Investigator Strait, the stretch of water that lies between southern Yorke Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, was named by Captain Matthew Flinders on 27 March 1802 in honour of his ship HMS Investigator.

Investigator Strait formed the major channel for access to Port Adelaide by ships arriving from Europe, and the use of this seaway came at a cost. Between 1849 and 1982, a total of 26 vessels are known to have been wrecked in the waters of Investigator Strait with the loss of more than 70 lives. A number of these shipwrecks still await discovery.

The Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail was established to showcase some of the more prominent shipwrecks in this area. The shipwrecks highlighted in the Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail were selected for the strange and tragic circumstances surrounding their loss, their historical significance, and because they provide an enjoyable underwater experience for both beginner and advanced divers.

The steamship Clan Ranald forms part of this trail and is the only ‘turret ship’ to have been lost in Australian waters. All of the wrecks in the trail are declared historic shipwrecks, which means they are protected under historic shipwreck legislation.

Download a bookletof the trail for more information.

SS Clan Ranald (1900-1909)

Clan Ranald

Location: About 1km south of Troubridge Point, Yorke Peninsula (-35.166334°S 137.62221°E)

Vessel type: schooner-rigged screw steamer

Clan Ranald was built in Sunderland, England, in 1900, as a ‘turret deck ship’. Turret deck ships were merchant vessels with unusual hull designs, being rounded and stepped inwards above their waterlines.

While loading cargo and emptying water ballast tanks at Port Adelaide, the vessel developed stability problems. Although the problem was supposedly rectified, Clan Ranald departed Port Adelaide for South Africa on 31 January 1909 with a 4-degree list to starboard. On board were Captain Arthur Gladstone and a predominantly Lascar crew.

When the vessel was south of Troubridge Island it suddenly lurched onto its starboard side at a 45-degree angle. Eight hours later, at 10pm, the vessel capsized and sank about 700m from the rocky cliffs, and the vortex dragged many of the crew underwater and they were drowned. Of the 64 crew aboard, 40 perished. An inquiry investigating the sinking of Clan Ranald did not reach a satisfactory conclusion regarding the cause of its loss.

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Ethel (1876-1904)

Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail

Location: Ethel Wreck Beach, Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula (-35.268986°S 136.84514°E)

Vessel type: 3-masted iron barque

Ethel was built in Sunderland, England, in 1876. Originally named Carmelo, it was renamed Ethel in 1892. On 2 January 1904 Ethel was inbound from South Africa to Port Adelaide when poor visibility during a gale caused the master, Captain Bogwald, to misjudge his position. The vessel struck a reef near Cape Spencer (Yorke Peninsula), damaging the rudder and causing it to drive aground broadside-on to a small beach northwest of Reef Head. One crew member drowned during the night after attempting to swim a line ashore in the heavy surf. An ebbing tide at daylight allowed the crew to jump ashore.

Ethel was successfully towed off the following May by the tug Euro but was driven ashore again on the same beach when the lines parted in a sudden south-westerly. With the keel broken, the vessel was abandoned.

Today, the vessel lies in the intertidal zone and shifting sands periodically cover the wreck. The wreck can be accessed without needing to dive, although you can help preserve the wreck by not climbing on the remains.

Download the fact sheetfor more information.

SS Ferret (1871-1920)

Ferret Boiler

Location: Ethel Wreck Beach, Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula (-35.269677°S 136.845343°E)

Vessel type: iron-hulled schooner-rigged screw steamer

Ferret was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1871. On the afternoon of 13 November 1920 S.S. Ferret left Port Adelaide for Port Victoria with a cargo of various sundries. At about 3am the following morning Ferret was enveloped by dense fog as it neared Althorpe Island. The vessel altered course to pass south and west of the island.

In the belief that they had passed clear of both the island and Cape Spencer, the crew altered course northeast. At 5.35am Ferret ran ashore on a small beach near Reef Head on the west coast of Yorke Peninsula. One boat capsized during an attempt to attach a line to the remains of the barque Ethel, about 200 m away, but they eventually succeeded and all 22 crew members made it safely ashore.

