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HER Number:MDV42472
Name:SS Maine wreck, 2 miles south of Bolt Head Brixham


SS Maine cargo ship, launched in 1904 but torpedoed in 1917 south of Bolt Head, Brixham.


Grid Reference:SX 68 36
Map Sheet:SX63NE
Admin AreaDevon
Ecclesiastical ParishOFFSHORE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • National Monuments Record: SX 63 NE 20
  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX63NE/38
  • Pastscape: 832169
  • Tide Project: 11/09/2020

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • WRECK (XVIII to XXI - 1751 AD to 2009 AD)

Full description

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Hydrographic Office (Cartographic). SDV156138.

Hydrographic Office 013301378.

Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry (Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry). SDV263.

Vessel built of steel by W and D Henderson and Co of Glasgow, carrying a cargo of 500 tons of chalk 50 tons of cowhair horsehair and goatskins and fenugreek seeds when she was torpedoed by an enemy submarine.
(Copied from a migrated source which had no information attached).

Larn, R., 1974, Devon Shipwrecks (Monograph). SDV741.

Built as Sierra Blanca.

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, 1978, Admiralty Chart, 2675 (Cartographic). SDV772.

Admiralty Chart, 2675.

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, 1978, Admiralty Chart, 442 (Cartographic). SDV156132.

Admiralty chart 442.

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, 1980, Admiralty Chart, 1123 (Cartographic). SDV766.

Admiralty Chart, 1123.

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, 1982, Amiralty Chart, 2656 (Cartographic). SDV156135.

Admiralty chart 2656.

United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, 1991, Admiralty Chart, 2655 (Cartographic). SDV156137.

Admiralty chart 2655.

McDonald, K., 1992, The Bolt-Whole, 82-83 (Article in Serial). SDV147889.

Maine, 375 ft, 3616 ton British steamer launched 1905. Bound for Philadelphia from London with a cargo of chalk, horse hair and goatskin when torpedoed by u-boat uc17, February 1917. Towed towards Bigbury Bay by an RN torpedo boat, but sank en route. It sank upright and on an even keel, onto an area of flat shingle, sand and mud. The funnel and much of the superstructure lie close by to starboard. Dived by Torbay BS-AC since 1961. The bronze propellor salvaged and sold and the spare iron propellor raised and now displayed in Victoria shopping centre, Paignton. The 4.7" stern gun was salvaged by persons unknown. Her counterstern is now breaking away and part of her poop deck collapsing inwards. Plating thin in places, but generally sound.

Maritime Archaeology Trust, 2018, Maritime Archaeology Trust: Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War (Website). SDV363802.

SS Maine was built by W&D Henderson & Co in Glasgow and launched on 4 November 1904. The vessel was a single screw steam driven cargo ship with a three cylinder triple expansion engine with three boilers, having a gross tonnage of 3,616 tons. The 375 ft (c.114.3m) long ship had a beam of 46ft (c.14m).

SS Maine was chosen as one of the Forgotten Wrecks case study sites because storms in recent years have caused changes to seabed levels which have affected the remains. As the wreck has been dived for many years there is an archive of photographs and video that can be used to map changes to the site over time.

The ship was built for the Sierra Blanca Steam Shipping Company of Liverpool (Thompson, Anderson & Co.) and named the Sierra Blanca. In 1913 it was acquired for the Atlantic Transport Line for $38,500 and was renamed Maine (The Atlantic Transport Line 2005-2014). Although a freighter, Maine occasionally carried small numbers of passengers. The National Archives at Kew preserve a list of passengers landed by Maine at Plymouth and London in October 1915; on that occasion the ship had sailed from Philadelphia.

The Maine was a British vessel, owned by the Atlantic Transport Line and was operated at the time of loss by The Atlantic Transport Line (official number 120821). During the war the vessel was armed with one x 4.7in gun at the stern. At the time of the sinking the Maine was on route from London bound for Philadelphia and was carrying 50 tons of general cargo, including cow hair, horse hair, goat skins, fenugreek seeds and 500 tons of chalk. The Board of Trade War Risk Insurance Records provide during detail on elements of the cargo and its specific value. The goat skins were the most valuable element of the cargo, with ‘sporting rifles’ appearing as the lowest value element of cargo claimed for.

