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Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks - The Ulysses


The Ulysses By Ned Middleton

Note: Ned Middleton is a professional Underwater Photo-Journalist who has published a number of articles in recent years about Red Sea Wrecks. Please send corrections to Ned Middleton here.


Day Boat

Safari Boat

Shore Dive

Snorkelling

Diving Grade

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

All

Location:

27 41' 12" N, 33 48' 10"E. North of Bluff Point - Gobal Sheghir

Access:

Day or Safari Boat from Hurghada, occasionally from Sharm El Sheikh

Minimum Depth to Wreck

6m (at Bows)

Maximum Depth to Seabed:

30m (at Stern)

Average Visibility:

30-35m

The Island of Gobal Seghir (little Gobal) lies at the very end of the busy shipping lane which takes its name from the Islands big brother. These "Straits of Gobal" are found at that point where the north west Red Sea begins to narrow as it becomes the Gulf of Suez. Approaching from the north, it comes right at a time when Captains - two days out of Suez, tend to relax, thinking that the more hazardous stretches of water are behind them - as many have discovered to their cost. Today, of course, there are radar reflectors and solar-powered lights - but over one hundred years ago things were very different indeed.

It was a beautiful morning in the Summer of 1887 as Captain Arthur Bremner paced the decks of his beloved Ulysses - repeatedly pausing to study his pocket watch. He was in London Docks and he wanted to make the best possible use of the ebb tide. Then it was time to depart and suddenly, as he barked a succession of orders, the mooring lines were slipped and they set sail - destination Penang.

Bremner was a big man, hardened by many years at sea. He was not a man to be challenged - which was unfortunate because he was prone to mistakes. Nevertheless, he did not lack courage and in 1884 was awarded the Lloyds medal for saving life at sea. Since 1880, he had had a succession of vessels to command but this was his first visit to the Red Sea.

It was an uneventful trip to Port Said and a very slow 200 mile canal journey to Suez. Two days later, on the evening of 15th August 1887, Bremner checked the charts one last time before retiring to his cabin. It was at this time, in the early hours of the 16th, 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. Regarding the incident as nothing more than an unfortunate grounding, Bremner decided to wait and seek help from any passing ship. Just before daybreak the lights of the British Steamship "Kerbela" came into view and the Master was asked to make all haste for Suez and send immediate assistance.


The Times newspaper of 18th August 1887 contained the following entry under the heading "WRECKS AND CASUALTIES":

"Lloyds agent at Suez telegraphs that the Kerbela, British steamer, reports that the Ulysses, British steamer, is ashore at Jubal Island, and is leaking a little. Assistance has been sent."

The Ulysses was stuck fast on a Coral Reef just north of Bluff Point. Convinced his vessel would eventually be pulled free, Bremner stubbornly refused to jettison any cargo. It was not until the 20th, however, that the much needed assistance would arrive. In the meantime, Bremner completely underestimated the power of a Coral Reef to inflict damage on a steel-hulled vessel. What he could not see was the slow process by which the hull was being weakened as the fully laden Ulysses pivoted steadily on top of a coral head. Without lightening the load - it was only a matter of time.

All this was made worse by a moderate sea and on the morning of August 19th, the Ulysses was down by the stern. The following day, two Lighters with labourers arrived from Suez and HMS Falcon also arrived to offer protection. Realizing the seriousness of the condition of the Ulysses, the Captain of the Falcon also lent some of his crew to assist with unloading whilst others were landed to guard both ship and cargo.

It was dirty work in the intense heat of an Egyptian August. With the pumps silenced, the workers had to wade deep into foul water in the holds - sometimes having to swim right into it. Without power, they then had to haul the cargo out of the hold and into the sea where it was man-handled over coral reefs to the shore before finally being carried one third of a mile to the Lighters.

With the Ulysses finally lost, Captain Bremner could do nothing more than watch as his ship settled down onto the Reef - in an almost leisurely fashion, with her bows and bowsprit still in view and pointing upwards.

