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.
While parts of the Sahara actually were once part of the Mediterranean Sea, this was well before ships (or even humans) existed and thus a literal Saharan shipwreck is exceedingly unlikely.
A subtrope of Eerily Out-of-Place Object.
- Featured in several episodes of The Big O.
- Second act of Digimon Adventure had the cast encounter one run by Cockatrimon. It actually functions, at least until it sails at full steam into a gigantic cactus and gets flung away.
- One of the earlier establishing shots at the beginning of Fist of the North Star is of an oil tanker embedded in a skyscraper. A definite sign that you're going to see some serious shit.
- From Space Battleship Yamato:
...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...
- In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 comics, Willow manages to teleport a ship on the Himalayan mountains. Granted, it's not as dry as the Sahara, but it's probably the farthest you can go from the sea.
- Scrooge McDuck and his nephews took shelter in a Spanish Galleon lost in a South American desert after being left for dead by the Beagle boys, while both were trying to find the Seven Cities of Cibola.
- Just a Pilgrim: after the sun grows in size and dries up all the world's oceans, one battle takes place in the now dry wreckage of the Titanic.
- In one Groo the Wanderer comic, Captain Ajax manages to keep Groo (the walking disaster area) from sinking his ship multiple times...at least until Groo accidentally releases the flood gates of the artificial lake the ship was on, sinking the lake instead!
Ajax: I don't know how he did it, but I know HE did it!
- There's a brief shot in the Special Edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind which shows the wreck of the Cotopaxi, a ship that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, in the Gobi Desert.
- 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.
- WALL•E: There are a few of these on post-apocalyptic Earth. EVE blows up a couple when she gets angry.
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- Used symbolically in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, where Jack Sparrow's version of Ironic Hell has him attempting to pull the Black Pearl across an endless salt flat; as a pirate the worst place for him to be is in the middle of a desert. Not that this minor setback stops him—with a bit of help from the witch Tia Dalma, the Pearl is sailed overland until it reaches the spectral ocean at World's End.
- Occurs also in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with a Spanish ship on a cliff. In a jungle. To be fair, the actual coastline seems not too far away.
- In Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence is dumbfounded to see a ship sailing through the Sinai desert. It actually means he's reached the Suez Canal and safety.note
- An interesting inversion 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 (2005) involves a literal shipwreck in the Sahara which is supposed to be loaded with Confederate gold coins from The American Civil War.
- An upside-down riverboat is found in Cowboys & 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 subplotnote but the final cut leaves it ambiguous and it might as well be a figment of the men's imagination, since they are all mad at that point. Since Aguirre is the ultimate River Of Madness story, this is actually very fitting.
- In the movie Fitzcarraldo (also from Werner Herzog, the director of Aguirre) 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 a Real Life version of the trope.
- The 1995 live-action Fist of the North Star film has a submarine sitting in a middle of a wasteland.
- In Godzilla (2014), the MUTO manages to lift and drop a Russian "Akula" in the middle of a jungle. An "Akula" is a submarine.
- Lost Ship of the Desert of the American folklore.
- 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 civilization.
- 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. What's more, its cargo is the most surprising thing. It's the corpse of Abraham Lincoln. The one shot at Ford's theater was an unwitting double. Also, shitloads of Confederate gold.
- 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◊.
- Chris van Allsburg's The Wreck of the Zephyr revolves around a wrecked sailboat found on a cliff top and the legend of how it got there.
- In Michael Moorcock's Elric saga, Elric is given the use of the Ship That Sails Over Land And Sea by the friendly King of the Water Elementals. Unfortunately, while sailing it over land, the King of the Earth Elementals gets tetchy over an artifact rightly belonging on water intruding on his domain, and arbitrarily removes its power to sail over land, leaving ship and crew stranded.
- In the backstory of The Wheel of Time when all male wizards went mad, they started destroying everything around them, drastically reshaping the continents. At one point a ruined city is described, in the mountains thousands of miles inland. A 30-something-century old wizard recalls that this used to be a sea port before the Breaking.
- In Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's original Dragon Lance trilogy, the heroes at one point travel to Tarsis, a large port city, in order to find a ship. It turns out they were working from a rather old map, and the Cataclysm a couple of centuries previously had made some fairly drastic changes to the geography. There isn't just one Saharan shipwreck, but a whole port full of them.