On 23 March 1917, when the Maine was 13 miles south of Berry Head in Devon, a torpedo from UC-17hit the port side of the ship just forward of the bridge by No 2 hold. The blast blew the hatches off the holds, smashed the port gig and wrecked the bridge. It also blew a great hole in the side of the hull through which seawater poured on to the cargo. Hoping he might beach the ship, Captain Bill Johnston sent distress calls and set course for the nearest land with the engines still running; he tried to beach the vessel west of Start Point. The engine room and stoke hold were filling with water so they had to be abandoned and he was forced to stop.

At 9.30am assistance came from torpedo boat No 99 and later a patrol boat that attached cables and attempted to tow the ship to Start Point. At noon the bulkheads gave way and the Master, First and Second Mate, Bosun and cook (who were the only ones left on board as the rest of the crew having been taken off by the torpedo boat) eventually took to the gig to be rescued by the yacht Lorna. The Maine sank 2 miles south of Bolt Head at 12.45pm “gracefully upright and on an even keel”, no lives were lost. The ships masts still showed above the surface and a “Notice to Mariners No370, 1917” was issued warning of the dangers. The masts later collapsed and the vessel was wire-swept in 1920 (Pastscape, 2015; Wreck site EU, 2016).

The wreck was discovered by Torbay BSAC in the summer of 1961 and first seen by Dereck Cockbill, at this time the vessel was reported to be virtually intact. Torbay BSAC purchased it for £100 and later salvaged the bronze propeller which had "Stone's Bronze, London 1904" stamped on it (Figure 3). Research revealed its weight to be six and a quarter tons and it was sold it for £840. The gun on the stern was later salvaged as was the spare iron propeller which was reportedly on display at the Victoria Shopping Centre, Paignton. In 1987 the ships brass bell was recovered by two divers paying their first visit, they presented it to Torbay BSAC (Totnes Sub-Aqua Club). The wreck continues to be a popular site for sport divers.

National Monuments Record, 2020, Pastscape, 832169 (Website). SDV363416.

13-DEC-1917 6 Cables N 85 degrees west off Hamstone Rock position 50 12 52N 003 51 03W also given. Reported lost 11 miles SE by E from Start Point.

08-JAN-1920 1.8 miles 155 degrees from Bolt Tail sweep carried out over wreck and no obstruction of any kind found at 45 feet (Low water spring tide).

24-APR-1951 Position 50 12 45N 003 50 53W wire drag sweep clear 40 feet foul at 42 feet height above seabed 50 feet.

21-MAY-1962 Salvage rights bought by the British Sub Aqua Club.

05-JUN-1967 The hulk of the wreck is now lying in an upright position.

12-JAN-1970 Salvage work is to be carried out during winter months 1969/70 with explosives.

12-DEC-1970 Wreck of the Maine, located stands approximately 28 feet high on the seabed. General depths are 52 feet scour to 4 feet seen.

08-JUN-1978 Hull reported still intact.

22-JUN-1996 Hull still mainly intact but starting to collapse near the boilers. As a result it is no longer possible to swim through parts of the cargo hold, (Hydrographic Office Wreck Index).

Sources / Further Reading

SDV147889Article in Serial: McDonald, K.. 1992. The Bolt-Whole. Diver. Photocopy + Digital. 82-83.
SDV156132Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1978. Admiralty Chart, 442. Admiralty Chart. Unknown.
SDV156135Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1982. Amiralty Chart, 2656. Admiralty Chart. Unknown.
SDV156137Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1991. Admiralty Chart, 2655. Admiralty Chart. Unknown.
SDV156138Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. Hydrographic Office. Unknown.
SDV263Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry: Unattributed Sites and Monuments Register Entry.
SDV363416Website: National Monuments Record. 2020. Pastscape. https://www.pastscape.org.uk/. Website. 832169.
SDV363802Website: Maritime Archaeology Trust. 2018. Maritime Archaeology Trust: Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War. https://forgottenwrecks.maritimearchaeologytrust.org/. Website.
SDV741Monograph: Larn, R.. 1974. Devon Shipwrecks. Devon Shipwrecks. Digital + hardback.
SDV766Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1980. Admiralty Chart, 1123. Admiralty Chart. Unknown.
SDV772Cartographic: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1978. Admiralty Chart, 2675. Admiralty Chart. Unknown.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Mar 1 2022 5:09PM