When diving on wrecks, can you appreciate what that pile of broken & twisted metal actually is?
Some wrecks remain fairly well held together and are instantly recognisable for what they are but many others represent a real challenge. I’m sure experienced divers will empathise when I describe a scenario where different divers have opposing views on what you had all just swum over, were you really on the same dive?
This post has been born out of a talk I recently gave to my own dive club Clifton BSAC about wreck anatomy. Travelling from bow to stern over a fictional wreck.
This is the bow of the wreck of the SS Vis in the northern Adriatic, Croatia. An intact wreck in clear water makes it instantly recognisable. The stem of the ship is a massively strong structure made up of a central iron or steel spine with plates riveted to it. Railings attached to the top of the bow structure (a safety feature for sailors working in this area). Anchor winches a little way back from the point of the bow, chains from those winches disappearing into the foredeck, to exit the side of the ship(through the hawse pipes) and finally attached to the ships anchors. Various cut-outs and bollards for mooring will also feature in this part of the ship.
Unfortunately most of the wrecks we dive upon are not as clearly laid out for us as this, a number of issues will affect what we see;
Age – the older the wreck the more deterioration in both metalwork and any wooden structures.
Circumstances of loss – perhaps the ship was in a collision or explosive ordinance was involved.
Orientation – the wreck may not be conveniently upright.
External factors – Position within strong or weak tidal streams(Mediterranean wrecks will be better preserved than those around the UK), amount of silting present, perhaps the wreck was originally deemed an obstruction and was “swept” this may have involved the use of explosives to reduce the height of the wreck.
Empire Otter, This too is a fairly intact with a recognisable bow, in this view it is easier to see the chains disappearing down the hawse pipe structures on the foredeck, I believe the hawse pipes are one of the important features that can help you work out if you are at or near the bow.
Canadian Corvette HMCS Regina,
Having a contemporary image of the ship when operational does add context to what you are looking at.
The Regina was torpedoed by U667 on 8 August 1944 with the loss of 30 crew. She was subject of the “Fatal Decision” episode of Deep Wreck Mysteries.
Above the foredeck the tops of the 2 hawse pipes appear disconnected to any decking which must have either rusted or rotted away. The solid hawse pipes are better able to stand up to the rigours of the marine environment.
Hospital Ship Rewa, this one is a bit more confusing and you need to look carefully. First World War, sunk 4 January 1918 with the loss of 4 crew.
Now we move to the scrapyard type wreck!
The winch and the hawse pipe in the background mean this jumble of wreckage is close to the bow.
Same wreck as previous image showing the stowed anchor in its hawse pipe, note the absence of any significant hull plating.
Protected wreck The Duke of Albany
Are we near the bow? Anchor winches in the foreground and a bulk of wreckage behind, remember winches don’t just occur at the bow they are often sited near masts of cargo vessels to operate cranes etc.
This is the view from the other side, definitely the bow section of the wreck!
I will now show some images of wrecks that may be more familiar:
This is the bow of the James Egan Layne, when I started diving, this wreck was much more intact than it is today. Each year winter storms take their toll, plating has come off the hull, the hawse pipes remain along with ribs that would have held the plates.
Looking up the bow of the Countess of Erne, a short hop from the O’Three factory, usually visibility in this part of Portland harbour does not allow such a good view!
Countess of Erne showing a vertical capstan style winch, if you find this you are near the bow.
What comes next? I will more briefly describe Cargo, Accommodation & Armaments. These items are more variable and will depend on the type of vessel.
From the top right, coils of wire(Thistlegorm), boxes of rifles(Thistlegorm), Sheets of wood veneer(SS Lina), Wheels(James Egan Layne), Pipes etc(James Egan Layne), Coal briquettes(Le Polynesien), Bales of fibre(SS Mardinian), Motorcycle(Thistlegorm). You may find yourself in a vast empty hold space, the reason holds on wrecks are often empty is that many vessels were carrying perishable cargo which has floated, rotted or been washed away from the wreck.
From top right Bath & toilet(SS Mardinian), Portholes(newly sunk MV Vis), Portholes(amongst wreckage, Duke of Albany), Toilets(HS Rewa). There is something weirdly fascinating about taking pictures of toilets underwater! Portholes apparently alone were probably fitted to wooden superstructure that has rotted away.
From top right, Oerkilon machine gun(HMS Boadicea), Twin 4inch gun turret(HMS Southwold), Deck gun(Le polynesien), 4inch gun(HMS Boadicea), Bullets for the oerkilon gun(HMS Boadicea), Deck gun(Duke of Albany), Depth Charge & above depth charge in thrower(HMS Boadicea), central image is of a live torpedo in it’s tube(Schnell boat, Malta).
I hope this blog post helps people to appreciate and understand the wrecks they are diving, next instalment I will be moving aft to the engine room.