The Ulysses was built at the Leslie yard on the Tyne (England) for the Ocean Steamship Company. Like other vessels of the fleet, she also joined in with the Greek Mythology theme; amongst them Achilles, Ajax, Hector, Priam, Menelaus, and Sarpedon. She was launched in 1871, and was described as an 'iron hulled single screw steamship'. She was 310 ft long with a 30 ft beam, a draught of 20 ft and grossed 1900 tons.
Like the Carnatic, Dunraven and Kingston she was rigged for sail, with a single 2 stroke, 2 cylinder steam engine capable of producing 225 HP driving a single iron propeller. Due to low working pressure of boilers and inefficient engines, sail was essential to extend the working range of vessels of this type. Not until high pressure boilers and triple expansion engines came along did sail truely give way to steam power.
Constructed: 1871 (Newcastle, England)
Length of ship: 95m (310ft)
Wreck location: Gobal Segeira, Egypt.
Depth range of wreck: 2m to 29m
The Board of Enquiry records show that she left London docks in August 1887 bound for Penang via the Suez Canal. The master was a Mr Bremner, and although very experienced, this was to be his first and last voyage to the Red Sea.
Two days out of Suez found the Ulysses clear of Sha’ab Ali. The calm seas, and light air meant that many of the uncharted reefs were invisible; no line of white surf, no sound of waves breaking over a reef. In the early hours of the 16th August the Ulysses struck Gobal Seghir. At first it seemed that the damage was slight and the pumps could easily handle the small amounts of water being taken on. The Captain regarded the incident as nothing more than an unfortunate grounding and decided to wait and seek help from any passing ship. Just before daybreak the lights of the British Steamship 'Kerbela' came by and raised the alarm on reaching Suez. Stuck fast on the reef the captain refused to jettison any cargo, convinced that the vessel would eventually be pulled free.
For four days the vessel was grounded on the coral and slowly the coral ground its way through the iron hull. By the 18th August the sea had got up and the stern was down, her stern rails and steering gear awash. The following day, escorted by HMS Falcon, two barges with salvage crew arrived from Suez. Crews from all vessels now worked in the hot sun to unload the cargo, but soon the pumps failed. As the wind got stronger the barges moved inside bluff point for fear of being swept onto the same reef by the mounting swell. That meant the cargo had to be man handled over the reef, lagoon, sand spit, more coral and then out to the barges.
Despite these gallant efforts which lasted nearly two weeks, the ship began to slip back off the reef with her her bowsprit slowly reaching for the sky. She was abandoned and left to her fate. By the 5th September 1887 the stern was on the seabed, 28 metres below and the ship had broken her back - her fore section on top of the reef was relentlessly pounded by the waves and has now become totally dispersed over the shallows.
Identifying the Wreck
For many years the wreck's identity remained obscure, known only as "the old cargo boat at Gobul Segeira". Gradually the list of 'suspects' was reduced as contenders such as the Kingston, Carina and indeed the Carnatic were identified. (The Dunraven had already been positively identified). In the late eighties I (Peter Collings) obtained a set of books affectionately known as DODAS; The 'Dictionary of Disasters at Sea' during the age of steam. Therein was a record of the Ulysses "aground at Gobul". It took several more visits to the wreck before she finally confirmed her identity to us - the steamship companies name on a piece of crockery, confirmed along with close inspection of the drive system and power unit as well as the remains of the cargo. DODAS also told us where she was built;- in the north east of England, where more evidence of her identity was to come to light.
The Wreck Today
Her beautiful rounded stern lies in 29 metres, embedded in sand, with her hull open to the sea lying on her port side. Her prop and rudder, still intact, are covered in a luxuriant growth of soft corals and the hull and keel form a cave in which huge groupers lurk. These cavernous spaces are covered in corals, sponges, hydroids and anemones. The hull itself forms a current point and is a great place to observe travellies and jacks marauding. The hull also forms a v-shaped area with the reef and here resident crocodile fish can be observed along with superb fan corals with resident long nosed hawkfish.
Some of the cargo lies scattered around the seabed, covered in lush soft corals. Midship and aft sections are totally accessible, as all the planking has long since been devoured by marine worms. In this respect she is not unlike the Carnatic, with iron cross braces for each deck forming a criss cross pattern; stunning when viewed from inside and some of her general cargo remains inside. There are also branches of the delicate black coral growing here so care is needed when entering the hull. Forward the bow and fore sections are mangled up with the remains of the older wreck. Inside the hull the huge fly wheel and engine can be observed. Dead eyes, bollards, winches and railings, even a bath and the steering assembly can still be seen.
Back in the bow section the almost obligatory Glass fish hang in clouds with Lionfish ever vigilant. Scorpion fish too are in abundance and the entire wreck is a delight for the photographer. The shallows are teeming with fish including tangs, surgeons and triggers, which dart in and out of the scattered remains in only 2 metres.
Stunning marine life! The wreck is a haven of life; turtles, several types of moray eels, surgeon fish, scorpion fish, anthea's, fusiliers, sweepers and glass fish, each with their own patch, the inevitable but fierce clown fish, plus for the sharp eyed frogfish, ornate ghost pipefish and a host of nudibranchs, plurobranchs and flatworms, while jacks, trevellies and tuna patrol the surrounding waters. Dolphins are very commonly sighted on this wreck too. Add to all of this a covering of lush corals, both hard and soft, and you have a paradise for bug hunters and photographers alike. Perhaps the reason for this is that the wreck itself lies on one of the very best reefs in the Sinai area, that and the brisk current which sweeps past the wreck.
Red Sea Piranhas! Huge shoals of Sergeant Majors patrol the wreck, and in the past few years we have noted a strange phenomenon. Observed from the surface these fish shoal and go about their business like any other reef fish, but as we approach the wreck wearing scuba they take on the persona of... PIRANAHS and appear to devour sections of the wreck! They gather in huge swarms... clouds... gangs... is there a collective for frenzied Sergeant Majors? At first we thought they may be stimulated into a feeding frenzy and were eating either egg masses or algae. The most recent suggestion is that we are scaring away another specie which is guarding its eggs and the Majors are simply using the opportunity to have a feast. Whatever the reason behind this behaviour, it provides superb video and still’s footage at close up range.
Want to dive this wreck?
Aquatours can arrange it - That's what we do!
• Search for all live-aboards which visit the Ulysses wreck.