What real ships inspired THE DEEP?

Wreck of the Royal Mail Rhone by William Frederick Mitchell (Source National Maritime Museum, Greenwich)

THE DEEP is inspired by numerous real shipwrecks that author Peter Benchley became aware of after meeting Bermudian explorer Teddy Tucker. Tucker was himself the inspiration for the character of Romer Treece, and first meet Benchley when National Geographic sent the Jaws author to Bermuda in 1970*. Benchley's brief was to tell the story of Bermuda through its shipwrecks and according to Emory Kristof, the National Geographic photographer who accompanied Benchley:

"We went out catching sharks on long-lines. Benchley was a smart one. While I was taking pictures, he listened to all of Tucker's yarns about sharks and shipwrecks and turned it into Jaws and then made The Deep."

In 1976 Benchley said he dived the wreck of the Constellation (sank 1942**) which lay on top of two other ships; the Lartington (1878) and the Montana (1863). He contemplated a story about a honeymoon couple who stumble upon the wrecks but decided that readers wouldn't believe three ships sank on top of each other so settled on two. The result was Goliath and Grifon which are a montage of Bermuda's real shipwreck history combined with a storied explanation for the disappearance of Elizabeth Farnese's forty chests of jewellery and gold during the 1715 Fleet disaster

The schooner Constellation was the inspiration for Benchley's fictional Goliath. Wrecked 1942/1943 after striking the Western Blue Cut reef or possibly the bow of the Montana wreck. The cargo included ornate glass ampules which inspired the plot of THE DEEP.

Constellation (Image Bermuda Shipwrecks by Daniel and Denise Berg)

No scenes in THE DEEP were filmed at the Constellation but underwater sound was taped there by sound recordist Robin GregoryTeddy Tucker, who took Gregory to the wreck, said the movement of wreckage was "... always groaning and whining and sighing; it's the spookiest sound you ever heard". As a result the audience saw Goliath (either RMS Rhone or the 'B.U.S' set in Bermuda) but heard real sounds from the wreck of Constellation. Walter Goss, Dick Alexander, Tom Beckert, and Robin Gregory were all nominated for Best Sound at the 1978 Oscars

The ampules were still being found in 1976 by members of THE DEEP cast and crew who dived on the wreck during downtime.

Artefacts including the real ampules from Constellation (Source The Bermudian)

You can see some of these real ampules from the Constellation at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute 40 Crow Ln, Pembroke, Bermuda.

According to Bermuda's Department of Environment and Natural Resources a 40 foot section of one of Constellation's four masts can be seen "on the rocks below Harbour Road just prior to the Belmont ferry dock". 

An English paddle-wheel steamer, sailing under the name Nola, and a civil war blockade runner whose wreckage is within 50 feet of the Constellation.  It was the submerged wreckage of this vessel that Constellation possibly hit but definitely sank so close to that Peter Benchley described it as being on top of Montana. Montana's position beneath Constellation can be taken as an inspiration for the subterranean Grifon.

Wrecked 1879 and the third of the wrecks described by Benchley to have sunk one of top of the other. This vessel also hit Western Blue Cut Reef and lies approximately 200 metres north of Constellation and Montana. Teddy Tucker believed that if all three ships had been sailing on the same day they would have struck each other. Lartington's bow section contains an air pocket like the one inside The Deep's fictitious Goliath but breathing is not recommended due to the lack of oxygen (Huber, 1999).

Air pocket in Goliath inspired by the Lartington
"I'm not blowing it, not now." Goliath's fictitious air pocket like the real one inside Lartington (Source Sony Pictures) 

In 1903 Captain Roderick Frazer of the Madiana mistook the light of North Rock for Gibb's Hill.

“The helm was put hard to starboard. I looked at the light and couldn’t see any breakers. The light appeared to be fixed, so I decided it was the St. David’s Head light, and ordered the ship steered east. In a few minutes she struck the reef. Captain Frazer went on to say that the light he saw was not St. David’s Head, but Gibbs Hill light. Gibbs Hill light is a revolving light, but on this night, due to an accident, the reflectors had been replaced by tin, which frequently grew smokey causing the appearance of a fixed light." (Berg, 1991)

The plight of Madiana inspired the first chapter of Peter Benchley's novel as the wind roars down on Goliath and the bosun's mate realises that the ship is off course.

"That ain't Saint David's light!" he screamed.
"It is that!" the captain called back.
"I tell you, that ain't Saint David's! That's bloody Gibb's Hill!"
"It's Gibb's Hill! Look dead ahead!