- Noah's Ark is said in The Bible to have come to rest atop the Mountains of Ararat (which is presumed to include Mount Ararat in modern-day Turkey, but nobody knows for sure) after the Great Flood receded.
- Presumed Dead by Australian author Rick Kennett, has his recurring character Cy De Gerch coming across a fleet of such ships on an alien world.
- Doctor Who:
- "Planet of the Dead": A red London bus in the middle of an endless desert. (It came through a wormhole.)
- "The Pyramid at the End of the World": Courtesy of the antagonists, a USAF bomber and a Russian submarine sitting undamaged on the ground outside the titular pyramid, in the middle of Central Asia.
- The opening credits of Father Ted show a stranded ship, some way inland, ostensibly somewhere on Craggy Island, with no clue as to how it got there. The real ship, the MV Plassey, was washed ashore on Inisheer (off the West Coast) after a bit of what locals call "soft weather" in 1960... Indeed, it has moved again once or twice over the decades, when storms are heavy enough.
- 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.
- Season 3 of seaQuest DSV began with the titular submarine being found in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Aliens did it.
- 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.
- As noted in Literature, the Dragonlance setting features quiet a few of these due to changes in geography after the Cataclysm.
- Spaceship example: In The Dig, one of the first things Brink and company find on Cocytus is the deserted ruins of a space ship, which also houses the first "ghost" in the game.
- Another spacecraft burried beneath the sands of a desert is what kick-starts the plot of the first Homeworld game.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons involves a pirate crew that somehow shipwrecked into a desert. Apparently, they beached themselves so hard that the front end of the ship punched through the ground and now sticks out in Subrosia.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword gives us the Sandship, which used to be a seafaring vessel until the seas dried out and filled with sand. At least, until you activate the Timeshift Stone on board, restoring both the ship and the ocean around it to their former glory.
- Mario & Luigi:
- Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness has the S.S. Libra. In this case, you actually see how it got there in the beginning of the game. It was dropped there by Shadow Lugia. Unlike most of the examples, the Libra was dumped in the Eclo Wastes far more recently than most ships described by this trope, and aside from Cipher and Snagem interlopers, there's only one local on board. Cipher looted the Pokémon on the ship during their attack, and the human sailors were thrown overboard. Your visit to the Libra is the first time anyone could get a good glimpse of what happened to it.
- There's an infamous wreckage of a ship in the salty, dried-up lakebed known as Shimmering Flats in World of Warcraft. After much Wild Mass Guessing to its origins, the location is one of several obvious choices to be reflooded in the new expansion.
- The party actually uses one of these as their main transportation in Dragon Quest VIII, after using magic to get it back to sea. Strangely for a fantastic setting, its pretty clearly stated to be a receding coastline issue—they get it back to sea by using magic to "get the area to remember when there was ocean there."
- In Crysis, a frozen ship is found on a mountain. Aliens put it there. Sort of.
- Highway 17 in Half-Life 2 is peppered with these, as well as other places (like canals rendered so shallow only an airboat can get through) which feature beached craft quite prominently. Word of God is that the Combine have been harvesting water from the earths oceans, lowering the water level substantially.
- The mission "Sangre del Toro" in Battlefield: Bad Company 2's story mode revolves around B-Company's search for one of these (the eponymous Sangre del Toro) in the middle of Chile's Atacama Desert.
- One is featured during a mission in Just Cause 2. It's a very large tanker in a desert that is very high above sea-level. No explanation is given at all, although the name of the place means "formerly a sea" in Indonesian.
- There are a number of rusted, wrecked barges in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat in previously low-waters that have now turned into swamps and marshes. One is used as a 'town' of sorts, and others are hiding places for other Stalker gangs, or Stalkers trying to find somewhere to rest, away from the weather, wildlife, or random blowouts/emissions.
- A beached ship acts as one end of the arena in one of the settings for the post-apocalyptic Fighting Game Primal Rage.
- Donkey Kong Country
- Donkey Kong Country Returns features a shipwreck at the top of a cliff.
- An argument could be made for the ship mast seen in the Lost Woods of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, although it may just be there as a "spiritual resting place" for the ghost version of the boss you fought earlier.
- Also in 2, a wrecked ship is located in Crocodile Cauldron, the second world and a volcano. The ship itself is in a small lake of superheated water. The third world with the swamp theme has also a semi sunken ship in it. Given that the overall theme of this game is Pirates, there could have been even more of these in the other worlds...
