By Capt. Dan Berg
Photos: Cristobal Colon
courtesy SSHS. Wreck of the Colon photo Mike Davis Collection.
Silverware from the Colon wreck courtesy Teddy Tucker.
Propeller photo by Mike Burke.
The Spanish luxury liner, Cristobal Colon, was built for the
Tras Atlantica Spanish Line by Soc Espanola de Const. Naval, El
Ferrol in 1923. She was 499.4 feet long, had a 61 foot beam,
displaced10,833 gross tons and was one of the most luxurious cruise
ships of her time.
On October 25, 1936, the Cristobal Colon, under the command
of Captain Crescencia Narvarro Delgado, ran high on a reef while
steaming at 15 knots east of North Rock, eight miles north of
Bermuda. At the time, she was travelling in ballast with no
passengers, but with 160 crewmembers, from Cardiff, Wales, to Vera
Cruz, Mexico. Captain Crescencia Narvarro testified later that he
came close to Bermuda to check his instruments by lights. According
to the New York Times, "He sighted a fixed light, which he believed
to be St. David's, and later a close blinking light, which he
believed to be the North Rock Beacon. He altered his course and said
the wreck was caused because North Rock was not lighted, which fact
the authorities here advertised months ago. "North Rock Light had
been out since October 18th,repairs being prevented by bad weather.
Divers working on a
porthole. Photo by Mike DeCamp
This vessel had a very interesting history in the weeks prior to her
destruction on Bermuda's reefs. It seems that this Spanish ship was
originally en route from Mexico to Vigo, Spain, with 344 passengers
aboard. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, she was not permitted
into port because Vigo was under control of the rebels. Her
passengers were not permitted to landat Southampton, England,
either, and she was ordered to France. French authorities would not
permit the landing of Spaniards, so the Cristobal Colon
anchored in St. Nazaire awaiting further orders. On August 15th, a
leftist crew took command of the ship. Some passengers were
permitted to disembark at Nates, France, before the Colon
sailed for the Spanish harbor, Santander. There are many who believe
that the Cristobal Colon was steaming to Mexico to pick up
arms for Spain's war effort.
The crew from the wrecked cruise ship found bad luck waiting for
them ashore as well. It seems that Bermudians disliked them because
they could not understand them. The Government also feared that
Bermuda would have to pay for their food and housing. The Spanish
Government ignored Bermuda's distressed communications about the
crew. Mexico refused to take any responsibility for their welfare as
did Cuba and France. Bermuda's government, realizing that the
un-welcome guests would be with them for a while, put the men to
work. They repaired Barry Road and restored Gates Fort. Finally on
Christmas Eve, the Spaniards boarded the Reina del Pacifico for La
Pallice, France, where they then boarded a train for their homeland.
Some sources claim that they were all executed upon their return by
the Franco government.
The wreck of the Cristobal Colon sat high on the reef only
eight miles from Dockyard for some time. This allowed for the easy
salvage of some of her fine furniture, paintings and fittings. In
fact, many homes in Bermuda are still adorned with items from the
wreck. Many of these articles were bought at public auction, while
others were taken in the age old Bermudian custom of piracy. Each
night motor boats filled with loot from the luxurious ship would
return to the island under cover of darkness. Literally hundreds of
Bermudians took part in this modern day piracy; only 13 were ever
caught, and of those twelve were convicted.
In 1937, Captain Stephensen of the Norwegian steamer, Iristo,
seeing the Cristobal Colon, which appeared to be a perfectly
sound ship under way in a channel, made the tragic mistake of
following her. The Iristo soon found her hull being ripped open by
the shallow reefs. After this incident, the Marine Court of Inquiry
had the Colon's funnel and mast removed in hopes that the
slightly disfigured wreck would not lure any other vessels into the
In the early 1940's the Cristobal Colon was used as a target
by the American Air Force for bombing practice, so she is now
completely blown apart and scattered over a huge area.
Today the Cristobal Colon, the largest shipwreck in Bermuda,
lies split in two with half of her wreck on one side of the reef and
half on the other. Divers can still see an unexploded artillery
shell on the wreck. Her eight massive coal burning boilers, two
spare propellers and deck winches are easily recognizable. Depth at
this site ranges from 15 feet in the bow to 60 feet in the stern; a
depth of 80 feet can be reached in the sand off her stern.
The information listed
above was taken with permission from the Book:
BERMUDA SHIPWRECKS, ISBN # 0-9616167-4-1
A Vacationing Divers Guide to Bermudas Shipwrecks,
by Dan and Denise Berg, 6x9 softcover,73 pages.
Now also Available as
an instant download printable PDF eBook
BERMUDA SHIPWRECKS ebook
A Vacationing Divers Guide to Bermudas Shipwrecks
4.5 MB instant download, printable PDF file
by Dan and Denise Berg, 6x9, 73 page
From the first quarter of the 16th century,
Bermuda became a landmark for
Spanish ships sailing back to Spain from the New World. The desire to sight
Bermuda to confirm their position often ended their voyage as they wrecked
on Bermuda's outer reefs. To this day Bermuda's treacherous reefs have taken
their toll on shipping. The reefs have claimed vessels ranging from ocean
lines to small fishing boats. Bermuda Shipwrecks is the most comprehensive,
accurate, illustrated collection of information, photographs, sketches and
stories ever written about the legendary wrecks around Bermuda. Bermuda
Shipwrecks includes over 100 illustrations comprised of 61 sensational color
photos, 17 rare b&w historical images, 19 stamps, 4 sketches plus one
map. Bermuda Shipwrecks contains a wealth of enlightening information that
gives the readers a nostalgic glimpse into the history and present condition
of over 55 of Bermuda's most popular Shipwrecks.
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