in Egyptian waters, the Carnatic is a maritime treasure from a nostalgic era in seafaring history.
The Carnatic was a typical steam sailing vessel of the 1860's. Built by Samuda Bros at their site at the Isle of Dogs, London, she was laid down as the MYSORE. She was 294 ft long, 1776 tons and could carry some 250 people. Although fitted with primitive inverted tandem compound engines her 12 knots was generally derived from her sails. A famous ship of her day and considered luxurious at he time.
In total contrast to the other wrecks on Abu Nuhas, the Carnatic is adorned with nearly 150 years of coral growth of splendid colours and variety. The story of her demise is almost as colourful. The P&O passenger mail ship was used between Bombay and Suez, in the days before the canal, when passengers had to complete their journeys overland to and from Alexandria. This journey was affectionately known as the Spice Run. It is from these journeys that the term posh was derived (port out starboard home). Her ornate design can still be recognized to this day.
Constructed: 1862 (London, England)
Length of ship: 90m (294ft)
Wreck location: Abu Nuhas reef, Egypt.
Depth range of wreck: 17m to 28m.
The Carnatic left Suez on September 12th 1869 with 230 on board including 37 passengers and a cargo of cotton, port, copper ingots and £40,000 in gold coins. She was under the command of Captain P.B. Jones. In the early hours of the next morning the prevailing northerly winds had pushed her along and slightly off course. The fine weather meant that there was no surf breaking on the reef and the Carnatic struck coral at 01.30 in the morning.
The captain, feeling that the ship was in no danger of sinking, decided to await the arrival of another P&O vessel, the Sumatra due to pass by at any time. After spending a second night on board, with meals served as usual, a squall blew up and the Carnatic suddenly rolled over onto her port side and began to take on water and slip over the edge of the reef. Her mid section, with the engine mountings, collapsed and the vessel began to break in two - the stern slipping off the reef and sinking. As the fore section settled some of the boats managed to get away and over a period of hours rescued many of the people on board. The survivors made it to Shadwan Island where they were eventually rescued by the Sumatra. In all 27 people drowned.
The news of the sinking had resounding effects in Britain and a salvage operation was put into action, using a new air pump and helmet system of diving. Most of the gold and copper was recovered in that historical salvage operation. This was the first time a salvage operation had been conducted using a revolutionary surface demand diving system.
The wreck lay undisturbed until May 1984 when divers stumbled across her near the wreck of the Giannis D. She was later to be positively identified by Lawson Wood.
The Wreck Today
She lies keel on to the reef on her port side, her bow pointing in the same direction as the Giannis D; East. Like the Giannis D she is in two distinctive parts, the bow and the stern, both lying on their port side. There is mangled machinery in the broken amidships section. The decking has now rotted away leaving a series of main supporting beams of the 3 decks. These beams are covered in a profusion of colour and life.
Her ornate stern is very photogenic both from inside and out, and the square portholes are evident. Her davits are also a feast of encrusting marine life, from soft corals to tiny Pipe fish and Nudibranchs. At one time a magnificent table coral grew from one of the davits until an Italian diver decided to sit on it!
The highest point of the wreck is at the stern in 17 metres with the rudder and prop in 28 metres, and a magnificent sight they are too! One of the most superb images of the wreck is in the high point of the fore section, her starboard side where it meets the main deck. Here silversides and glassy sweepers seek shelter from the ever present marauding jacks.
The bow itself still bears the graceful lines of a once proud and elegant vessel, and is best appreciated from a few meters along the reef. Her bowsprit long gone, it is possible to look right down into the fore-section through the support ring. The interior of the fore section contains many broken bottles from her cargo. Although many bottles sank with the ship, some 200 drifted away and were found elsewhere in only a few inches of water, intact and undisturbed since she sank.
Her masts lie on the seabed away from the wreck and the mid section while broken up has some nice area’s to explore with her primitive engine, gears, condensers and boilers to be seen.
Diving the Wreck
The mooring is usually attached to the highest point of the fore section, in 14 metres When descending with the reef behind you, the bow will be to your right, stern to your left. Drop down and swim along the sea bed with the wreck on your right - the bow curves up to what was its bowsprit, swim beyond 10 metres and look back at the superb greyhound bow. Head back towards the fo’c’sle and meander though the deeper part of the fore section. Broken bottles litter the bottom. The view from the rear looking back out is superb. Ignore what is above - you will come back to that later. Swim aft and explore the more flattened areas of the wreck which will bring you to her engine room - gratings, pipes, valves, fly wheels, gearings and big ends are all there. Look carefully and you will see 3 holed deadeyes and tackles from her rigging - some of the original oak still remains!
As the journey continues aft the stern section comes into view - explore the rudder, prop and admire the fantail stern before ascending to around 20 metres as you head back towards the fore section, exploring more of the engine room on the way. The upper section of the foredeck is a stunning explosion of colour - making this wreck one of the prettiest in the area. Antheas, silversides sweepers and hatchets all shelter hear from jacks travellies and lionfish. Spend the remainder of your dive around this area - it has endless photo opportunities.
The attitude and position of the wreck makes this a very easy dive indeed. The lack of current and moderate depths make it suitable for most divers. It is a great first wreck dive penetration as it is very easy. There are many corals on the wreck so great care should be taken when swimming through the cross members. One of the oldest wrecks to be found and yet it has held its form extremely well.
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