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the Sharpness Canal


Wreck of SS Argentina

Ships approaching Sharpness had to turn round to stem the last of the flood tide before swinging into the entrance at high water. This page describes one occasion when this operation was not successful.

SS Argentina AgroundSteamer Aground off Sharpness
     There was much excitement at Sharpness on the 27th Dec 1936 when it was seen that the steamer Argentina had gone aground off the North Pier. She had come up the river, assisted by two Bristol tugs, carrying almost 7000 tons of maize and wheat from Rosario, near Buenos Aries. While making the usual turn to head into the last of the flood tide, the bow tow rope parted and the strong tide pushed her back on to rocks. On the following morning, an attempt was made to tow her off using seven tugs from Bristol - Islegarth, Plumgarth, Reagarth, Corgarth, West Winch, Bristolian and Merrimac. The Sharpness tug Resolute was also in attendance (far left in picture). Unfortunately this mammoth effort was not successful, and realising that the vessel had sustained considerable damage, the master who was also the owner, abandoned her to the insurers as a constructive loss.

Return of a Familiar Sight
     The Argentina was well known to Sharpness folk as she had spent five years laid up in the dock when formerly called Dundrennan. She had arrived with a cargo of grain in December 1929, and with no prospect of further work due to the depression, she was tied up on the west side of the dock near the Low Level Bridge. She was there so long that local people called her the Dunrunnin because they thought she'd never run any more. One incident that broke the idleness was a fire in the paint and oil store, but this was soon extinguished by the Dock Company’s fire brigade. Eventually she was bought by a Greek owner and left Sharpness, but now she was back again - and aground.

Discharging the Cargo
     The only hope of moving the ship was to discharge some of the cargo. However, it was not possible to get barges close alongside for any length of time due to the jagged rocks around the ship. So men were brought across from the Princess Royal colliery in the Forest of Dean to blow up the rocks at low tide, and others broke up the stone and levelled it to form a platform on which barges could lie alongside while the tide was out. This allowed some of the cargo to be off loaded into barges and taken into Sharpness. Meanwhile, large baulks of timber were buried in the foreshore with ropes attached that were run out to the ship to secure her in case she floated on a high tide.

Recovering the Ship
     When about half of the cargo had been discharged, tugs made another attempt to pull the ship off the rocks on the 10th February, and this time they were successful. The Argentina was towed into Sharpness dock and the remainder of her cargo was discharged. However, inspection of her hull showed that it was too badly damaged to be worth repairing, and so she was towed to Cashmore’s at Newport to be broken up.

Sources: Memories of Jack Evans; TNA RAIL 864/34, 56, 57.

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