- Digital Devil Saga has a cruise ship in a desert, there's no bodies of water in the Junkyard period, and only it started to rain during the game's events. Many characters had expressed confusion about it, including the fact they even knew what a ship was - more evidence that the Junkyard wasn't what it seemed.
- Various small ships in Fallout 3 show that the water level has gone down significantly in the last 200 years.
- In Fallout 4, the USS Constitution can be found beached on top of two buildings, resulting from a failed attempt to fly it with rocket engines. There's also the FMS Northern Star, a stranded freighter populated by Norwegian-speaking ghouls.
- The original Syberia featured a few rusty ships in the middle of the desert that is strongly implied to have been the Aral Sea once (the town of Aralbad is fictional but its location is obvious).
- The Crystal Desert of Guild Wars: Prophecies contains several derelict Margonite ships from a time when the area was still known as the Crystal Sea.
- Early on in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Drake and Sully stumble upon an abandoned Nazi U-Boat stuck miles upriver in the middle of the jungle. Sully's explanation that it floated up there then got stuck isn't entirely implausible but still quite unlikely.note
Sully: I don't know, Nate. Something about this seems kind of... hinky.
Nate: Hinky. You act like you've never seen a German U-Boat in the middle of the jungle before.
- The level "The Storm" in Halo 3 is set at an abandoned harbor on a lake drained by the Covenant during their excavation of the Ark portal.
- The entirety of the second act in Torchlight II is set in the Ossean Wastes, a vast desert full of shipwrecks stated to once have been a sea before.
- Diablo III has a wrecked ship called 'The Black Rock' that can be found in the deserts around Caldeum.
- A couple of MechWarrior missions have taken place in areas that were formerly underwater. In 2: Mercenaries, it's possible to visit a world that used to be more temperate until its orbit somehow moved closer to its sun and most of the ocean boiled off; the campaign will eventually have you go into the now empty hull of a wrecked ocean liner in the middle of a desert. In 3, you'll enter an area that used to be a lake until it was drained—look around and you'll find stranded Sea Mines (which of course will blow up if you shoot or step on them) and the wrecked hulls of several sunken ships in the dried out lake bed.
- Kult: Heretic Kingdoms: While not a desert, the city of Kyallisar is a long way from the coast, being built on a bunch of rocky outcroppings in a mountain pass. Some of its buildings, however, are obviously repurposed wooden ships.
- The very beginning of the first stage of the first game of the Metal Slug franchise has the wreck of a submarine in what seems to be land with no sea on sight.
- Mad Max is absolutely littered with these. The first half of the game takes place on the dried up ocean floor of the coast of Australia. Where the water has gone is never explained.
- Part 2 of the Five-Episode Pilot of DuckTales (1987) ("Wronguay in Ronguay") 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.
- In Father and Daughter, a father apparently commits Suicide by Sea, hugging his daughter goodbye and then rowing into the ocean in a rowboat, never to be seen again. Eventually the shallow sea coast is drained and made into a Dutch polder. Decades later, when the little girl is now an old woman, she walks out onto the polder and finds her father's rowboat, half-buried in sand.
- Truth in Television: The Aral Sea and Lake Chad were once much larger than they are now. The Aral has shrunk by about 90%, and Lake Chad by 95%. 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. This is less prevalent in Lake Chad since even before its shrinkage it was an extremely shallow lake (no deeper than 11 meters/36 feet) despite having a surface area of over 10,000 square miles.
- Aral used to be even smaller, until Kazakhstan dammed away the Lesser Aral and limited its water consumption (for irrigating the cotton fields), so it started slowly filling again. So maybe those hulks on the shores of Lesser Aral may finally return to their element someday. The Greater Aral on the other hand might never recover, as it's largely in Uzbekistan which just doesn't seem to care.
- 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 60s, 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. The fact that the Salton Sea is artificial to begin with, having been created by an irrigation accident in the 1920s, helps explain this. Unfortunately the circumstances of its abandonment and subsequent drying out have also left the former Salton Sea highly toxic.
- According to legend this has happened in real life, if you believe the lost civilization 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.
- It's entirely possible for particularly wild seas to carry vessels a long way inland; the tsunami that followed the famous eruption of Krakatoa dumped one ship several miles into the jungle, where it stayed until it finally disintegrated in the 20th century.
- Many shipwrecks along Namibia's Skeleton Coast, such as the Eduard Bohlen, are now a long distance from shore due to changes in the coastline over the years.