THE WRECK OF THE SANTA - THE FULL STORY

It must have been summer of 1993 when I first learnt about the wreck of the 'Santa' whilst I had been diving with S'Algar Diving. At this time I knew very little about the dive sites around Menorca, although I had a vague idea about a couple of shipwrecks at the 'other end' of the island and it must have been at this time when I asked Simon Curgenven, S'Algar Diving's Operations Manager, if he knew of any wrecks in the area. "There's a fishing boat out off Rafalet, the Comandancia scuttled it a few years back, after they caught it smuggling, tobacco I believe".
During the years following its sinking, the dive centre had on several occasions been out searching for the wreck, but to no avail. There was a mystery here; where had this ship disappeared to, had it sunk only slightly below the surface and drifted far offshore. I was interested.
During the next few years, as I began to dive and photograph some of the other known wrecks around the island, the notes I had made about the S'Algar wreck ended up almost forgotten. In June of 1995 after very many days of searching, both by boat and by air, together with a Menorcan we discovered the wreck of the 'Ocean Diver' off the beach of Son Bou, thus creating quite a bit of excitement amongst the local divers for some months. This was then followed closely by Crystal Seas Scuba of Cala'n Bosc, having located the remains of the cargo ship 'Francina' near Cala Morell.
Early in 1997, suddenly a lot of information about wrecks in the Cala Rafalet/S'Algar area was to come to light, this time not only that of a shipwreck but that of an aircraft too. For a number of years there was a rumor about a German aircraft that was supposed to have ditched off Cala Alcaufar in 1943 and I therefore decided it was time to ty and obtain some information, but where to begin? The local fishermen, this was the answer. If their nets had become entangled on anything in this area, then that could be a lead.
On the next windy day I went to Cala Alcaufar and as expected found a couple of fishermen repairing their nets near the beach. The shipwreck was unknown, but, big surprise, the aircraft was. They knew of a trawler from Mahon that had actually caught it in their nets, Mahon was the next stop.
After asking around I was directed to the Captain of a trawler named the 'Rosa Santa' who was still out fishing but due in soon. It was a bitterly cold winter's evening as I waited by the quayside for the returning fishing fleet. One by one they arrived, until I saw the 'Rosa Santa'

First images during the first dive down to discover the wreck of the Santa
After having unloaded the day's catch I asked to see the captain, who very kindly accompanied me across the road to a local bar for a chat. Two hours later I went home smiling, I had a mountain of information, although still no exact position for the shipwreck, the date of sinking or its correct name.
The aircraft story was certainly true, it had been caught by a trawler, winched to the surface and sunk again as the cables gave way under the load, a trawler which unfortunately was no longer in Mahon.
He did however have its exact position which he promised he would show me later in the year, when the daylight hours were longer. Meanwhile I was to go and visit a certain Mr. Ensenyat, a retired fisherman who had more information, which I did.
I was met by a little old man who must have been in his eighties. He remembered the aircraft, although he was not too sure about the year. "Maybe 1941, no it was 1943" "I rescued the crew, they had run out of fuel before daybreak whilst waiting to land at San Luis aerodrome, there were no lights on the runway in those days"
After a long while I got up to leave. As I thanked him politely and went for the door, he said; "there is one more thing" "some 10 years ago just before I sold my boat, I lost my nets on a large obstacle in front of S'Algar, some people say there is a shipwreck there" He had no other knowledge of the wreck.
Information gathered so far was that the ship was named the 'Santi' or maybe the 'Santa' and it appeared to have been an ex driftnet fishing vessel, presumed to have been carrying contraband cigarettes. On the 20th of April 1983 she had been caught out by a sudden strong gale and as a result of the very rough seas, she had suffered some form of mechanical breakdown. Without any power she was adrift some 45 miles to the northeast of Menorca. It is not known whether she sent out a Mayday signal, or if another ship in the area had reported her condition to Mahon. However it is known that the Comandancia de Marina had sent out the tugboat 'Remolcanosa Catorce' to look for her. After quite some considerable time the tugboat had located her on radar and whilst still at a distance of 10 or so miles apart, it sounded that from the radio communications that were taking place at the time, that the English captain of the 'Santa' was trying to keep the tugboat at a distance. Strangely, some two days later, there were thousands of cartons of cigarettes being washed up along the eastern shores of Menorca. Had the 'Santa' been stalling for time whilst they threw their illegal cargo overboard ? Meanwhile as the two ships continued their radio chatter, the tugboat broke down. Radio messages were sent to Mahon from where two fishing boats would now go to the rescue; the 'Rosa Santa' and the 'Port de Llanca'.
Hours later the fishing boats returned; one towing the tug and the other the 'Santa' of which it is said that this ship looked in terrible condition, old and rusted badly all over. She was tied up alongside the quayside in Mahon close to where the ferry terminal is today where she stayed for quite a time, abandoned. Her crew had vanished the moment they had arrived in port. Months later the authorities towed her across to the Naval Base where she would stay for another 3 or 4 years, rusting and developing leaks, until it was finally decided to take her out to sea and sink her.
I now had two more leads to follow up in the hope that they would finally reveal the location of the 'Santa'
I went to Cala Canutells, where I was to find 'Paco' a retired tugboat captain now turned fisherman. He had been responsible for towing the 'Santa' out to where she was sunk. Unfortunately he did not remember much of the occurrence only that he vaguely remembers the position as being in front of Cala Rafalet, and out on an extended line from Cabo favaritx past the Punta del Espero, this was not good news since it would put the wreck out in water around 65 metres depth, much too deep for regular diving purposes.
I now had one last chance and this was to try a find 'Pepe' Villalonga, apparently the ex second in command at the Commandancia de la Marina. It took some time, but when I did he had the full last story. The position at which the 'Santa' was scuttled was on a line from the Punta del Espero to the Isla del Aire lighthouse, directly out in front of where a large crack in the cliffs to the north of Cala Rafalet, lies below Son Vidal farmhouse. He had placed the charge on the ship, but could not remember the date, nor even the year.
The first explosion failed and because of a strong north easterly the ship was drifting in towards the cliffs. It was towed out again to the same position and a second charge tore a hole in her stern. She now began to sink very quickly stern first and then more drama; an air pocket had formed in her bow, keeping her above water for quite some time, time during which she drifted south westwards towards S'Algar before finally slipping beneath the waves


