From the earliest time of trans-oceanic passages, the Cunard Line has been one of the World's most famous shipping lines. Formed in 1839 as the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, it was soon better known as the Cunard Line after its founder, Samuel Cunard. However, it really descends from the first company Cunard established in 1812 with his father, A Cunard and Son.
Today the Cunard Line has three of the most luxurious passenger liners in service, the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. Over the years some of the most famous ships were owned by Cunard, including the original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth which served as troop ships in World War II.
Mike Roussel and Sam Warwick have written a book, Shipwrecks of the Cunard Line, that concentrates on 18 ships that were lost over the past almost 175 years. It also includes a short history of the Cunard Line and a list of all ships that were lost. There are detailed histories of the 18 lost ships, including building details and the events leading to each ship's loss. Less detailed accounts are given of more than 50 other losses as well. One of the authors, Sam Warwick, has the Cunard Line literally in his blood. His Grandfather was the first master of the Queen Elizabeth II and his father was also a master of this famous ship as well as the first master of the Queen Mary II.
The lost ships covered in detail include the Scotia (lost in Guam 1904), Campania (Scotland 1918), Carpathia (North Atlantic 1918), Lusitania (Ireland 1915) and the Lancastria (France 1940).
Many of these wrecks are within recreational diving depths, although some are tech diving (and extreme tech diving at that). The depths range from 5 metres to 158 metres, with an average of 52 metres and a median of 33 metres. There are 12 wrecks in water shallower than 40 metres, so most of them are potentially accessible to the majority of experienced divers.
One of the most interesting wrecks is the SS Oregon, a single screw steamship built in 1883. She was 153 metres long, displacing almost 7,400 tons. She sank 24 kilometres off the coast of Long Island, New York, in 1886 after a collision with a much smaller vessel. All 845 persons on board were saved. Very minor salvage work was carried out soon after and in the late 1950s it was dived on scuba for the first time.
|A drawing of the SS Oregon from the book
Today the wreck lies at a maximum depth of 40 metres, with the shallowest part at 25 metres. The wreck is still in the shape of a ship, although the hull has collapsed in many places. It is regularly dived by divers from the New York area.
Another fascinating wreck is the SS Carpathia. The Carpathia, of course, was famous in 1912 when she picked up an SOS from the RMS Titanic. She speed to the scene and rescued 705 passengers from the freezing water. In 1918 when crossing the Atlantic, she was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The Carpathia sank well out into the ocean.
In 2000 the wreck was found and in 2001 it was dived for the first time. The wreck is located at a depth of 158 metres, so this is a dive only for the most experienced of technical divers. It has been dived a few times since then and is relatively intact.
All of the covered ships have had very interesting careers. Even the shallowest and most damaged of the shipwrecks would be great to dive on. Unfortunately, all but two are nowhere near Australia. The two closest to us are in Guam, a place I dived in 2011 without even knowing these wrecks were there (we dived two other historic wrecks).
The book is extremely well researched and written, with plenty of photos of the ships in their heyday. In many cases there are photos/paintings of the sinking of the ship and all have photos of the wrecks as they appear now.
I recommend the book to any keen ship enthusiast. Amazon US has it for $27 plus delivery.
Shipwrecks of the Cunard Line by Sam Warwick and Mike Roussel
Published by The History Press
ISBN 978 0 7524 6578 4