On 31st January 2008 the Riverdance Ferry ran aground on the beach at Anchorsholme near Cleveleys.
It was the latest in a long line of ships to have wrecked over the centuries on the Fylde Coast.
On the morning of 1 February, the people of Cleveleys, Anchorsholme and Blackpool awoke to find that they had a new visitor on their beach.
The ferry sat there on the sands as the tide went out.
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, where northern Blackpool meets Cleveleys.
The RNLI, helicopter and rescue services were all mobilised that night 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 stayed there 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, and 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 top deck were clearly visible from shore.
Riverdance Shipwreck – a Tourist Attraction
The Riverdance shipwreck was an overnight tourist sensation, and Cleveleys had its busiest winter ever during that year.
Roads were instantly gridlocked as people flocked from all over the northwest to see the spectacle that was all over the news and on TV.
The roads around the promenade had to be closed as they became 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 to see the Riverdance between February and April 2008.
Jetsam* from the Riverdance Shipwreck
The bad weather continued for a while after Riverdance was 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, and soggy, salty packets were to be found all over the shoreline, washed northwards of the ship.
Then came long planks of wood, pieces of upholstery foam and mattresses and then big blue barrels.
Plastic cups followed in their hundreds, which scattered and blew everywhere because they were so light, even landing in the fields at Rossall School.
It was quite fascinating waiting to see what would come next.
Local folklore had it that there were also 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.
Inspecting the Riverdance Shipwreck
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 at February half term. Unfortunately, the rescue operation was hampered by sightseers attempting to get dangerously close to the wreck, along with further 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!
The ferry also contained 150 tonnes of fuel when it landed which was drained off.
During the attempt to stabilise and right it to enable it to 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.
The long process of salvage went on for much longer than expected – the boat was reduced to beach level by October 2008.
The promenade was closed off at Princes Way and turned into a scrap yard while crews worked on dismantling the ferry. Any remaining contents and the last of the fuel was removed first, and 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.
Riverdance continued to be interesting to visitors and locals alike right through the process of its demolition. Thousands of photos must have been taken during its stay at Cleveleys, just a few of which you can see here.
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 its 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.”
Old and New Wrecks Together
Quite near to where Riverdance landed is the old wreck of the Abana which wrecked in 1894. It can often be seen at low tide with its wooden ribs sticking up out of the sand.
Remains of the Abana shipwreck
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.
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, it had to be replaced and repaired.
A cofferdam was built over the pipe. That’s a chamber which the sea can be pumped out of, leaving a dry area and allowing work to be carried out.
The damaged section of the huge pipe that was buried in the sand was excavated and replaced. So back came the rigs, boats and yet more workmen.
The new pipe (below) was stored on the promenade while it awaited replacement, and 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 (damaged pipe below)
Ten years later there is nothing to see on the beach at Anchorsholme (at the boundary where Blackpool meets Cleveleys) 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 replaced in its entireity by United Utilities, as part of their works to improve bathing waters.
The shipwreck memorial, unveiled in the summer of 2012, remembers all the ships which have wrecked on the Fylde Coast over the centuries.
Of course Riverdance is listed on there. As you stand and read the long list from top to bottom you face in exactly the direction to remember the ghosts of two ships – the Abana and the Riverdance.
Find out More
Riverdance Ferry Shipwreck – this photo was taken on 13 July 2008 – and people were still coming to look at it!