Those on social media will undoubtedly have followed the antics at this year’s Isles of Scilly expedition. Ten divers and two WAGs spent a week on the island of St Mary’s in Hugh Town in varying accommodations of self catering house share, B&B establishments and hotels. Diving was with Dave McBride and his Dive Scilly operation. With one last minute cancellation, the group welcomed non club member Jack Whiteley, who buddied Steve Marchant. Bill King buddied Jim Boyd, Dave Hall with Andrew Osborne, Mandy and Tom Bryer plus Mark Lewis and Tom Ingram. Organiser for the trip was Dave Hall.
Saturday 26th June
Having spent the previous Friday evening in Penzance, logistics mandated an early start to get to the quay. Getting to the Scillies is not complicated, but processes need to be followed. Having dropped off dive kit into the shipping container, luggage was left quayside while others took cars to be parked. And yes Jim, you have to reserve parking before you arrive!
The crossing itself was calm enough, though some 2m rollers en route made some passengers reach for sick bags. No beer was being served for some bizarre reason and to the dismay of some. Covid rules seemed extreme, masks required for the duration of the trip, inside the vessel and on deck. The only permissible excuse was when sipping drinks or eating. Unlike pubs, restaurants and cafes where masks can be removed while sitting at a table, not on the Scillonian III. As a terse directive of the captain did cement.
As soon as we docked in St Mary’s, we could doff said Covid masks and frequent The Mermaid public house. The great thing is that, so long as your luggage is marked with your name and destination accommodation details, the magic fairies deliver to your door and with a time honoured tradition, it was a few pints of Guinness in The Mermaid that would commence a cracking week of diving.
Dinner This Evening - Portcressa Beach Fish ‘n’ Chips and Thai Van
Dinner that first evening was free, meaning that no reservations had been made. It was a glorious evening and everyone ate from either the fish and chip van or Thai van at Portcressa Beach.
Sunday 27th June
The first task of the day therefore was to load the boat. Our home for the week was dive boat Tiberon (Spanish for “shark”). The quay at Hugh Town is always busy and it was all hands to get all the dive kit and caboodle onto the boat and once settled, we were off to the dive site of the 1707 fireship shipwreck, HMS Firebrand. Dive two of the day was the historic 1798 HMS Colossus.
HMS Firebrand - Dive Report by Mark Lewis
My buddy for today was Tom Ingram and the Firebrand was an ideal check dive. With maximum depths somewhere between 25m and 27m, this was an easy dive. It was simple shot descent and with a gentle current, scoot around to see the canons and anchors and then drift off the site to ascend with DSMB. I was on my CCR and Tom was on his OC single cylinder. Run time was 40 minutes with maximum depth of 26m, water temperature of 13degC and visibility of hazy 5 to 8 metres.
No photos were taken by anyone on this dive, so here’s a GoPro still and dive log entry from my 2019 dive.
“Anchor from HMS Firebrand, an 8-gun fireship launched in 1694 and wrecked in 1707 during the Scilly Navel Disaster. The disaster saw the loss of four warships of a Royal Navy fleet off the Isles of Scilly in severe weather on 22nd October 1707. Between 1,400 and 2,000 sailors lost their lives aboard the wrecked vessels, making the incident one of the worst maritime disasters in British naval history. Firebrand served in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. She is recorded as convoying five merchantmen in company with Winchester near Barbados in March 1695.”
During our surface interval, we were trying to decide where to dive next as the wind and swell had picked up for the planned HMS Colossus. Plan B followed plan A and then plans C, D and E swiftly followed with plan F, back to The Mermaid. Skipper Dave made a decision to indeed dive the Colossus. Half of the divers stayed on board while the other half jumped in. With all divers safety back on board, it was back to port. However, with surge and swell of waves water was ingressing into the engine bay and alarms bleeping, there were a few stops during the trip. In these extremes, the clove hitch knot is indeed your friend. No cylinders were hurt in the making of this film.
Dinner tonight was at The Mermaid.
Wingletang Reef - Dive Report by Tom Ingram
If the name “the silly islands” isn’t fun enough, then our second dive called Wingletang Reef should do it!
To top it off I was diving with the KING, Bill King to be exact, the legend, and if he doesn’t mind me saying still going strong at 76 years young! An inspiration to us all!! But any other future room mate of the King beware!!!’, there is a snoring warning out on him!!!
