Great British Shipwrecks by Rod Macdonald is a beautifully produced landscape format book which, to quote the author's introduction "focuses on 37 of the most well-known shipwrecks around the UK, providing for each a narrative of the ship's history, its demise and condition today and an artist's illustration of the wreck on the seabed." As descriptions go, this is an accurate one, but it falls short of conveying the real magic of a book that makes fascinating reading even for the non-divers among us.
Rod Macdonald's latest book is the result of, as he also tells us in his introduction, "a personal journey of more than 30 years", as this is how long it has taken for him to come to know these wrecks well enough to tell their stories in a way that is both inspiring and, at times, touching. The author's encyclopedic knowledge of the wrecks that lie around our coasts is one of three factors that combine in this book to bring these 37 ships to life for the reader. The second is the way each wreck has been illustrated, showing in detail how it is lying on the seabed and its state of preservation. These illustrations are the result of a collaboration between the author and artist Rob Ward of Illusion Illustration. From the point of view of divers wanting to visit some of the featured ships, they show exactly what to expect when doing so. For the rest of us, they give a very clear impression of what some of the finest shipwrecks around our coasts actually look like: something we will never see in any other way.
The third factor that makes this book so special is the author's very evident interest in and sympathy for the ships he includes and the people who sailed in them and, all too often, died when they sank. Yes, each section describes what a modern day diver can expect to find when descending on each wreck, but much more space is given over, very fittingly, to the stories of the ships that ended their days on the seabed, and the circumstances in which they turned from ships into wrecks.
Most of the 37 wrecks featured in the book can be found around the coast of Scotland. Twelve are around Orkney, mainly within Scapa Flow or its approaches, and eight more are off the west coast of Scotland, including four in the Sound of Mull and two in the Firth of Clyde. Three more are in the North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and four are off the east coast of Scotland.