On 31st January 2008 a container ferry ran aground on the beach at Anchorsholme near Cleveleys. On the morning of 1 February, the people of Cleveleys, Anchorsholme and Blackpool awoke to find that they had a new attraction on their beach – the Riverdance Shipwreck.
It was the latest in a long line of ships to have wrecked over the centuries on the Fylde Coast. The ferry sat there on the sands as the tide went out that day.
How the Riverdance Ferry ran aground
The Riverdance Ferry had set sail from Ireland on its route to Heysham. During an exceptional storm with winds that reached up to 80mph it was ‘broadsided’ by a huge wave. The wave made the cargo shift and the ferry list, and it started to run aground at Anchorsholme. That’s where northern Blackpool meets Cleveleys.
The RNLI, helicopter and rescue services were all mobilised into weather which they later described as some of the worst they’d ever seen.
During the course of the night everyone aboard including the crew and few passengers were taken off and to safety. By 4am the ferry had been evacuated and, amazingly for the conditions, with no loss of life. The ferry was to remain on the beach for months.
It was sited at about low water point, completely out of the water and surrounded by sand at low tide. As it was so big it was completely visible in the water when the tide came in. At this point it was at a slight angle, and all the trailers and freight on its top deck were clearly visible from shore.
Riverdance Shipwreck – a Tourist Attraction
The Riverdance shipwreck was an overnight tourist sensation, and that year Cleveleys had its busiest winter ever.
The disaster was all over the news and on TV, so people flocked from all over to see the spectacle of a ship on the beach. Roads around Cleveleys were instantly gridlocked and the streets around the promenade had to be closed as they were impassable. The promenade and side streets were solid with parked cars. The shops in the town centre did a roaring trade in the best winter season they’ve ever had.
It was estimated that 100,000 people flocked to Cleveleys and Blackpool between February and April 2008.
Jetsam* from the Riverdance Shipwreck
The bad weather continued for a while after Riverdance beached. The trailers on the back of the roll-on, roll-off ferry started to spill their contents into the sea and onto the beach.
*Jetsam being unwanted material or goods that have been thrown overboard from a ship and washed ashore. (Not that these were thrown overboard deliberately!)
The first thing that came off were McVities chocolate digestives. Soggy, salty packets of biscuits were found all over the shoreline, washed northwards of the ship.
Then came long planks of wood washed up on Rossall Beach, pieces of upholstery foam and mattresses. Then big blue barrels.
Disposable plastic cups followed in their hundreds. They scattered and blew everywhere because they were so light, even landing in the fields at Rossall School. Odd ones appeared for years afterwards.
It was quite fascinating waiting to see what would come next.
Local folklore had it that there were bottles of scotch whisky washed up along the beach. Maybe that was just a modern local legend in the making!
What to do with the Riverdance Shipwreck
Local engineers and ship salvage people were faced with the dilemma of what to do with the ferry and how to remove it from its new berth on our beach.
A team from Smith International started the process of righting the ship so that it could be towed away, which was expected to take place that February half term. Unfortunately, the rescue operation was hampered by sightseers attempting to get dangerously close to the wreck. Then there was more stormy weather which caused the trailers to fall off and the boat to shift position.
Good job the sightseers weren’t stood underneath when they did fall!
150 tonnes of fuel were on board the ferry when it landed, which was successfully drained off.
During the attempt to stabilise and right the ship so it could be floated away, the boat started to move and sink into the sand. This meant that it couldn’t be towed off the beach and had to be cut up on site. But first what was left of the cargo had to be removed.
Salvaging a Ship
The promenade was closed off at Princes Way and turned into a scrap yard while crews worked on dismantling the ferry. First, any remaining contents and the last of the fuel was removed, then painstakingly, the boat was cut up.
Rigs and cranes worked on the beach with the tides, often into the night. Lumps of ship were taken away on huge lorry after lorry.
The process of salvage went on for much longer than expected. The boat was reduced to beach level by October 2008.
Visitors and locals alike were interested in the demolition of Riverdance, from the beginning to the end of the process. Thousands of photos must have been taken during its stay at Cleveleys, these are just a few from the Visit Fylde Coast archive.
Riverdance Shipwreck Enquiry
Obviously Riverdance was the hot topic of discussion for some months after it wrecked. Thanks go to reader Jonathan who sent in the link to the full maritime report on the incident
He added “It’s some years since I read it and it took quite a few evenings, but it’s very interesting, ………..a real catalogue of errors and lack of maintenance. From my understanding of the report, if the on-board equipment been properly maintained (in particular heeling tank valves) and the ship operated in accordance with procedure the incident might not have happened.”
Sewage Pipe Repair Works
Unfortunately, and with yet more bad luck, Riverdance had landed on the United Utilities sewage outfall pipe at Anchorsholme. Because the pipe had been damaged, a section had to be excavated and replaced. So back came the rigs, boats and yet more workmen.
A cofferdam was first built over the pipe. That’s a chamber which the sea can be pumped out of, leaving a dry area where work can be carried out.
The new pipe (below) was stored on the promenade while it awaited replacement. A mighty big section of pipe it was too.
When the damaged piece of pipe was removed, you could clearly see what a blow it had taken from the huge weight of the ship (below).
Now, years later, there’s nothing to see on the beach at Anchorsholme of where the ship wrecked on that night in 2008. Except the photos in albums and on the internet.
In 2017/18 the same outfall pipe was completely replaced by United Utilities, as part of their works at Anchorsholme Park to improve bathing waters.
Old and New Wrecks Together
Quite near to where Riverdance landed you can still see the remains of another old wreck. That’s the Abana which wrecked in 1894. It can often be seen at low tide with its wooden ribs sticking up out of the sand.
There were many photos taken at the time of the two remains next to each other – one from the modern age and one from the past. The photo below was taken by Martin Goldsack.
The shipwreck memorial, unveiled in the summer of 2012, remembers all the ships wrecked on the Fylde Coast over the centuries.
Of course Riverdance is listed on there. As you stand to read the long list of names you face in the exact direction to remember the ghosts of two ships – the Abana and the Riverdance.
While you’re here…
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