The SS Excellent was a 1082-ton screw steamer built by the Short Brothers of Sunderland in 1880. She was 260 feet long with a 36-foot beam. In February 1888 she was on route from Palermo to Philadelphia with a cargo of fruit and arrived in Gibraltar Bay at midnight on the 28th. Around 2 a.m., a strong current caused her to drag anchor and collide with two other vessels, the Saint Asaph and the Memling seriously damaging both.
The Excellent had the plates on the port side stove in and began to take on water. Boats were lowered and all the crew were saved but shortly after this she sank just out from where the detached Mole would be built some twenty years later.
She now sits upside down about 50m off the Detached Mole on a flat seabed with the stern pointing north in 25m and the bow in 28m. The hull stands 6m proud of the bottom and she has a maximum width of 11m amidships.
The bow has split from the hull, and a chain leads from this to the starboard anchor, lying a short distance away. The foredeck now forms a large tunnel, with masts protruding from the port side. Amidships shows the damage caused in collisions, with the port side of the hull lifted up to form a canopy over the engine room. One boiler is still in place with the furnace visible, but the other has been twisted off to the side. Behind these, the two-cylinder steam engine lies on its side with some of the engine room vents visible. The superstructure is partially buried just out from this area.
The aft deck forms another large tunnel. The shaft and bearings can clearly be seen where they have collapsed through the shaft tunnel. The stern is still in place, but the base and huge four-bladed propeller were ripped off by an oilrig in October 1994 and lie a short distance to the side. The wreck is covered in a profusion of colourful animal life, ranging from gorgonians, nudibranchs and fanworms through spider crabs and lobsters to a variety of fish such as conger eels, Anthias and Chromis (damselfish). Often, larger and rarer species such as ling may be seen.
Diving the Wreck
This is one of Gibraltar’s most popular dive sites. The bow and stern sections may both be entered. Safety lines runs through both and light from exits at either end of both sections is visible from inside. Carry a torch and stay well up from the silty bottom. A shot line will help you get on the wreck. Many people prefer to head east up the slope towards the end of the dive and do a safety stop whilst ‘grotting’ along the detached Mole. Carry a delayed SMB if you do this. Also worth noting is that currents are occasionally strong and run parallel to the Mole.
Extract courtesy of D. Fa. & P. Smith: Underwater Gibraltar - A Guide to the Rocks Submerged Sites.