The scene from Benchley's novel was filmed but only appeared in the extended TV version of The Deep and as an extra feature in some Blu-ray releases.

Deleted opening scene of Goliath striking the reefs of Bermuda. Peter Benchley in cameo at right (Source Sony Pictures)

When Pollockshields wrecked off Elbow Beach in 1915 the ship was carrying 350 tonnes of munitions which inspired Goliath's explosive cargo and were still washing up at Coral Beach and Tennis Club in 2010. Pollockshields' steering wheel graced the entrance to the Zuill family estate of Orange Grove which inspired David and Gail's fictitious Orange Grove Hotel

A further hint to the transposition of the real Pollockshields with the fictitious Goliath is in Benchley's novel:

Sanders said, "What do you know about a shipwreck off Orange Grove—Goliath?''
Hall thought for a moment. "Goliath. Mid-forties, right? British ship, I think."

The one fatality from this wreck was Captain Ernest Boothe who was swept overboard inspiring this passage from Benchley's novel: 

"The captain stumbled, reached for the wheel, and missed. His arm slipped through the spinning spokes, his wrist jammed against the wheelbox. For a second, his elbow fought the wheel. Then the elbow broke, the arm was cast free, and the captain was pitched into the sea."

Captain Boothe's fate was memorialised by the loss of Goliath's captain which appeared in the extended TV version of The Deep. A similar fate met Captain Robert Woolley of RMS Rhone the real wreck in the British Virgin Islands where all of Goliath's exterior scenes were filmed. On 29 October 1867, as Woolley and Purser John Morrish desperately tried to steer Rhone through the San Narciso Hurricane, a wave threw Woolley onto a skylight and he was lost overboard.

"Hard 'a port ... Hard 'a port!" (Source Sony Pictures)

An inspiration for The Deep's Grifon and source of the Tucker Treasure also known as Bermuda's Crown Jewels. First discovered by Teddy Tucker in 1951 it was not until a second visit in 1955 that he brushed away sand to reveal the Tucker Cross. The ship is believed to be San Pedro sailing from Cartagena to Cadiz commanded by Captain Hieronimo de Porras and wrecked in 1596***.

(Source Bernews)


Grifon (also called El Grifon, Le Grifon, Griffon) was a real ship and sole survivor of the 1715 fleet disasterPeter Benchley credited the work of marine archaeologist Robert Marx as a particular help while writing The Deep. Marx's The Quest for the Queen's Jewels reveals that Grifon really was a French ship commanded by Antonio Dairé that travelled with the 1715 fleet Spanish fleet. Elizabeth Farnese's forty chests of jewellery and gold carried by Captain Ubilla's Capitana have never been found. 

(Source Sony Pictures)

The Brigadier

Teddy Tucker's personal work boat was customised to play Romer Treece's (Robert ShawCorsair. A photo in Wendy Tucker's archive indicates that Teddy owned a 28 foot lifeboat named Coffin (as in Adam Coffin), from J.P Morgan's yacht Corsair. Peter Benchley also met his wife Wendy for the first time at Jared Coffin House in Nantucket.

Brigadier as Corsair sharing registration 905 (Source Wendy Tucker and Sony Pictures)

Teddy Tucker's dog Mitzi inspired The Deep novel's Charlotte who guards Treece's Corsair whenever he's diving. 

Teddy Tucker and Schnauzer Charlotte "She waits for me, so she can lick the salt off my face." (Image National Geographic )

An early draft of the movie's screenplay seems to have included Charlotte from the novel. Marvel's comic adaptation which was based on the film's screenplay, by Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn, shows several panels which include Charlotte.

(Credit Marvel)

(Credit Marvel)

There's no indication that RMS Rhone, the filming location for Goliath's exterior scenes, inspired any part of Peter Benchley's novel. See exactly where on Rhone Jacqueline Bisset was filmed in this special post.

The Deep Filming Locations recommends Bermuda Shipwrecks by Daniel and Denise Berg, with a forward by Teddy Tucker, for a concise history of Bermuda's wrecks.

*Peter Benchley was reported to have said he visited Bermuda in "In 1970 or ’71" but in The Making of The Deep he said 1969. Regardless, Benchley's National Geographic story appeared in July 1971.

** Different sources say the wreck sank in different years. Berg says 1942 (Berg, 1991); University of California San Diego says 1943.

*** Different sources date the wreck of the San Pedro between 1595 -1598. In a 2010 video interview Teddy Tucker, who discovered the wreck in 1951, said it sank in 1598. See Teddy Tucker Adventure is My Life.

Were you there when The Deep was being filmed? Share your story of the The Deep filming locations in the comments below.



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