Today, the remains are badly broken and mostly buried in beach sand. The boiler is the most prominent feature and a section of the bow is often visible in the waves at low tide.

Hougomont (1897-1933)

Hougomont 365

Location: -35.281338°S 136.944722°E

Vessel type: 4-masted barque

Hougomont was built in 1897 by Scott Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Greenock, Scotland for J. Hardie and Co. of Glasgow.

On 21 April 1932 the Hougemont was 111 days into a voyage from London to Port Lincoln when, southwest of Kangaroo Island, a gale struck with winds of 100 km/h. The force of the gale snapped the main mast at deck level, and the mast toppled heavily to the deck with four crewmen who were aloft at the time. They survived – shaken but not hurt. Despite offers of assistance from other vessels, the vessel limped into Semaphore 18 days later.

The vessel was so badly damaged that the decision was taken to scuttle it. Hougomont was towed to Stenhouse Bay on 8 January 1933 and scuttled on the western side of the jetty to provide a breakwater for vessels loading gypsum at the jetty.

Today the full length of the hull of the Hougomont lies on the seabed at Stenhouse Bay, at a depth of about 9m. The bow and stern sections stand upright, although the majority of the vessel has collapsed.

Download the fact sheetfor more information.

SS Marion (1854-1862)

Marion SS

Location: Cable Hut Bay, Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, Yorke Peninsula (-35.287452°S 136.918051°E)

Vessel type: iron-hulled screw steamer

SS Marion was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1854. The vessel, carrying general cargo, 35 passengers and 15 crew, left Port Adelaide on Thursday 10 July 1862 bound for Wallaroo. After an uneventful passage through Troubridge Shoal, they steered a course to Althorpe Island. But after sighting the island, a fog seriously reduced visibility. Continuing on the same course but at a reduced speed, the rudder was put hard over just as breakers could be heard. The engines were put full astern, but too late. The ocean swells lifted the vessel onto a reef close to shore. Soon, a storm battered the ship into a total wreck.

Today, the remains are scattered, with the wreck lying in two sections. The forward part is scattered on shallow reef at the base of cliffs. The remaining portion is lying down a small drop-off and on a sandy bottom at the base of the reef.

SS Pareora (1896-1919)

Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail

Location: Althorpe Island, northern side (-35.362455°S 136.857775°E)

Vessel type: steel-hulled screw steamer

SS Pareora was built in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, in 1896. Pareora left Port Pirie for Hobart on 16 September 1919 with a 672-tonne cargo of zinc. At 4am on 18 September the Pareora, in heavy seas, struck rocks to the north of Althorpe Island near The Monument rock. The tremendous power of the waves quickly broke the vessel, shearing off the stern section. Unable to release the lifeboats, the crew either jumped or were washed overboard. Of the 18 members of the crew, 11 drowned, including Captain J.C. Macfarlane.

Today, a large proportion of the wreck, including a boiler, steel frames and hull plating, as well as the engine, can be found lying in a gully between two reefs. The remains of the bow structures and machinery lie in an adjacent gully about 30m to the east, and include an anchor, hawse pipes and windlass.

SS Willyama (1897-1907)

Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail

Location: Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula, 300 m from Pelican Point (-35.251902°S 136.978184°E)

Vessel type: iron-hulled, schooner-rigged screw steamer

SS Willyama was built in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in 1897. On 13 April 1907 Willyama was en-route from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Port Pirie, South Australia, with a cargo of coal. The events leading to the loss of the vessel off Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula, are confusing and witness statements are inconsistent. The master had been below but when he came on deck he recognised they were dangerously close to Rhino Head, and ordered the vessel to turn to port. However, during the turn, the vessel struck bottom and held fast.

Today, the wreck lies in about 5m of water about 160m offshore. Some of the most interesting parts of the wreck are the sternpost and steering quadrant, which are visible above the water surface, and the inspection tunnel for the propeller shaft, which extends 20m from the stern to the area where the boilers are situated.

MV Yatala Reef (1897-1907)

Yatala Reef

Location: Port Moorowie, Yorke Peninsula (-35.117171°S 137.491102°E)

Vessel type: wooden, cutter-rigged motor vessel

Yatala Reef was built for the RAAF in Melbourne in 1948. It was originally named Challenge, and built to service coastal landing strips in Papua New Guinea.

