Jane Maddocks looks back on her time as a project diver on the early screw steamship SS Faith, and looks at how diver research has rehabilitated our reputation with conservation bodies.
This month I shall be doing the final project dive on the SS Faith (off the Isle of Wight) if weather allows. Built in 1854 and sunk on her way to Turkey via the Crimean War, in 1856, she is a very early steamship. Built with a full sail plan, documents show that her main propulsion was always steam, and sails were the secondary source.
I have three more research questions to ask: was Lignum vitae (a special hardwood) used in the propeller system, does any evidence remain for a lifting or non-lifting propeller, and how much trawler damage has been done in the last three years?
This project has taken eight years, involved 63 BSAC divers and members of eight branches. It has been fun and involved not just diving but archive research, material from the amazing Dave Wendes of Wight Spirit, and videos and stills from some of the best photographers out there. The poor visibility means that none are yet of the sort of definition needed for the pages of SCUBA... sorry.
As project leader, I have used the work of experts and picked the brains of some of the best young maritime archaeologists around today.
All good things end. This year must be the last – there are more un-dived and uncharted wrecks out there waiting to be given their public lives back. One more extended report and this amazing vessel can be freely dived as a scheduled monument of national importance.
Work done by BSAC branches to locate, research and record underwater remains (and present their findings to the heritage agencies) reinforces our positive contribution to heritage
I really want to thank so many people on behalf of all BSAC divers in England (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own laws about protecting some wrecks). We all know that the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 means we cannot dive those protected wrecks unless there are special circumstances.
For example, the Coronation in Plymouth Sound can be dived, and there are visitor trails around other wrecks protected under the ‘73 Act. For many of us it has seemed sad that having found the vessels and made Historic England aware of their position and importance, we could not dive them, because they were protected.
As Underwater Heritage and Wrecks advisor to BSAC, I spend quite a bit of time in committees. Over time the heritage agencies became much more diver friendly. We are beginning to be seen as assets, not vandals. Work done by BSAC branches to locate, research and record underwater remains (and present their findings to the heritage agencies) reinforced our positive contribution to heritage. Thank you.
Finally, after lobbying, many conversations and carefully listening to other points of view we now have some wrecks listed as scheduled ancient monuments. This means they can be freely visited and dived but not tampered with-just like scheduled ancient monuments on land. This is such an important change - thank you Historic England for listening and enabling the change.
There are exceptions. The Mortar Wreck from the 1200s, still carrying its cargo of coffins, has just been protected under the ‘73 Act. It is unique in British waters and may not be dived except by the team involved in the research and recording.
I must thank a BSAC member, Hugh Waite, who updates a list of protected wrecks on Wikipedia. It shows the different designations and country designating. Just go to Protected Wrecks Wikipedia and enjoy. If the column is headed Designated it means these are not diveable except with permission (check out the Historic England Protected Wrecks site for more information). He does this for no reward except a big ‘thank you Hugh’.
There are other websites. If you go to ‘Protected Wreck Sites Historic England’ it tells you how you can dive wrecks protected under the 1973 Act. It also gives information about diver trails. Looking up the Marine and Coastguard Agency site for Protected Wreck sites can give you a lot more information about the legal side of it.
So, I have taken SS Faith as far as she can go; but out there somewhere are my next projects. Will it be the train wreck, or another as yet undived site? Hmm, tell you later.