On the 4th July 2008, a MAT dive team visited an unidentified wreck in deep water off St Catherine’s Point. The objective was to explore the wreck, find diagnostic features that may help to identify it and attempt to create a photo-mosaic of the site. MAT Director Garry Momber was joined on the dive by Lawrence Moran (University of York) and Trevor Jenkins (All Dive Video). Joining the team for the day were cameraman Mike Pitts and John Chambers from the BBC’s Natural History Unit.
While the archaeological techniques used for surveying this site were relatively standard ones, the diving techniques were not. Over the past few years the HWTMA has been working alongside the University of York to develop deep diving techniques, initially for the investigation of submerged prehistoric landscapes lying up to 100 metres underwater, but equally applicable to deep wreck sites. The dive on the wreck was undertaken using Trimix (oxygen, nitrogen and helium) to increase safety at the 38 metre depth.
There is a very narrow window of opportunity to visit the site; it demands slack water during neap tides. This meant an early start on the morning of the 4th July, sailing from Lymington aboard Wight Spirit. The five divers descended onto the wreck shortly before the tide went slack, giving them the optimum diving window. The divers had just 30 minutes in which to explore, survey, video and photograph the wreck. Mike and John set about their photo-mosaic; Lawrence and Trevor explored and videoed the wreck looking for potential diagnostic artefacts and Garry started a plan of the site.
Little was previously known of the site beyond that gleaned from a handful of dives previously undertaken by Dave Wendes, skipper of Wight Spirit. The wreck, the remains of a wooden cargo vessel, lies on a chalk seabed with a mobile covering of gravel. With little or no soft sediments to protect it, all of the wooden structure has degraded leaving various pieces of iron work including cannon and two anchors as well as the cargo of large blocks of Portland Stone.
A good outline plan was produced, along with photos and video. Some of the previously identified features such as cannon and anchors were located, along with several others. There now appear to be at least one cannon, two anchors, an iron cooking pot, unidentified ironwork and brass on the site. As yet the wreck has not been identified; however, further archive research combined with targeted diving investigation should reveal more in the future.
Possible deep wreck candidates include
Constant James – Wrecked 24 March 1752
Watershoot Bay, Jenny Rock.
50 34 30N 01 18 15 W
Sailing from Portland to Ramsgate. Sailing sloop, wooden construction. Cargo – stone, unspecified, Captain – Dixon.
“loaded with Stone, from Portland for Ramsgate, struck on a rock off the Isle of Wight and was lost, but the people were saved”
Unidentified wreck – Wrecked 30 June 1755
St Catherines Point, Watershoot Bay.
Sailing From Weymouth to London. Sailing sloop. Cargo – stone, cut blocks. All crew lost.
“Wheelers log name vessel as ‘Watershoot’ but this is more likely to be the scene of the incident.”
Minerva – Wrecked 1 September 1816
Isle of Wight, Offshore, location unknown.
50 38N 01 18 W
Sailing from Falmouth to London. Sailing vessel, wooden construction, Cargo – stone, unspecified. Captain – Howard.
“to London, with stone, sunk of the IOW on Sunday morning. Crew Saved”