During the nineteenth century, shipbuilding became one of Hayle's most important industries, with Harvey and Co. dominating the scene. They built both barques and brigantines, paddle wheel and screw steamers. At first, in the years following 1834, they produced wooden sailing vessels for their own use, with frames built of local oak and planking from pine, imported from Norway and Canada. Later they began to build composite ships with iron frames and wooden planking. Harvey's first outside commission came in 1846 with the building of steam-driven iron tugs for the Rhine. From the early 1860s to the late 1880s, Harveys produced a large number of moderately sized iron ships and then, until shipbuilding ceased in 1893, the great steel ships, such as the "S.S. Ramleh".
The Cornish Copper Company also produced a few complete ships as well as supplying engines for existing vessels. The "Riviere", the ''Penair" and the "Margaret" were three iron schooners built by the company the last two in 1861 and 1866 respectively. In the 1860s there was another shipbuilding yard in Hayle owned by John Pool, but only three sailing ships can be identified as having originated from there.
After the closure of Harvey's yard and foundry, various attempts were made to resuscitate the shipbuilding industry. During the First World War, Admiralty representatives visited Hayle to review the possibility of once again building ships on Harvey's premises. In the 1920s, machinery for barge and ship construction was installed but it was not until the Second World War that shipbuilding recommenced at Hayle with the building of D-day landing craft and defence vessels.
Many vessels plying the coastal trade, seeking shelter in a storm, or negotiating their way into Hayle harbour, have been stranded or wrecked on the notorious sandbank known as the "Hayle Bar". Schooners and brigantines, colliers and steam coasters have all been casualties.
Some ships to founder have been Hayle-owned vessels, like the brigantine-rigged collier ''Bessie'', veteran of the Bristol packet service, which struck at Lelant on her maiden voyage in 1866 and again in 1878. Others came from further afield, like the steamer 1"Drumhendry" of Glasgow, driven onto the sands under Black Cliff with ten tons of dynamite aboard. The crew of the lifeboat "Isis" made several successful rescues; in 1857, for example, bringing back the crew of the brig. "Glynn" wrecked off Lelant.
Even when regular sluicing was in operation, ships needed a fairly shallow draught and careful steering to be sure of safe entry to the harbour. Harvey's coaster "Hayle", (the third of that name), launched in 1693, had many scrapes before grounding off Black Cliff in 1913 and being nearly wrecked in a gale. Another coaster, the "Marena", known as the "steam submarine because of the concrete in her hull, hit the bar about once a year during the 1930s, while plying in and out of Hayle with coal for the Power Station.
The famous "Bessie" finally met her end in what was certainly the most devastating event in the history of St. Ives Bay wrecks-.,; the notorious ''Cintra Gale" of 1893. The "Cintra" was a Liverpool collier, one of the casualties of that fateful November 17th. The gale began the day before as a high ESE wind, veering round to WNW, to North and NNE in the course of the next thirty six hours. The "Cintra", seeking shelter in Carbis Bay was driven ashore with the loss of five crew. Another collier, the "Vulture", met a similar fate, and the "Rosedale", a screw steamer from London hit Porthminster Beach broadside. The "Bessie" and another gig, the "Boy Philip" began to break up off Gwithian. The "Bessie", sold by Harveys to James Richards of Penarth, four years previously, ended up gutted on the sands, minus both her funnel and main mast. The worst casualty of the gale, however, was the "Hampshire" of Glasgow which sank with the loss of fifteen men, ten miles north of Godrevy.
Because of the ferocity of the storm, the St Ives and Hayle lifeboats were both helpless to assist. The next morning the beaches were strewn with wreckage and the remains of the colliers still lie buried in the sands of Carbis Bay.