Dorset Shipwrecks 19-22 May 2018


Expedition Summary – Dorset Shipwreck Project – 19-22 May 2018

Expedition Leader: Cameron Cromwell

Mob: 07969 209211

Email: [email protected]

Expedition Aims

The aim of this expedition is to locate and identify at least one of several wrecks in the Portland Bill area. 

Spaces are available either for the whole trip (Saturday to Tuesday) or potentially for just the weekend.

We will be following up on information obtained from the Shipwreck Project, which has identified a number of interesting but unconfirmed targets.  Sadly the Shipwreck Project has been closed down this year due to lack of diver support, so there is no longer a database in which to contribute.  However, we will be exchanging information with the English Heritage and Wessex Archaeology, both of whom have some data of their own and an ongoing interest with the continuation of locating and identifying wrecks in the area.

The targeted shipwrecks have yet to be identified, most with considerable conflicting opinions as to the name of the ship.  It will take detailed surveys and subsequent research and exchanging of information to put enough pieces together to confidently draw conclusions.  Most wrecks were wooden, so the surveys will be of remaining contents of the ships, such as cannons, mortars, and even some ivory tusks.  See below for a list of target wreck sites.

Through the Shipwreck Project there is detailed sonar data of objects recorded for the target shipwrecks.  This information is proprietary to a small collection of individuals involved with the Shipwreck project and it is not available to the public.  This is because of the significant cost and time associated with hiring a towed sonar to survey the coastline.  Since then, some of the wrecks have been visited by individuals interested in ‘just a visit and a look’ without gathering any useful data.  We will be building on the survey information by underwater searching, mapping, and identifying the remains of the wrecks to the fullest extent possible. 

This will hopefully lead to the identification of at least one wreck by sharing the information with the English Heritage and Wessex Archaeology, and possibly by subsequent investigations by this dive team.

The data will be collected with the aim of submitting a written article for publication in the BSAC magazine.  As well as collecting and sharing of information, it is hoped that this expedition will actively promote further interest by other divers to continue with searching, surveying and supporting the identification of wrecks along the Dorset coast.

The targeted dive sites are on either side of Portland Bill, which will allow us to move to one side or the other depending on conditions.  All sites are within sight of land.  Most of the wrecks are a result of storms blowing up from the South and driving the ships onto the rocks.

The average depth of the wrecks is 25 to 35 metres.  Mixed gas diving is not necessary, although we will be seeking to extend bottom times as much as possible to survey and collect as much data as possible.  Therefore Nitrox back gas and/or richer decompression mixes will be ideal.

Diving Overview

The primary target for surveying is the Lyme Bay Cannon site, located due West of Portland Bill.  Should conditions become unfavourable for surveying this wreck (weather and/or visibility) the primary alternative target site will be the Brandy wreck to the East of Portland.   

Four other sites: the Fog Wreck, the Anworth, the Arfon, and the Netley Appey, are back-up sites should they be required.  The map above shows the areas where all potential sites are located, with approximate locations of the Primary target and first back up sites.

The plan is to focus on one site to gather as much meaningful information as possible ensuring the greatest chance of identifying the wreck.  If we believe we have completed mapping the primary target site we will continue to investigate objects around the wreck area to work out if they are connected.  Each object (often no larger than a cannon or a mortar) will require a dive.  If we are satisfied that we have located all possible related objects before the end of the expedition we will move onto one of the other back up sites.

Saying that, there is no reason why we can’t venture out to the M2 or some other interesting wreck for a fun diversion on one or two of the dives.

Diver qualifications

  • Advanced Diver or First Class Diver or Dive Leader if agreed with Expedition Leader
  • OC Accelerated Decompression Procedures preferred but not mandatory
  • OC twin set (for extended bottom time and independent gas supply for safety) or Closed-Circuit Rebreather with appropriate bailout.
  • Recent dive to 30M+ (at time of expedition)

Dive Boat

We will be using the Wey Chieftain IV, which is moored in Weymouth’s historic Old Harbour, just opposite The Old Rooms pub – Weymouth DT4 8TT.

The boat is designed to carry up to 12 fully equipped divers, so with 10 divers we will have enough space to be comfortable.

The skipper is Richard Bright-Paul, mobile 0790 3730195, email [email protected].

Wreck Information

Primary Site: Lyme Bay cannon site

There dozens of targets derived from scanning the northeast part of Lyme Bay. Over 300 wrecks have been documented as having gone in on Chesil beach alone – it’s a real trap in a storm with no place to go in a southwesterly. Of the many cannon sites in this sector, a particular one sits in 26m. There are two big guns sitting proud and last year a third was located 95% buried in the sand. It is likely there are more – and some underwater metal detecting may be required. The site is in the area where an East Indiaman is known to have sunk losing all but 4 hands. Ivory has been found at the site. However, the site is also littered with mortar shells which would seem odd for an inbound ship returning to the UK.  There is also an anchor at the site and also found was an odd copper pin. It would seem to be part of the vessel, but a proper site map does not exist, and it is unlikely the full extent of the (probably fragmented) vessel is yet known.  If we go back to available side scan data, we will doubtless find fragments around and about that may be linked to this ship. This area has an odd, extended slack and can be double dived within certain 6 hour periods.

1st Backup Site: Brandy Wreck

This appears to be a smallish naval vessel or armed merchantman. the name used for the site is derived from an 18th century onion bottle that came off the site when first discovered, but one other artefact was found from the site which Wessex Archaeology have dated as being from the 1600s. There is an amazing story concerning a 5th rate naval vessel lost in the areas in Cromwell’s time – could this be it?  Again there are cannon’s, ballast stones, and anchors. The site seems relatively compact but there could be other items around or in the sand. We really need some proof to confirm age. If it does come from the 1600s it would be incredibly rare. It sits in 28m to the east of Portland, and so gets some shelter from westerlies. This site can also be double dived in another odd extended slack specific to this area.

Fog wreck

This site is believed to be really old. There some extremely unusual, early cannon at the site – one seems to be a breech-loader. Also a big anchor and what appear to be smaller signal cannon. Much of the site sits on solid rock, so there ought to be other items around. The anchor and guns sit about 70m apart. Could there be more of this site scattered around that would confirm age and identity? The site sits in 28m with just one slack either side of HW.

The Anworth

This wreck sits near to the UB74 and Frognor to the west of Portland. A bell has come off the wreck with Anworth on it, but there is no record of a vessel of this name being lost in the area. We do have the name of at least one candidate, which matches the site description and was lost somewhere in the area but has never been found. Could this be it?  Where did that bell come from?  The wreck sits in 34m and has rarely been dived. One slight disadvantage is that it can’t be dived on the low water slack.

The Arfon

For years people have been diving a wreck commonly thought to be the Arfon, despite the fact that some of the key features never matched. Then a couple of years back two skippers in Swanage found HMT Arfon much closer to the coast.  So what then is this wreck sitting in 34m? We have one possible candidate name.

The Netley Abbey

There is another wreck up to the east sitting in 38m. The site has had many names in the local books – Start, Hartburn etc., but these have all now been located elsewhere.  This might be the Netley Abbey, but this has never really been confirmed.  One researcher seemed to think this was lost further south. All conjecture until found.