Out of the hundreds of shipwrecks scattered around Bermuda, the Spanish cruise liner Cristobal Colon is the biggest.
499 feet long and with three decks high, the ship was one of the most luxurious of her time and crashed on the reefs in 1936, four years after she was built.
The captain, Crescencia Delgado, mistook an offshore communication tower for the Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse and drove straight into Bermuda’s north shore reefs at a speed of 15 knots while on way to Mexico from Wales. More bad luck was awaiting the crew when Bermudians did not get on with them, mainly because they could not understand the Spaniards. The government was also worried that they would have to bear the cost of feeding and housing the 160 crew members.
As neither the Spanish government nor the Mexican one were willing to take responsibility for the crew, the Bermudians decided to put them to work in order to get a return for the hospitality they were providing. They repaired Barry Road and restored the Gates Fort in St. George, before being picked up by a ship on Christmas Eve.
The story says that the Cristobal Colon was going to Mexico to pick up arms for Spain’s war effort and that on their return the crew was executed by Franco for having failed to do so.
For many years, the ship sat high up on the reefs a few miles only from the Royal Naval Dockyard, and easily accessible for its content to be salvaged but also heavily looted. Every night, motorboats would travel to the wreck and come back filled with things from the ship. Hundreds of locals have said to have taken part in the piracy acts, but only 13 were arrested and 12 of them convincted.
In 1937, the captain of the Iristo mistook the Cristobal Colon for a ship being engaged in a channel and followed her, only to crash on the reefs and rip open his ship’s hull. Following this incident, the masts and the funnels of the Colon were removed to avoid any more mistakes.
She was later used as target for bombing practice by the American Air Force during the Second World War and sank in 55 feet of water. Today, the remains are spread out over 100,000 square feet and provide hours and hours of exploration.
The wreck is split in two halves, one on each side of the reefs and you can still observe an unexploded artillery shell, the coal burning boilers, two spare propellers and some deck winches.
Cristobal Colon, Bermuda’s Biggest Shipwreck – Part of Elbow Beach Cycles ‘Things To Do’ in Bermuda series!
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