Anyway, back to Wingletang! After the initial brief from Dave McBride, me and the King jumped in and followed the shot off the edge of the reef and down the drop off to about 25metres. As soon as we started descending down the wall it was clear it was going to be a special dive!
Covered in jewel anemones and plumose anemones it was absolutely stunning! At every turn there was a crayfish out and about on its daily routine which made me as excited as a kid in a candy shop with all the photographic opportunities I had, while the King was just taking in the magnificent vista as a legend would!
As we headed north east along the reef it just kept giving up amazing sites until we had to leave our water wonderland once more! Fantastic dive enjoyed by all the divers!
- Max depth 26m
- 14 degrees water temperature
- 39 minutes dive
Dinner This Evening - Dibble and Grub
Dinner this evening was at the Dibble and Grub restaurant overlooking Portcressa Beach. Our al fresco dining was Spanish tapas, although some illogical Covid rules kind of culled some of the atmosphere. That said, a great night was had by all.
MV Cita - Dive Report by Jim Boyd
MV Cita was a German-owned cargo ship wrecked at Newfoundland Point, St Mary’s on 26 March 1997. She was en route to Ireland and on automatic pilot whilst the crew slept. The St Mary’s lifeboat took all nine Polish crew ashore. Because of its comparatively recent wrecking it is fdairly intact and some superstructure remains so we dropped onto the focsle and stayed in that general area. Usual life and took some photos of a nice sea fan. Saw a couple of Common Wrasse and a smallish blue jellyfish with long tentacles when we were ascending. Buddy Bill King
- Max depth 22m for 42 mins Water temp 13 degrees C.
Dinner This Evening - Bills' Salmon
Surface Interval - The Vape Crusader
You see, Tom has been getting a little superhero attention the past weeks before the trip. Having rescued a stranded fishing boat in Dover from crashing onto the rocks by swimming out to attach a line, allowing it to be towed safely back to port, he was also called upon at Swanage to cut free a fishing charter which inadvertently caught its prop around a mooring line.
And oh yes, is reputation must go before him and for a third time he was called to the rescue!
This time it was a yacht that had somehow got it’s anchor snagged on an underwater cable or something. Well, that’s what the lady said who came across to Tiberon and asked for help. Tom was our ideal man for the job and this time with his trusty companion, Dave. Their reward? £30.00 and a nice bottle of red!
The Lady Charlotte - Dive Report by Andrew Osborne
It’s Wednesday 30 June 21 myself Andrew Osborne and David Hall are on our second dive of the day the Lady Charlotte. It was one very foggy day on 11 May 1917 that two cargo steamers, the, Lady Charlotte and the Italia, both became total wrecks within hours of each other on the rocky coasts of the Scillies. The Lady Charlotte formerly called the Aphrodite, was a steamer of some 3593 tons and had been built by the Tyne Iron Steamboat Company in 1905. On the afternoon of 11 May, the Lady Charlotte, outward bound from Cardiff to France carrying a cargo of coal, encountered dense fog. After becoming hopelessly lost she finally ran aground at Porth Hellick Point. Fortunately, the sea was fairly calm and all the crew managed to escape before the vessel sank and became a total loss.
Today the Lady Charlotte rests close inshore, about midway between Porth Hellick. Point and Newfoundland Rocks. The remains of the Lady Charlotte now lie on a rocky bottom covered with fairly thick kelp in the shallows. She is well broken up, and her depth ranges from about 10 m to 24 m The main mass of the wreck, is in the 15 m to 24 m range, From 10 m, where there are small pieces of wreckage and iron girders, the bottom slopes gently down, leading you to larger and larger pieces of wreckage which are scattered amongst the rocks. Soon you come to a great jumble of steel plates and girders, which are scattered over a very wide area. Towering above all this twisted metal, are the Lady Charlotte’s two huge boilers.
For myself this is a great rummage dive visibility was around 8 m we started at the boilers and worked are way down to the stern where there is a steering Quadrant to be found, there was very little current and what little there was, was pushing us back up to the shallows of the wreck. This wreck makes for a great dive, as you need not spend too long at depth.
Afternoon Activities - by Mark Lewis
Back at their digs, “Oh yes!” Dave Hall promises. “We’ll take a walk over the coastal route to Old Town and the pub will be open. I promise. I’ll show you where Harold Wilson is buried.”
