Wrecks of Poole Harbour

The wreck on Redhorn Quay, Poole Harbour

In a recent post, I promised more of Poole Harbour but it is such a vast subject that I thought I would break it up a bit……the post, not the harbour 😉 ! For this post, I thought I would concentrate on Poole Harbour wrecks – or to be more accurate, boats that have become derelict because some are probably not technically wrecks!

The remains of the boat above stand on Redhorn Quay where there was once a jetty, mainly used by boats crossing to the nearby Brownsea Island when its pottery industry was operating in the 19th century. This wreck was in fact a converted ship’s lifeboat – at the end of WW2 there was a huge surplus of lifeboats and many were bought up and converted for other uses. This one was a ‘lead lifeboat’. Apparently if you dig in the gravel, you will find evidence of a prop shaft indicating that it once had an engine. It seems that only the lead lifeboats had engines, the others were towed by the lead boats.

Harmony or disharmony?
The End! – On Redhorn Quay, the wreck remains disappearing fast

There are two stories behind this ‘wreck’ and no-one knows which is correct. One says that the boat beached itself there in the storms of 1987. The other more recent story suggests that the boat was bought by a consortium of local fishermen at the end of WW2 who at great expense tried to make the vessel watertight for use as a club fishing boat but without success. There is a lot of fibreglass inside the hull which gives credence to that story. It seems that all their attempts failed and the boat has remained there ever since, rotting away. In fact, I have watched it gradually disappearing over many years – the pictures above were taken some while ago and there is even less of the vessel remaining now.

What caught my eye at the time was the wonderful colour of the rusting hulk against the blue of the sky in the first picture, and of course the clouds 🙂 ! It was the juxtaposition of rusting hulk and beautiful sunset in the second picture.

Just a short distance along from this wreck, in Brands Bay, is another with even less to photograph. This is the scant remains of a pre-WW2 Seaplane Lighter. These flat topped vessels were originally built as a ‘dry dock’ for seaplanes which would be hoisted on board by flooding the rear tanks to lower the stern to sea level. These Lighters could be towed at considerable speed and it was realised that in fact planes such as Sopwith Camels could be launched directly from them and so they became known as the ‘worlds oldest aircraft carriers’. There was so little left of this wreck that I did not even take a picture of it!

Seen Better Days
The old lifeboat entrapped by reeds in Holes Bay
PH294 – a Plymouth registered vessel beached in Poole Harbour and loved by locals

The wreck above lies along the western shore of Holes Bay. It is another converted life boat and the story goes that it was from an American ship although I haven’t been able to confirm that. What we do know is that it was again used for a time as a fishing boat. The registration number on this one is PH294 which my research tells me was a Plymouth based registration. I have no idea how it came to be in Poole Harbour but, as with the previous wreck, it has gradually deteriorated and reeds have also completely entrapped it.

There is an interesting story around this one, in that a few years ago, scrap metal breakers turned up to dismantle and remove the remains but there was such an outcry by local residents that they ended up leaving it where it was. It seems that local people love their ‘wreck’ and kids love to play in it 🙂 ! Well, it has been there for over 35 years!

Bramble Bush houseboats
Houseboats in Bramblebush Bay
House Boat
Will the sun set on these houseboats soon?

The vessels above are not technically wrecks at all because despite the state of them, they are still used! They are house boats that are resident in Bramblebush Bay, on the southern harbour shore. These two are ‘permanent’, mainly because they now rest on concrete bases, having rotted away quite badly so that they could no longer float. They both lean at crazy angles although I gather the internal decks have been levelled. I believe the reason these are kept despite their semi-dereliction is because if they were removed, permission would not be granted to replace them so they are being held together with string and glue to keep them going.

These two are not only occupied in summer but they are also joined by several other floating houseboats so there can be seven or eight in Bramblebush Bay during the summer months.

The Holes Bay wreck
Scant remains of ‘Plymouth’, an old tug boat

The wreck above also lies in Holes Bay but on the other shoreline to the earlier one. This is apparently an old tug boat named Southampton that I was told broke its moorings and beached there, only to be left to rot away. As you can see, there is little left of it now although it still makes a good resting place for gulls and cormorants.

Seen better days!
Lost in the mud!
Seen Better Days
Seen better days!
the other side of the coast!
Rotting and lichen covered

Of course, there are numerous small boats that lie rotting in the reeds and on the mudflats and these always make interesting photographs. It is difficult to establish any historic records for these but, in any event, in many ways it is best left to the imagination where they came from and who used them. Their remains are perhaps a sign of the changing face of the industry of the harbour. Some remain still tethered to their moorings like packhorse animals that have died and been abandoned. They might have ended their useful life, but their legacy lives on as they enrich the lives of strange photographers such as me 🙂 !

Urban Landscape with Seagulls
Lost in the reeds with the ‘tamed’ shoreline beyond

Above is another rotting row boat hull that rests in the reeds along the shore of Holes Bay but this time I have included as a backdrop the more civilised part of the harbour shoreline. This is a harbour of contrasts, part wild, open and occupied by nature, and part heavily populated by people, a very definite north/south divide…….but more of that in a future post.

When you see these rotting hulks, your imagination conjures up all sorts of fanciful stories about where they might have come from – was it from a warship that sank off shore during the war, was it abandoned after the crew were rescued, maybe it was damaged in the Dunkirk evacuation etc etc? If they could speak, would they have an epic story to tell? The truth is usually much more mundane though as many were probably just no longer needed and so were abandoned to be reclaimed by the elements 🙂 !

On another point – maybe I’m just a bit odd, but why are these hulks so appealing and photogenic? Would it be the same if it was an old car dumped on the grass verge beside a quiet country lane? I suspect not 🙂 ! There is just something about a rotting hulk along the shoreline!

My thanks must go to Tom Cousins, Researcher in Maritime Archaeology at Bournemouth University who several years ago carried out a survey of all the wrecks in Poole Harbour, both those on the surface and those under the sea. They are all monitored on an ongoing basis, especially after storms, to make sure than none move and become a danger to shipping.

The wrecks featured in this post are just a very small sample of those in Poole Harbour that appear on Tom’s map which shows around 100 derelict and decaying vessels of various shapes and sizes. With most, the remains are scant and many are in any event unreachable without a boat and diving equipment so they are certainly beyond my reach, but hopefully the ones featured here at least give a flavour of this historic harbour and its amazing heritage.

Of course, there have been older and more famous finds in this harbour such as the Iron Age longboat discovered by accident in the 1960’s and the 17th century Dutch vessel discovered just outside the harbour entrance. It is known that this harbour has been used by shipping for thousands of years so who knows what other secrets lie in the deep mud. Time may yet reveal some of those secrets.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler

If you would like to contact me, my email address is terry.yarrow@gmail.com – comments and feedback are always welcomed.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.



    1. Thanks Lynette. Yes, I love them and feel quite sad to see some, like the Redhorn Quay wreck, gradually disappearing. It was such a great photographic subject and had a story to tell.

  1. The metal wreck at red horn has been there since the end of the war. In the 1960s it was lived in during the summer months until the chap was forced to move on by the authorities and the rising tides. I believe he fished and launched a boat from the reeds, the remnants of his tether post remain on the bramble bush side of the headland. Further into brandsbay, not associated with the quay are megalithic lumps of granite from wales, you can only see them a few times a year, scrub away the seaweed and silt and they glisten brightly. I was told by an old chap who kept his boat there that they formed a slipway for the monks of brownsea island. The area with its prehistoric bowls in the headland clearly has a much more ancient history than is documented.

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