When nothing more could be done, all parties departed for Suez on 6th September 1887. The Lighters were so fully laden that additional space had to be found on the decks of HMS Falcon for a considerable amount of salvaged cargo. On arrival, Bremner made his official report on the loss of the Ulysses - which was then officially listed as "Abandoned." Bad weather then set in for a few days during which the crippled ship sustained considerable damage before finally disappearing below the surface forever. No specific date for the final sinking was ever recorded.

The loss of the Ulysses was eventually put down to "navigational error" - though fault was never fully established. Whether Captain Bremner had made a mistake - either by setting a wrong course or by issuing wrong instructions, is not known.


The Ship

The Ocean Steamship Company selected a "theme" of Greek Mythology when naming their ships and, after a period of successful trading with the Achilles, Ajax and Hector, they expanded and ordered five new sister ships. Built between 1869 and 1871, the Priam was constructed by Scott and Co and the Hector, Menelaus, Sarpedon and Ulysses by Leslie and Co of Newcastle.

Technically described as an "Iron Screw Steamer - Planked" the Ulysses was launched in 1871. Her dimensions were 95.1m x 10.2m - with a draught of 7.7m. She displaced 1992 gross registered tons (1843 net). Although rigged for sail, she also possessed that relatively new feature - a funnel approximately amidships. Below decks was a single 2 stroke, 2 cylinder steam engine capable of producing 225 HP - also made in Newcastle by P Stephenson & Co.

The Ulysses cargo was described as "general merchandise" - the term used to describe any consignment of various commodities. Whilst the manifest no longer exists, the resultant court hearing placed a value of 60,000 on the cargo (a vast amount in those days) and specifically mentioned quicksilver (Mercury). A few remnants of that part of the cargo which was never recovered are still found within the ship - and these would seem to indicate drums of electrical cable.


Diving the Ulysses

The Ulysses lies "up" the Reef with her stern at 27m and bows in very shallow water. The main body of the wreck is now on its port side and most of the decking has rotted away revealing a framework of iron girders not dissimilar to that of the Carnatic.

Currents can be quite severe making it best to get down into the shelter afforded by the wreck. The stern reveals the beautifully rounded features that were the style of day. The rudder and propeller are still in place and serve to make this entire section the most photogenic. Above the stern a number of original features - such as bollards, winches and railings, are still found.

The main structure is held together by iron cross members. These are what gave the ship its strength and they continue to provide that strength - even after more than 110 years underwater. The vessel is wide open and that means there is virtually no chance of becoming lost inside. Consequently, the Diver is quite able to enter the vessel and explore both internal deck levels with plenty of natural light reaching almost every corner.

At about amidships, there still remains some evidence of the small wheelhouse that was once located below the funnel. Masts, spars and other items litter the seabed at this point. Further forward, the vessel is well broken up and there are many separate structures to be found - all the way into shallow water. The larger sections are home to thousands of Vanikoro Sweepers with all the other usual Reef Fishes in attendance. The entire vessel is well colonized by all the nearby Corals and Soft Corals which have, through their many years of growth, added a new, and very beautiful, dimension to this particular shipwreck.

Until relatively recently, the Ulysses was still upright - though she has always pointed "up" the Reef. The prevailing currents coupled with the passage of time, however, finally pushed the vessel hard over onto her port side where, she will undoubtedly remain as one of the many truly outstanding Dive Sites of the Egyptian Red Sea for some considerable time to come.

Postscript

Arthur Wellesley Bremner was born in Liverpool in 1843 and gained his Masters Certificate in 1867 at the early age of 24 years. When Master of the Nevada, he was awarded the Lloyds Medal for Saving Life at Sea in 1884. He commanded a number of different vessels from 1880 before being appointed to the Ulysses in February 1885. After the Loss of the Ulysses he never went to sea again.

Back to Egypt Red Sea Shipwrecks

Last Updated: May 29th, 2011

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