DISCOVERY OF THE WRECK

I now began to plan an extensive and very thorough search of the area, determined to find this wreck. After almost a week of planning and preparing maps and GPS positions I was ready and all I needed now was perfect weather with a calm sea. This day was to be a long way away, since it was now the height of the summer when strong sea breezes make the sea very choppy by mid afternoon. Late August then brought the daily thunderstorms. Finally a break came on the 10th of October 1997.
It was to be a very long day at sea, all day long following north south lines at no more than 5 knots in order to allow the sonar to scan every detail. By late afternoon I was beginning to lose hope, the seabed had been almost continuously flat with only some larger echos from time to time, nothing to indicate a ship or aircraft.
Suddenly at 17.20 pm the alarm went off, and the adrenalin was high as I looked at the sonar screen, there was a HUGE return. There certainly was something big down there and judging by all the numerous secondary echo's scattered all over the place that would be fish shoals, then this was a wreck. I went over it time and time again to confirm this was not a false alarm, and every time the same alarm and mass of returns. I could not believe it, had I finally found the 'Santa'.


FIRST DIVE AND A MAGNIFICENT SURPRISE

The following day I went around to S'Algar Diving to break the news, there was a lot of excitement, and the inevitable question as to when were we going to dive the wreck. The weather had turned windy again and day after day it would be the same. Finally a break came on the 22nd of October and we set out dive the wreck for the first time. At last we were anchored over the wreck, marker buoys in place together with spare decompression cylinders placed at 3 and 6 metres depth. Soon we were ready to enter the water and all very excited as to what we were going to discover.
Jose Maria Nata,


Scale drawing of the Santa, a drawing which would prove vital in correctly identifying her origins.

Dan Osterbery and myself would dive, whilst Simon Curgenven would take care of the boat.
Soon we were in the water, it was warm for the time of year and exceptionally clear as we descended in the big blue wilderness of this offshore site. It was not long before I saw the ship; I was absolutely stunned, could not believe what I was seeing, she was a beautiful sight. At first the foreward mast appeared out of the dark blue depths, then almost at the same time the entire shape of the ship became apparent, sitting upright on a sandy bottom. I had really not known what to expect, many ideas had crossed my mind; she was quite large with two masts still in place and with a large wheelhouse just aft of midship. Descending around the top of the forward mast at a depth of 35 metres, we were now surrounded by a dense shoal of fish, there were thousands of Blue damselfish Chromis chromis intermixed with as many bright orange and purple Swallowtail sea perch Anthias anthias. The masts as is the entire wreck is well encrusted with a prolific growth of algae, bryozoans, sponges and corals. Lower down between the mast supports were a number of Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis.
As we began to swim around the outside of the wreck, Joe and Dan went in to investigate the interior where they reported having seen an extraordinarily large Grouper, Epinephelus marginatus, together with a number of Conger eels. It is possible to enter the forward hold just aft of the main mast and swim the entire interior of the ship without any obstacles, since the engine was removed prior to her sinking, then exiting through the engine access hatch to the rear of the wheelhouse. The wheelhouse is also accessible. Down below the frnt of the wheelhouse we saw two very large Moray eels Muraena helena, hiding within the winch gear.
Sadly time was now running out; after 20 minutes bottom time at this depth where we had reached 49 metres inside the semi buried hull, it was time to commence our long and slow ascent back to the surface. As we slowly eased our way up past the top of the forward mast, the same dense shoals of fish we had seen earlier now moved apart and circled in great silvery waves. Soon we were back in the open blue water, looking down eager to return.
Finally, after so long I had found the wreck of the 'Santa' or was she named the 'Santi', a lot more research was still to be completed.
Taking advantage of the warm waters that are to be found at this depth in the autumn, we completed two more dives in the following days, taking more photos and taking measurements in order to make a scale drawing of the wreck, a drawing that would later prove vital in correctly identifying her origins.


