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There was a sea here. It's gone now.

There's something tragic about a beached ship; not only is it 'dead', but it's died on land rather than in the ocean and been denied a sailor's burial. You can imagine the surprise then, when our intrepid heroes run into a ship in the middle of the desert.

Somehow this ship has been wrecked on land and far from water. If it isn't just there to look ominous and creepy like a Ribcage Ridge, then it will very likely hold important supplies, clues or shelter from the desert environment for the heroes.

The fact that the ship has run aground can mean a lot of things about the desert or setting. Mundane explanations include receding shorelines due to climate change or a typhoon/tropical storm/tornado. Weirder possibilities include but aren't limited to: a Teleporter Accident, The End of the World as We Know It having come and gone, the captain being that bad of a navigator, the place where all the stuff the Negative Space Wedgie sucks up gets dumped, or any of a hundred other possibilities.

Examples of Saharan Shipwreck include:

Anime and Manga


 ...humanity refits the wreck of the World War II battleship Yamato, lying at rest on the exposed surface where the ocean used to be, into a space battleship...


Comic Books


  • There's a brief shot in the Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which shows a ship in the middle of the Gobi desert. It's supposed to be one of the Bermuda Triangle disappearances.
  • In Holes, a plot-important wrecked rowboat sits in the middle of the dried-up lake.
  • Near the beginning of Tank Girl, a ship is seen on a dried harbor bottom. Watch it here, starting at 2:35.
  • WALL-E: EVE blows up a couple of these when she gets angry. (WALL*E is set on an Earth humanity abandoned because it got too polluted).
  • Used symbolically in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End where Jack Sparrow's version of Ironic Hell has him pulling one of these, as a pirate the worst place for him to be would be in the middle of a desert.
    • Not that this minor setback stopped him, mind you.
    • Occurs also in On Stranger Tides with a spanish ship on a cliff. In a jungle. To be fair, the actual coastline seems not too far away.
  • Lawrence of Arabia is dumbfounded to see a ship sailing through the Sinai desert. Of course it actually means he's reached the Suez Canal and safety.
    • The funny thing about this is that ancient versions of the Suez Canal have been constructed and reclaimed by the desert before, in ancient human history. If the Suez Canal of today were to be abandoned, it would eventually sand in.
  • An interesting subversion is seen in Waterworld during the expedition in the diving bell - a submarine is seen having crashed into the side of a skyscraper in the flooded city.
  • The plot of Sahara involves a literal shipwreck in the Sahara which is supposed to be loaded with confederation gold coins of The American Civil War.
  • An upside-down riverboat is found in Cowboys and Aliens 500 miles from any river that can hold it. Apparently, this is the work of the aliens, but the movie then completely forgets about this, and no explanation is provided.
  • In one of the most surreal scenes of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, an abandoned ship is found atop a tree in the middle of the jungle. The original script expanded this into an actual subplot[1] but the final cut leaves it ambiguous and it might as well be a figment of the men's imagination who have gone mad at that point. Since Aguirre is the ultimate River of Madness story, this is actually very fitting.
  • Invoked in the movie Fitzcarraldo (also from Werner Herzog, the director of Aguirre) where the titular mad rubber baron moves a steamship through mountains and jungles in order to put it on an unreachable river. The movie's prop ship was later abandoned in the Peruvian jungle after filming was completed, making it also a Real Life version of the trope.


  • In One Hundred Years of Solitude the discovery of a wrecked ship is the exploration party's sign that they are nearing the sea, causing them to give up hope of reaching civilisation.
  • Wolf in Shadow by David Gemmell has the Big Bad headquartered in the Titanic, exposed when the Earth shifted on its axis, moving all of the oceans.
  • The plot of Sahara by Clive Cussler involves a literal shipwreck in the Saharah- a Confederate Ironclad. Really.
    • It's cargo is the most surprising thing. It's the corpse of Abraham Lincoln. The one shot at Ford theater? was an unwitting double
  • Played with in Andre Norton's Quag Keep. Whilst traversing the Sea of Dust, the heroes discover a slightly-buried ship. However, it had been specially designed to travel through the dust.
    • Norton's No Night Without Stars features the nearly-intact remains of a submarine in a dried-out ocean basin, hundreds of years After the End.
  • Appears in Louis Sachar's classic novel Holes. No, it's not in the Sahara, and it's not a ship. It's a small two-person rowboat several miles from Camp Green Lake. It provides shade from the brutal sun, as well as some jars containing moldy peaches, which are later used to carry water. It also contains Zero, who has run away from Camp Green Lake.
  • In John Christopher's Cosy Catastrophe A Wrinkle in the Skin; massive earthquakes redistribute the balance of ocean and land, and the protagonist comes across a large tanker sitting in the desert which used to be the seabed.
  • Star Trek Destiny begins with Earth's second starship, the NX-02 Columbia, being found on the surface of a remote desert planet.

Live Action TV

  • Just a Pilgrim did this with the Titanic (It's a post-apocalyptic world where the oceans have dried up).
  • A Viking ship in Land of the Lost.
  • The Black Rock in Lost, the wreck of a 19th century sailing ship decaying in the middle of a jungle. Bonus points for explaining how it got there in season 1, and then showing the actual event in season 6.
  • The third season of SeaQuest DSV began with the titular submarine being found in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Aliens did it.
  • One of the most memorable images to come out of Doctor Who: a red London bus in the middle of an endless desert. (It came through a dimension door.)


Tabletop Games

  • The 3E Ravenloft products introduced "Mistways" to the setting, as semi-reliable paths between realms. One of them leads from the Core's Nocturnal Sea directly to the deserts of Har'Akir, invoking this trope on any ship that traverses it.

Video Games

Western Animation

  • Part 2 of the Five Episode Pilot of DuckTales involved searching for a Spanish galleon in the middle of a desert. It had gotten there in the first place because of a torrential rainstorm that floods said desert every hundred years.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television: The Aral Sea and Lake Chad were once much larger than they are now. When the Aral dried up, it grounded a number of large steel-hulled ships on what is now both sand and grassland with no water visible in any direction.
  • The Mediterranean Sea has dried up numerous times in its ancient history. Since it's already pretty deep, it would have necessarily exposed the lowest dry land on earth.
  • Salton Sea, after it was abandoned in the 60's, suffered some flooding but mostly receding shorelines, leaving many abandoned boats (probably already sunk on the bottom by the time they were dried out) marooned high and dry on cracked, parched earth far from water.
  • According to legend this has happened in real life, if you believe the lost cvilization types. There are supposed to be lost ships from Atlantis in the North African desert and in the Atlas Mountains, as well as a famous Viking longship(!) in the deserts of the American southwest with skeletons still at the oars.
  1. The Amazon sometimes has drastic changes of water flow so it's actually not that far-fetched for a ship to end trapped in a tree