OF THE SANTA - THE FULL STORY
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
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'
during the first dive down to discover the wreck of the Santa
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
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
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
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
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'.
DIVE AND A MAGNIFICENT SURPRISE
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,
of the Santa, a drawing which would prove vital in correctly identifying
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
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
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.
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
editorial and Systems Support of the Maritime Information Publishing
of the Santa
|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.
OF THE SANTA - THE FINAL REPORT
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
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
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.
perch (Anthias anthias) form huge shoals around the Santa wreck
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
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.
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.
ABOUT THIS DIVE SITE
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
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.