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Beauty in the Wreckage: 7 of the Loveliest Shipwrecks in the World

Navagio Beach
Smuggler’s Cove (Photo: Ghost of Kuji on Flickr)

Obviously, shipwrecks represent a tragedy, the loss of life or property or both. But shipwrecks can also be dazzlingly beautiful, adding character and history to otherwise unbroken natural vistas. As far as discarded junk goes, you really can’t beat the ruins of ships for pure atmosphere. All across the world, the rotting remains of boats that were forgotten due to accident or obsolescence still sit like glimpse into our own future downfall. Check out seven of the most beautiful shipwrecks in the world.     


1. KIPTOPEKE’S CONCRETE FLEET
Cape Charles, Virginia

Bow of the SS Slater.
Boats made of stone. Great idea, guys. (Photo: Matt Flowers on Atlas Obscura)

The only remaining brethren to the S.S. Selma above, the nine ships that make up the Kiptopeke Breakwater, are the remainder of the 12 concrete vessels commissioned by Woodrow Wilson in 1918. The president actually commissioned 24 of the boats, but only 12 were ever made. In 1948, the nine ships were hauled to Kiptopeke Beach and scuttled to provide storm protection to what was, at the time, the Chesapeake Ferry Terminal. The ferry is no more, but the sturdy concrete ships remain. Many of them have deteriorated with age, showing the strands of rebar holding the things together. More than any of the metal ships on this list, the cement fleet in Kiptopeke Bay resemble sunken temples.   

Mess of rebar and concrete on the SS Talbot.
That’s not the dock, that’s the boat. (Photo: Matt Flowers on Atlas Obscura)


2. BAY OF NOUADHIBOU SHIP GRAVEYARD
Nouadhibou, Mauritania


I’m not sure that ship still needs to have an anchor out. (Photo: jbdodane on Flickr)

Shipbreaking is hard and expensive work, so in places where the laws are… malleable regarding the practice, sometimes boats are simply scuttled and illegally left for dead. Such is the case in Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou which stands as the world’s largest ship graveyard. Once unscrupulous captains found that they could simply abandon their unwanted vessels in the bay for a small bribe, it started filling up with the rusting hulks of dead ships, and continues to collect them to this day. Despite concerns regarding the rust, paint, and chemicals that may be leaking into the waters of the bay, the deteriorating ships have come to provide habitats for a great deal of undersea life.  


A ruin of shipwrecks. (Photo: Niko on Flickr)


3. S.S. SELMA
Galveston, Texas


This old boat looks like it’s been crying. (Photo: OneEighteen on Flickr)

For a short time during World War I, America decided to start making ships out of concrete to save on steel. Only a few of the vessels were ever created, and even fewer remain, but one outstanding example is the S.S. Selma off the coast of Texas’ Galveston Island. The ship was abandoned in the sea after it was fatally wounded by a collision with a jetty. However this was not the end of the story for the old boat. During Prohibition, anti-booze authorities would take caches of confiscated hooch out to the wreck and destroy them where there would be no hope for recovery. I’m sure they didn’t drink any of it while they were out there.  


4. NAVAGIO BEACH
Zakynthos, Greece

Navagio Beach
That little boat is jealous. (Photo: Heather Cowper on Flickr)

As though a secluded cove beach on a tiny Greek island were not magical enough, Zakynthos Island’s Navagio Beach also holds the rusting wreckage of a smuggler’s ship. In 1983 the ship known as the Panagiotis was carrying contraband loads of cigarettes, booze, and according to some reports, humans. The authorities caught wind of the illicit cargo and tracked down the ship while it was still at sea. The Panagiotis fled, but the weather was poor and in their haste, they ran the ship aground into what is now sometimes called, “Smuggler’s Cove.” Today the wreck is still there, the only mar on the otherwise pristine beach. Although surprisingly it makes it all the more attractive. 

Navagio Beach
SECRET SHIPWRECK BEACH PARTY! (Photo: Alistair Ford on Flickr)


5. ÖZLEM SHIPWRECK
Batumi, Georgia


This ship looks like it’s saying, “Ugh! My back!” (Photo: Richard Bartz on Wikipedia)

The poor, broken Özlem. Turkish for “Desire,” this little blue ship looks like the only thing it desires is to not be broken in half. After running aground right where in the very spot it sits to this day, the ship was simply abandoned. It has since broken completely in half as it rusts away into the gently waters surrounding it. It seems like a peaceful way to go. 


6. S.S. AYERFIELD
Homebush, Australia


Most beautiful shipwreck in the world? (Photo: Jason Baker on Wikipedia)

While most shipwrecks are beautiful just the way they are, the S.S. Ayerfield in Australia’s Homebush Bay does them one better with a small forest of mangrove trees growing in its corpse. Homebush Bay was once a thriving commercial port with large freighters regularly moving in and out. But after being contaminated by toxic waste, the port shut down and was remade as a residential area. When the trade ceased a number of ships were simply left in the bay to die. One of which was the S.S. Ayerfield, which today has been boarded by a lush mangrove thicket. Hanging down every side like it’s nature’s drunken party boat, the wild branches make the industrial husk look like a truly singular ruin.   


Is there such a thing as a maritime gardener? (Photo: Jason Baker on Flickr)


7. WRECK OF THE SUB MARINE EXPLORER
San Telmo, Panama


Barnacle’d. (Photo: James Delgado on Wikipedia)

The only submarine on the list, this rotting iron coffin stands as the remains of the first submarine capable of rising and diving without help from the surface. Built in 1866 by a German inventor, the ship was a marvel in its day, using an innovative ballast system that would sink or raise the ship at will. Unfortunately, the brave sailors that experimented with the ship during its trial run began coming down with an unexplained “fever,” that we now know to have been decompression sickness, or “the bends.” Even the ships creator died of the so-called fever. Eventually the ship slipped out of memory until the wreck was rediscovered in 2001.    


A low tide beauty. (Photo: James P. Delgado)