TO LONDON, ENGLAND, FOR MORE RESEARCH

Since no one in Menorca could recall the ship's exact name, in 1998 I initially wrote to the Lloyd's Register of Shipping in London, to ask if they had any information regarding a fishing vessel named the 'Santa' or 'Santi', that was possibly Panamanian registered. Their first reply came, saying that it would take quite some time as they received a great number of requests for information on a daily basis, however that I should try writing to SECNAVES in Panama, which I promptly did. In January 1999, they replied saying that the only ship they had information of, was the 'Santa Clara', a fishing vessel of 14.8 metres in length. This being considerably smaller than our ship off S'Algar, this was not much help.
It was time to go in person to London, to the Lloyds Register of Shipping, as together with the 'Santa' there were a number of other ships to investigate, both in Menorca and the Red Sea.
Upon arrival at the Lloyds Register of Shipping, I was directed to the Information Library, a small room to the left of the main entrance, where row upon row of cabinets contained volumes of information dating back hundreds of years on almost every ship in the world. Given a table to work at, I soon settled in for the day and began to discover many missing facts about the shipwrecks I had listed. It was a task that was going to take many days.
As I began to look for information regarding the 'Santa' or 'Santi', I initially found nothing in the registry books; not surprising however, since I had almost nothing to go on, only speculative data. I therefore asked one of the research assistants for some help, perhaps there was information on their computer records. Still we drew a blank, then, a glimmer of hope. A fishing vessel, another one named the 'Santa Clara' came up with the approximate same dimensions, this was however registered in Argentina and still in service. Could this be her ? Argentinean ? 'Pepe' Villalonga had been quite sure that it had been a Panamanian ship. At this point the research assistant Emma Taaffe made a short phone call.
Moments later, I was being introduced to Paul Clemenson, Assistant Manager.
Technical editorial and Systems Support of the Maritime Information Publishing Group.


The wheelhouse of the Santa


Moray eel (Muraena helena)

As I gave him a copy of a previously written report of the finding of the wreck, together with photographs and the drawing, he quickly became interested in the mystery ship, saying he would look into it back at his own department across the road.
After having made a number of enquiries, he returned later that day to confirm that she was definitely not the 'Santa Clara' of Argentina. "Please leave it with me, I will make some more checks, I am sure we will find something"
Some days later, whilst completing some more research, Paul Clemenson came in to the library mid morning and announced; "I think we have cracked it" as he handed me a number of computer print outs, whilst smiling broadly. He went on to explain how experts had analyzed the drawing I had given him and that from this they had come up with approximate year of construction for this type of hull design, then with a detailed search through computer data, had now managed to find the correct data, or in any case were 90 percent sure this was correct. The ship had however undergone some modernization work at some stage, as the wheelhouse did not match the design year of the hull.
One mystery remained; the ship was still listed as being in service, more checks needed to be made to confirm 100 percent that she was who she was.

