The SS Dunraven
The SS Dunraven was built in Newcastle in 1870 specifically for the trade with India. She was a typical steam sailer of the period: 100m in length and displacing 2200 tons. She made several uneventful journeys before her demise. In April 1876 she was en-route to India with a cargo of wool and cotton and had almost cleared the Gulf of Suez when she struck the southern end of the fringing reef of Shab Mahmud, near Ras Mohammed and stuck fast under the bows. It was immediately apparent that she was fatally holed in the bow section, but there appeared to be no imminent danger of sinking. In fact she sat on the reef for nearly a week before bad weather led to the break-up and rest in her present position.
As a result of the loss of the Dunraven a beacon was mounted at the southern end of Shab Mahmud and the location eventually became known as Beacon Rock. The wreck was not re-discovered until 1978 when sport diving tok off in the area, and the beacon itself now also acts as a handy reference for those seeking the wreck.
She now lies approximately 150m to the east of the beacon having sunk diagonally against the reef with the remains of her bows in 15m and the stern at a maximum depth of 28m. She turned turtle as she sank and so the first view you have of the wreck is the keel and the mostly intact hull on the port side. Currents can be quite strong and are generally running east to west, although this is not entirely predictable. Dive boats, therefore, generally drop a little off the wreck to allow a drift on to it as you descend, but once there she offers plenty of protection from the current.
The ideal dive profile is to start your explorations at the stern and work forwards to the bow. The rudder and single screw are still in place, now pointing towards the surface and festooned with sponges, sea whips, clams and soft corals. The stern deck resting on the sea bed provides shelter for some remarkably large grouper and if you dive here early in the morning,, look out on the sand on the down current (sheltered) side of the wreck for sleeping sharks. From here you can swim up the starboard side and study the way the reef has taken over the smooth hull providing home to the myriad of colourful reef fish. As you approach the midships section you will find that the hull plates have collapsed allowing a safe and easy access to the wreck interior. At this point decide whether to continue an external exploration or move inside to continue towards the bows.
Although this is an easy wreck to penetrate, normal precautions should be observed and it is wise to have a torch. There is little in the way of coral growth internally, but fish life is profuse, especially dense shoals of glass fish which part like curtains as you approach. However, wherever you find glass fish in a wreck there are always the accompanying lion fish, so look before you touch. There are also one or two large morays resident, which may surprise you free swimming in the gloom of the interior.
You can exit where the bows have been torn off on the starboard side and then finish your dive on the highest point of the wreck or make your way on to the reef. Just to the west of the wreck, up in the shallows, is the evidence of the first collision with the reef, resulting in a scree slope of coral debris. Beyond this the reef is very healthy with a wealth of hard corals particularly in the shallows. This offers an ideal contrast to the wreck as you decompress, or just finish your air, before pick up or riding the current back towards your boat at anchor.
The Dunraven is nearly two-and-a-half hours from Sharm El Sheikh and perhaps one hour from Ras Mohammed and is easily within the reach of the day boats. If you are on a liveaboard, this is an ideal stop-off on the way to the Thistlegorm, in the Straits of Gubal, or if crossing the Gulf of Suez for the wrecks and reefs at Abu Nuhas. Either way it is a Red Sea classic not to be missed.
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