Thus the four or Dave, Ossie, Jack and I set off around the coastal path. As well as a walk on what was a lovely sunny afternoon, Dave wanted to find the cemetery memorial to a lady passenger of the SS Schiller, which is an adopted wreck by Dave McBride. She was on a journey from New York City to Hamburg and wrecked on the Retarrier Ledges with the loss of 335 people. In the cemetery, there is a memorial to one of the passengers.
Gasping for a pint, we popped into the cemetery to find the memorial and also that of Harold Wilson, a Labour British politician who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from October 1964 to June 1970, and again from March 1974 to April 1976.
Finally arriving in Old Town and trying to find the Old Town Inn, Dave asked a local and pointed him in the correct direction. A few yards up the road, there was the Scilly Gin Distillery and purchasing a couple of bottles, we found the pub to be closed. After all that!
Suffice to say, we found a small cafe for a refreshing Scillies Gin and tonic!
Dinner This Evening - Steve's BBQ
The Douro - Dive Report by Mark Lewis
My buddy for this dive was Tom Bryer and for all concerned, this was a special dive. Skipper Dave McBride had shown us all a number of (so called) “Manillas” earlier in the week that have been found on this wreck site. Indeed, Dave was also talking about small arms which are also supposed on the wreck site and with the majority of the divers on the trip interested in historic wreck diving, it seemed a great opportunity not to miss. Today was a gorgeous summer day with flat calm seas and just whispers of cloud in the sky.
So let’s talk about the Douro for the moment. The Douro was built in 1839, commencing April and completing in September that year. The build survey number 1441 from the Lloyds Register foundation dated 4th October 1839 shows her as a “Snow” brig. She was not a schooner as reported in news of the era. The ship was built in Sunderland with master recorded as Thomas Gowland and destined voyages as Oporto. She had five anchors of three Bower anchors weighing 10.5, 10.0 and 9.5 tons, one Stream anchor weighing 4 tons and one Kedge anchor weighing 1.5 tons.
A snow, snaw or snauw is a square-rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast.
The Douro was cited as “loading goods” in late December 1842 in Liverpool which would be her last voyage. Newspaper articles of the era state that she was carrying baled goods of cotton and hemp from Manchester. In fact, there were two ships loading for Oporto that month, the other ship being the Emma Graham. Both ships departed Liverpool, the Emma Graham a little earlier than the Douro and Liverpool export documents of the era state that cargo destined from Liverpool to Oporto was:
- 1 crt 1 hd eware
- 9 bls baize
- 2 bls 28 cs 35 bxs 28 trs cotton
- 1 prcl s bls wolns
- 49 t hoop iron
- 106 bxs 29 bls cotns & linen
The question is whether this “hoop iron” is a pseudonym for “Manillas” or indeed hoop iron for wine barrels?
Although the Emma Graham made it to Oporto, the Duro was lost on the evening of 28th January 1843.
The British Newspaper Archive has a number of entries in late January 1843 and early February 1843 reporting of a shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly on 28th January called the “Douro”. The ship was en-route from Liverpool to Oporto when she started to leak and made headway to England. It appears she floundered in fog near the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, built 1858. These articles state the ship’s log was found a few days after the sinking and that these facts are known.
The newspaper articles also state that the Douro was carrying a cargo of bales of cotton and hemp. More so, all souls perished that evening with some three or four bodies recovered the next day. Of these bodies, one was known to be a Thomas Gowland from the “TG” initials on his shirt and ship’s name on his hand.
There is a burial record of the parish of St Marys in the Isles of Scilly, dated 1843. Page 61 and record 487 states that two men were brought from the Douro wreck on St Agnes, names unknown. There is an addendum that states that one of the bodies was Thomas Gowland, captain of the Douro. Date of burial was 30th January.
So, who is Thomas Gowland?
Having started to research him via ancestry websites, it is proving quite difficult. There are records of a plethora of Thomas Gowlands around the Durham and Sunderland areas of the era and many of them being mariners. We know that the captain of the Douro was a Thomas Gowland as that is written on the survey record and we know he is memorialised in Sunderland, but which one is he?
We found a probate bond from 1843 for Thomas Gowland, master mariner. It states he died at sea 28 Jan 1843. His wife at the time was named Mary (maiden name unknown) and she was in Sunderland at the time. We also found a burials record in Sunderland district:
This interestingly gives him a birth year of 1812 and much younger than we thought. We think they did not have children and that Mary married a John Rogerson on 7th September 1843 and had one daughter called Elizabeth Rogerson in the 1851 Census. One thing is for sure, he died on the fateful evening and although memorialised in Sunderland, is laid to rest in the cemetery at Hugh Town, St Marys.
Let’s talk about the Manillas.
The Manilla was a currency used in the slave trade. Not wholly reserved for slave trading, but certainly a unit of currency and manufactured in Birmingham. But here’s the twist! Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807 while the Douro sank in 1843.
So was Thomas Gowland illegally trading and/or shipping Manillas some 36 years later? Is the “hoop iron” such metal bands which circled barrels of brandy and wine (as per the trades/routes to and from Oporto which the Douro was making) or as I write, a pseudonym for Manillas? These two questions are certainly not conclusive.
Interestingly, there are some divers on the Isles of Scilly that state that the ship we dived was actually called the Custos as sunk in 1856. The problem here is that the location of our dive site was Round Rock (that of the Custos) and the Douro was reported as sunk on Little Crebawethan. So that on the face of it is not conclusive. However, there is certainly mystery here as Round Rock is quite close to Little Crebawethan and while the fishermen found the wreckage and bodies on Little Crebawethan, perhaps the wreck site on Round Rock is the Douro? Or part of the Douro? Or part of the Douro and the Custos?
How do we know the dive site was the Douro?
But it doesn’t end there. In the Samual Jackson documentary called Enslaved (available on BBC iPlayer), around 26 minutes into the episode, they dive the wreck site that they call the Douro. Further into the Scillies piece, they interview a Terry Hiron and he says he discovered the Douro in 1972. He says he “lifted” “two or three tons of manillas”, “piles, about four foot high” and “enough to fill this shed.” The question here is that the Liverpool manifest cites 49 “t” (ton?) of hoop iron. If Terry only found 2 or 3 ton, where is there other circa 45 ton? That is, if indeed “hoop iron” is covert name for Manillas. Was the Emma Graham also carrying Manillas? Also, what happened to the 2 or 3 ton that Terry recovered I wonder? We know that some are for sale on eBay.
My question is, if Terry found the Douro as he says, how did he specifically identify the wreckage as the Douro? If the newspaper archives are saying the Douro was carrying cotton and hemp from Manchester and Terry Hiron says he lifted two to three tons of manillas, why are manillas not listed in the newspaper reports? One theory could be that only bales of cotton and hemp were found as flotsam and that the manillas obviously sank. But surely the journalists of the time would have queried the ship’s cargo manifest? Thus, how did Terry identify the wreck as the Douro? In the programme Terry shows off a number of artefacts from the dive site including a razor and silver cutlery and there is discussion of the comparable value of the Manillas and silverware in human terms. We know that Thomas has initials embroidered into his shirt as this was used to identify his body and it is said he had a tattoo of the ship’s name, so surely these silverware items will have borne the initials or names of either Gowland himself or the name of the ship?
What I am saying is, there is still doubt in my mind that the wreck site is the Douro. More than likely it is, but this is not conclusive and I would like to diver her again. As we found just one anchor, where are the other four?
Back to the dive! This was an amazing 10 to 15 metres visibility with a misty haze in the distance. Water temperature was 13degC.
My buddy for this dive was Tom Bryer. The objective was to find some Manillas and as soon as we descended, we could see the kelp filled gullies and it was a simply rummage around in the sandy bottom. Amazed to see one of the anchors and as I now know, one of five if this site is indeed the Douro. Did we find any Manillas? Ask no questions and we shall tell no lies.
One of the problems of diving on the Scillies is that there is no O2 for Nitrox and as Tom was on air, he signalled to surface while I still had 44 minutes NDL. I would have stayed down there for hours and for sure, I would love to go back to this site.
Small problem was that I was supposed to deploy my DSMB. However, the reel jammed and signalling ‘broken’ to Tom I had two options. Deploy my secondary or ask Tom to deploy his. So for me it was a free ascent and with Boyles Law and Daltons Law playing their silly games, Tom pointed to the shot behind me and a lovely tactile reference.
Tim's Crack - Dive Report by Steve Marchant
Tim’s crack was the second dive of the day, a dive which none of us on this Scilly expedition had done before. We were all eager to get in to see how this crack compared to Dave’s magnificent crack, which we had already dived 2 days earlier. With the dive on Dave’s magnificent crack living up to expectation, Tim’s crack had a lot to live up too. With a flat calm sea state and the sun shining, would it deliver?