HISTORY OF THE SANTA - THE FINAL REPORT

The 'Santa' had originally been named the ULIA, the contract to build her being signed on the 5th of November 1946, between the fishing company BOLLAR, MARURI & Co LTD, Calle de Rodriguez Arias Nº 8, of Bilbao in northern Spain and the Astilleros de Tomas Ruiz de Velasco S.A., which by coincidence were the same shipbuilders who built the 'Francisquita', a cargo ship that had sunk off Menorca in 1952.
The 'Ulia' was one of two fishing vessels being ordered by that company, each at a cost of 2,800,000 Pesetas ( Around 16,500 Euros). Built of steel with a wooden deck, the 'Ulia' measured 25 metres in length, 5.290 metres in width, with a moulded depth of 3.15 metres and a draught of 2.845 metres.
With a displacement of 210 tonnes, gross weight of 107 tonnes and a net weight of 53 tonnes, she was powered by a 6 cylinder, 2 stroke diesel engine developing 270 BHP at 500 rpm, manufactured by Sulzer de Winterthur. Later, in 1972, this engine was replaced by a more powerful 6 cylinder diesel engine manufactured by Caterpiller of the USA, this engine producing 365 BHP at 1800 rpm.
There remain many uncertainties as to who owned and/or operated the vessel over the following years, as information gathered from the 'Registro Mercantile' in Bilbao, Spain and from Lloyd's Register of Shipping appear to differ. Whilst according to the Spanish records, she was owned by Bollar, Maruri & Co Ltd until 1955, she only appears in the Lloyd's Register of Shipping books as of 1952, when she is listed as being owned by a company called 'Pesquera Alay' of San Sebastian.
Her name was changed from 'Ulia' to 'Isla de Santa Clara' on the 31st of August 1949 at the time when Bollar, Maruri & Co took full ownership of the vessel having paid off a 714,000 pesetas moegage on her.
Some 6 years later, on the 30th of July 1955 she was sold to a company named Estela S.A. of Pasajes, a small fishing town near San Sebastian, this record being in both the Spanish and London registry books.
As of 1963, differences once again appear as to who owned or operated the vessel. According to the Lloyd's Register of Shipping she was now owned by Avelino Rodriguez Gomez also of the same fishing port, Pasajes and this being right through from 1963 to 1982. However, according to the documents obtained from the Registro Mercantile of Bilbao, she remained the property of Estela S.A. until the 6th of December 1975, when she was sold to partners Ramon Martinez Fernandez and Miguel Pastoriza Davila, this being very last entry into the Spanish record, in which there is absolutely no mention of Avelino Rodriguez Gomez.


Swallowtail sea perch (Anthias anthias) form huge shoals around the Santa wreck
Later, in 1982, the 'Isla de Santa Clara' changed owners for the last time, this time being registered to a Panamanian company, Panakarine S.A., who then renamed the vessel 'Santa'. As of this date everything about the vessel remains a total mystery. There is no information as to where the 'Santa' was based, what type of fishing she was involved in - if any, and why did she turn up off the coast of Menorca in April 1983, presumably carrying contraband tobacco.
In order to try to find out more information, we tried to contact the Ayuntamiento (City Council) of Bilbao, Pasajes and San sebastian; the Camara de Comercio (Chamber of commerce) of Bilbao, and the Cofradia de Pescadores of the same towns. There is no trace of Avelino Rodriguez Gomez or of any descendants and efforts to try and trace Ramon Martinez Fernandez and Miguel Pastoriza Davila are still underway. The shipbuilders, Astilleros de Tomas Ruiz de Velasco S.A., went into liquidation in 1995. The European agents for Panakarine S.A.; General Maritime Enterprises Antwerp Ltd (GME) also drew a blank, as they went bankrupt in February 1987.
To Panama, the International Telephone Operator came back to say; Señor, there is no telephone listed to Panakarine S.A., in all of Panama, "lo siento, buenas tardes" (Im sorry, good afternoon).
Whilst her last year's may remain a mystery for a very long time, confirmation that the ship's data was correct came from the Lloyd's Register of Shipping as a fax dated 20th of February 1999, saying:- we have deleted the vessel from our publications as scuttled after being arrested for smuggling.
Finally, another fax arrived putting the date for her sinking as sometime in July 1987.

Ironically, for all the years she spent fishing the Atlantic, she has now become a home and haven for myriad Mediterranean species, an artificial reef laying peacefully of the coast of Menorca.


NOTES ABOUT THIS DIVE SITE

The wreck of the 'Santa' is located 1.3 km off the coast of S'Algar. She lays at a depth of 47m, upright on a seabed of course sand into which she is partially buried, hence having a maximum depth of 49m. The top of the wheelhouse is at 41m and the forward mast at 35m.
Although the south eastern corner of Menorca is relatively well protected, the offshore position of this wreck means that the site is frequently affected by the wind. The prevailing northerly winds, which are very variable in terms of strength, can blow at any time of the year. During the summer easterly sea breezes predominate, gradually intensifying as the summer heat increases. This is then followed by periods of strong south to south easterly winds in the early autumn ahead of advancing thunder storm fronts. As a result the sea is often choppy and may be subjected to large swell. Currents are also frequent over the wreck site, varying in direction depending upon the wind. These wind driven currents may rapidly diminish with increasing depth, however counter currents near to the bottom may be very strong at times, making diving conditions very difficult.
Taking into account the great depth and environmental conditions, this dive should only be attempted by divers who have a very high level of experience, skill and discipline.
For safety's sake the wreck should only be visited when accompanied by experienced dive guides who have a good knowledge of the site and a surface support team who have the proper equipment to back up such an operation.

 

 

 

 

place your advertisement here

 

BACK TO MAP

 

 

mmmm

home | scuba diving | canary isles | mapping/drawing | image library | contact us