An Unfortunate End for the ‘Prince Ivanhoe’
The ‘Prince Ivanhoe’, owned by the Firth of Clyde Steam Packet Company and operated by Waverley Excursions, was a converted Isle of Wight ferry formerly named ‘Shanklin’ which, in May 1981, had commenced passenger sailings in the Bristol Channel on the routes previously operated by P & A Campbell’s fondly-remembered White Funnel paddle steamers. However, on the 3rd August of that year, after calling at Penarth, Barry and Minehead, the ‘Prince Ivanhoe’ arrived at Mumbles Pier to begin an afternoon cruise along the Gower Peninsula – a cruise that would prove to be the vessel’s very last voyage. At mid-afternoon, with over 400 passengers on board, the ‘Prince Ivanhoe’ struck a submerged reef off Port Eynon Point, causing such significant damage that, for the safety of all on board, the vessel had to run for shore to be beached at Horton.
Air-Sea Rescue helicopters, lifeboats and local pleasure craft all took part in the rescue of passengers and crew, and all were landed safely ashore, although two passengers collapsed with suspected heart attacks, one of whom sadly died. The abandoned vessel was eventually broken apart by the the subsequent winter storms, and the remains of the wreck were finally removed from the bay by a salvage company from Falmouth in 1984. An on-board account of the final voyage of the ‘Prince Ivanhoe’ has been kindly sent to us by Henryk Jarzebek, who was aboard the stricken vessel with his wife and daughter on that fateful day, and this can be seen below.
Eye witness account of the sinking
On board the Prince Ivanhoe
On that day, 3rd August 1981, I had borrowed my father's car and taken my then heavily pregnant wife and our 4 year old daughter for a drive down to the Gower, it was our 9th wedding anniversary and we were somewhat miserable as I was due to return to my job in Saudi Arabia a couple of days later. Driving along the Mumbles Road we saw the Prince Ivanhoe approaching Mumbles pier and thought it might be nice to see what trip it was doing. We went to Mumbles pier and discovered the ship was doing a 'shorty' trip down around the Gower and back. We decided to take the tour and save me driving and thought our daughter might enjoy the unusual trip.
As we proceeded down the bays it was getting decidely chilly so we eventually went down below to a bar where we could get some warm drinks. It was while sitting in the bar that we felt the ship lurch over quite strongly with the distinct sound of scraping being heard. Within a very short while the engines had shut down and the way had come off the ship. My wife asked what had happened and as I have had an interest in shipping for years and spent a short while with Texaco Overseas Tankers I said that we had probably struck some underwater object and seeing as the engines were now stopped I suggested that we move up to main deck... just as a precaution. I had completed the SOLAS life raft launching and boarding course with Texaco and it was the instuction giving there that I found very helpful from this point on. Many other passengers were gathering on the main deck. There were no announcements at this time. I looked over the side of the ship and could see the unmistakable sight of oil floating up from beneath the ship leaving its rainbow patterned marks on the water.
As I turned to tell my wife that oil was leaking from the fuel tanks I saw an engineer come out of the engine room, wearing white overalls... except his were black and wet from his mid chest down to his feet. I pointed this out to my wife and could obviously see a look of concern appear on her face. It was clear to me that whatever we had hit had cut through the hull, through the fuel tanks and into the engine room and that the ship was now in serious trouble. I told my wife and daughter to stay by the rail and I crossed to a locker (below the funnel as I recall) which was marked " life jackets" as I thought it prudent to be ready for a worse case situation. As I approached the door there was a sudden rush of passengers and they jammed me against the door which I could not then open. Quite a bit of panic set in quickly. A few seconds later an announcement was made that evacuation was necessary, that calls had been made to rescue services and for everyone to please remain calm. It was with some difficulty that I managed to push back the crush of passengers, together with a crew member who had arrived and we distributed jackets. Naturally I had held on to jackets for my wife and daughter.
Everything then seemed to take a comic turn for me.
At that time the Coastguard used to show a cartoon TV advert in which a yachtsman was offshore, in trouble because his yacht was disabled and he was shouting for help. On a cliff top, a rather portly woman was looking at him through binoculars and thinking that his waving arms were a sign of friendly calling she was waving back and shouting 'coooooeeeeee' not thinking at all that he wanted her to call the coastguard. Well that scenario was almost repeated on this day. The Coastguard cartoon instantly came to mind! There were all the all the passengers donning life jackets and gathering for abandon ship while a lot of people on pleasure boats around the bay were looking on and giving friendly waves! It was only when the helicopters started arriving that people seemed to realise that this was no exercise. Pleasure boats started to come closer but soon after a shuddering could be felt as an engine was started.
It was then that we were told that the ship was being run on to the beach. We seemed to get up to best speed and people were asked to brace themselves but on the gently shoaling beach I felt very little as we went aground. The crew started lowering the boats and I guided my wife down to the area where side doors on the ship gave access to the boats. I helped my wife and daughter into a boat and suddenly I found myself holding a line of another boat as it came alongside to help evacuate people. I ended up standing on the rubbing strake of the ship for quite some time, holding lines of boats while they loaded as my wife and daughter were taken to the beach.
Eventually, when I got ashore, I found my wife and daughter and together we made our way up the beach, to be called over by a woman who directed us to what I recall as being a local hotel. We were taken in and every kindness was shown, particularly toward my pregnant wife and my daughter. We were provided with towels and hot drinks and ushered in to a room to keep warm. I do remember being interviewed by a reporter, from the Western Mail if I recall, and I've got a copy of the following day’s issue somewhere.
After what seemed like many hours, but was not too long at all, buses started arriving from the city and we were ferried through the lanes of the Gower back to the Mumbles. We got in the car and drove to my sister-in-law’s house in Western St. Swansea where on arrival she rushed us in to the house to see the TV ‘because a ship was sinking off the Gower’. It was only when she was told to feel our damp clothes and wet shoes that she believed that we had been on that ship. My wife's sister managed to locate some clothes for my wife and daughter to change into and we then made our way home to Port Talbot. As we walked into my parents' house my father came storming down the passage yelling 'where the bloody hell have you been with my car?' It took a while to get him to calm down and I feel he refused to believe our tale.. until we showed him the newspaper the following day with my comments reported in it! What a day that was!
Many thanks to the author, Henryk Jarzebek
Another family, walking along along the shore that day were Terry and Sheila Monico and their children Stephen, Karen and Ian. Many thanks to them for the their photos shown below, recording the events as they happened: