The Isle of Man is located in the north Irish Sea,
its southern end at 54 00 N, 05 00 W and its northern end at 54 25 N, 04 28 W. With an area of 227 square miles and a current population of 75,000, the Isle of Man governs its own internal affairs. The Isle of Man has a long history and is proud of its status as one of the Celtic nations.
Until the advent of air travel, the Isle of Man was completely dependent on sea travel for both goods and passengers. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dozens of small sailing vessels worked out of the Isle of Mans main harbours of Douglas, Ramsey, Derbyhaven, Castletown and Peel. Huge quantities of coal, the fuel of the Industrial Revolution, were transported to the Isle of Man from Lancashire or the West Cumbrian ports. Although the traffic in cargo was mostly to the Isle of Man, commodities like lead ore were exported.
To compliment their traditional crofting, Manxmen had, for hundreds of years, supplemented their diet with herrings. The fishing was from August until October. Eventually, in the nineteenth century fishing and boat handling skills learnt in earlier centuries, were used to good effect as fishing became an industry instead of a subsistence activity. Manx boats travelled from the Shetland Islands to the mackerel fishery off Kinsale Head, in Ireland. At its height around 1880, the Manx fishing industry employed thousands of men and boys. At this time, the ports of Port St Mary and Port Erin grew to their present form.
Shipping changed dramatically in the 1850s. Iron steamships began to carry cargo to and from the Isle of Man. Steamships had operated from about 1820 but had carried mostly passengers and mail and were too expensive to operate in carrying bulky cargos. However, the new steamers were cheaper to construct and had more efficient engines meaning less coal was needed for their boilers. The period between 1850 and 1900 saw huge growth in the economy of the Isle of Man, driven by the development of tourism and the infrastructure required to support it. At this time, despite the obvious advantages of steam, sailing vessels increased in size and numbers, and were a cheap, but somewhat unpredictable means of transporting bulk cargos.
The 1860s and 1870s saw the peak in the number of ships of all kinds and from 1880 onwards the number of sailing ships fell dramatically as the power of steam became more pervasive. By the First World War, the few remaining sailing vessels worked specialist trades, transporting bricks, tiles and slates. Steamships were dominant but even their time was short-lived as before the Second World War motor vessels began to appear and by 1950 steamships were a rare sight. Development continues and high-speed catamarans are now an everyday sight.
The large numbers of shipwrecks that have occurred around the Isle of Man are in part due to the vibrant local trade and shipping industry, and also, to the Isle of Mans geographical position. In the days when mariners relied on simple navigational instruments and had no means to see in poor visibility the Isle of Mans position in the middle of the north Irish Sea caused many wrecks. Indeed, it was the ship owners of Liverpool who paid for the first lights on the Calf of Man in 1818 to try to reduce the huge amounts of their property being lost around the Isle of Man. The bays of the Isle of Man also provided vital shelter to ships caught in storms in the Irish. But even this could proved to be fatal to ships as the winds around the Isle of Man often change direction abruptly. One moment a ship would be riding safely at anchor in Ramsey Bay, a few hours later she would be blown ashore on the beach.
Shipwrecks still occur in modern times, and often with tragic consequences as the sinking of the fishing vessels/