First World War German shipwreck is uncovered by storms at a Cornish beach


The ghostly remains of a First World War German shipwreck that ran aground in Cornwall more than a century ago are revealed at low tide after storms batter the coast.

The sailing vessel, called the SV Carl, was being towed by the Royal Navy to be broken up for scrap when it got stuck on a reef in 1917.

It was buried under the sand at Booby’s Bay in Padstow more than a century ago but over heavy storms over Christmas removed enough sand to expose metal ribs from its 60ft steel hull.

When it is exposed it is only visible at low tide ‘for an hour or so’ before the sand comes back and covers it over again. 


The SV Carl was a three masted ship, with one of the masts now clearly exposed and still mostly in tact. Timbers are also visible during storms buried in tidal pools.

It was built in Cumbria in 1893 and registered in Hamburg but was impounded in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War.

This was due to the fact it was a German registered ship in Cardiff docks.

There has even been speculation that that the ship was suspected of being an enemy minelayer before it was impounded.

During a ‘fierce storm’ on October 7th, 1917 the ship broke free whilst being towed to London to be broken up for scrap.

When the Carl was declared a loss after breaking up on the rocks, the majority of the ship that could be easily taken away was salvaged.

However, it wasn’t long before the remains of the hull were covered in sand, hiding the majority of the wreck for most of the year.

Locals say it is often exposed in winter as the sand is washed away by storms, but the ship is quickly covered over again as the sand returns – sometimes within hours.

These photos of the steel structure were captured when it became exposed before Christmas 2019 during a storm.  

In 2014 a major storm saw three foot of sand removed from the beach, exposing more of the wreck than usual.

Locals say they see parts of it exposed during storms every year, but the amount exposed has been increased since 2014.

In a letter sent to the Padstow Echo in 1966, Lieutenant Commander Langford of the Royal Navy, recalled his mother’s eyewitness account of the SV Carl coming aground at Booby’s Bay and the tugs that tried to refloat her.

‘The Carl went aground on the outer reef. Two Admiralty tugs came from Devonport to try to refloat her’, Lieutenant Langford wrote in his letter.

‘They got her off the reef, but as soon as they had done so, the towing hawser on each tug parted, Carl went ahead out of control and grounded on the inner reef.

‘She was there examined by salvage experts*who found no damage whatever to the hull. The Admiralty tugs therefore had another try to tow her off, but once more both ship’s towing harnesses parted.

‘Carl broke her back and became a total loss. But for the unusual misfortune of both towing hawsers parting on two successive attempts Carl would in all probability have been salvaged.’

With a coastline stretching around 250 miles, it is estimated that there have been over 6,000 ships wrecked off the Cornish coast. 


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