On the evening of 21 December 1981 Yatala Reef was moored off Port Moorowie. It was on a voyage from Port Pirie to Port Adelaide to undergo repairs to its refrigeration system. A fire started in the engine room and despite the efforts of the four crew, it could not be controlled. Shortly after the crew abandoned the trawler, strong winds drove the flames forward and three explosions were heard.

Today, the wreck lies in about 11m of water about 800m offshore. Most of the hull has collapsed, but the wreck is home to abundant fish life.

Young St George (1856-1878)

Young St George

Location: Vicinity of Althorpe Island (-35.365361°S 136.863894°E)

*This vessel has not yet been found and the coordinates shown are approximate only based on interpretation of historical documents. The actual position may differ.

Vessel type: two-masted wooden schooner

Young St George was built in 1856 at Hobsons Bay in Melbourne on the deck of a larger ship called St George. The vessel was engaged in servicing the construction of the new lighthouse on Althorpe Island. The vessel was on its mooring on the evening of 3 January 1878. At first, there was a relatively light wind blowing from the southeast. However, before 12pm it increased to gale-force from the same direction. The cutter parted its moorings and drifted onto rocks to the west of the anchorage. The boat was immediately hauled up and, with, difficulty, reached the landing. The following morning, all moveable gear was removed from the vessel, but it was left to lay on the rocks a complete wreck.

The final resting place of Young St George has not yet been located.

Welling (?-1892)

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Location: Vicinity of Althorpe Islands (-35.369531°S 136.876394°E)

*This vessel has not yet been found and the coordinates shown are approximate only based on interpretation of historical documents. The actual position may differ.

Vessel type: wooden fishing cutter

Nothing is known of the construction of Welling. On 19 July 1892, while taking in a catch off Althorpe island, the weather worsened so the crew decided to take shelter in one of the small bays of the island. The following day during a squall, the anchors parted and it went on to rocks near the Althorpe Island lighthouse. Two men made shore, while a third drifted off with the vessel and was rescued 2 miles offshore with the assistance of a party of sealers on the island. The cutter was abandoned and was lasted seen floating toward Spencer Gulf, and presumed to have foundered.

The final resting place of Welling has not yet been located.

Rapid (1920-1937)

Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail

Location: Althorpe Island (-35.362586°S 136.86667°E)

*This vessel has not yet been found and the coordinates shown are approximate only based on interpretation of historical documents. The actual position may differ.

Vessel type: wooden fishing cutter

Rapid was built in Birkenhead, Port Adelaide, in 1920. On the evening of 18 September 1937 Rapid was anchored at Althorpe Island (in company with two Port Adelaide cutters: Sunbeam and Philvina). At about 3am the following morning the anchor chain snapped and Rapid was driven onto the rocks. Two of the three crew got safely ashore, but one was missing presumed drowned.

The final resting place of Rapid has not yet been located.

Altair (1943-1971)

Investigator Strait Shipwreck Trail

Location: Althorpe Island, Investigator Strait, South Australia, northwest corner of the island (-35.365364°S 136.862496°E)

Vessel type: wooden motor fishing vessel

Altair was built by J.J. Savage in Queenscliffe, Victoria, in 1943. Little is known of the circumstances of the loss of Altair, other than it ran aground at Althorpe island in 1971.

Mylor Star (1978-1982)

Mylor Star

Location: Althorpe Island, off the southwest corner (-35.379808°S 136.858337°E)

Vessel type: steel-hulled, motor fishing vessel

Little is known of the early history of the vessel. On 9 June 1982, while shark fishing off the south-western tip of Althorpe Island, the vessel was caught in a storm. The skipper, John Stewart, and crew, Darren Godfrey, lifted the anchor to move to the sheltered side of the island, however, the reverse gear failed. While the skipper was below checking the gears, the vessel crashed onto the rocks. The two men managed to get ashore as the vessel broke up.

Today, the wreck lies in about 12-15m of water. It is reported to be in a poor state of preservation, with only half the hull visible, having apparently been ‘sheared’ longitudinally.