After our skipper Dave McBride gave a brief on the topology of the site, we all enthusiastically kitted up. Tim’s crack is a selection of pinnacles, which you can swim through via the crack(s), which enable you to swim in a figure of eight.
Dr Jack and I were the first to get in and descended the shotline to the top of a pinnacle covered with sea kelp. The anchor on the end of the shotline had dropped down in to a slight crevice on the top of the pinnacle. Leaving the shotline, we descended to the bottom of the pinnacle and the crack at a depth of approx 30meters. The sides of the pinnacles, adorned in Jewel and plumose anemones sparkled in the rays of sunlight penetrating down to the depths. With an eagle eye, we did spot some small nudibranchs moving between the anemones. Velvet Crabs hid in the crevices, feistily snapping at you if you got too close. There was the odd spider and edible crab seen during the dive, but surprisingly not as many as I thought there would be. We also saw small conger eels, the smallest ones I have seen on a UK dive, hiding in the crevices.
We were also accompanied on this dive by some of the locals…..no not Wally the Walrus, but those playful sea dogs, Seals…..the ones that Mandy loves and squeals with delight whenever she sees one!
The seals in the Scillies are not as tame or playful with divers as those in the Farne Islands are, but still try to buzz you or have a crafty tug on an unsuspecting divers fin. They certainly provide entertainment on a dive.
After Dr Jack and I had done a couple of circuits of the dive, we ascended and spent the rest of the dive at about 15 to 12 meters just enjoying looking at the reef. At 39 minutes, I signalled to Dr Jack that I had accrued 7 minutes deco so both gave the thumbs up signal. As there was very little current, we decided to go back up the shotline. As we approached the line, I delved down into the kelp to make sure that the end of the shotline was not stuck fast. Upon looking at it, it indeed was wedged in between two rocks. I freed it and placed it in a position so it would lift easily (Or that was the plan!).
We carried out a free ascent alongside the shotline, watching young Billy Boy and Jimbo ascend above us. Deco stops all done we surfaced on 51 minutes dive time, surface to surface.
Dr Jack and I were the last divers back on to the boat, and whilst de-kitting, the skipper tried to haul in the shotline. However, after many futile attempts it was stuck fast….so much for me putting it in a position for it to lift easily.
As Dr Jack and I were still fully suited, we decided to re-kit and drop down and carryout ‘Operation Free Anchor’, using our spare DSMBs to lift it off the top of the pinnacle to avoid the risk of it wedging itself again. I did have my lift bag on the boat but opted not to take it, going on the assumption that two DSMBs would be sufficient to lift the ‘Not’ so heavy anchor. We descended to the anchor and could see it had fallen back in between the rocks. We both lifted it out of its wedged home, and attached two DSMBs to it. With both DSMBs inflated, we watched as the anchor started to lift….and then stop in mid water at about 5meters; just hanging there, not rising any further (Should have brought the lift bag!).
We decided to leave it, I sent up my other DSMB, and we ascended alongside the anchor, keeping some 2-3 meters away. As we sat at 5 meters doing a safety stop, suddenly the two DSMBs started to rise and the anchor was at the surface…..mission accomplished, kind of.
Tim’s crack was an enjoyable dive with some colourful jewel anemones, but was it as good as Dave’s Magnificent Crack….I think not. Dave’s magnificent crack, shall we say ‘Had more hair on it’…..read in to that what you will!
Dinner This Evening - Turks Head
Dinner tonight was at the Turks Head on the island of St Agnes. A short boat ride from St Marys. A stunning location and setting, overlooking the bay and onward to St Mary’s. With the boat departing at 9.00pm, there was enough time to take a walk and burn off some culinary delights.
Back at port, it was our first real encounter with Wally The Walrus. Sleeping on a pontoon, we were able to have a glimpse of the animal which has been in the media in recent weeks. On one hand, where he can be seen as a lost and lonely animal, having traveled various countries before arriving on the Scillies, he is now becoming a nuisance to some of the locals, overturning boats and causing tens of thousands of pounds. Whatever happens to Wally in the future, we will follow with interest.
SS Italia - Dive Report by Dave Hall
The dive plan for today was ropes off at 07.30 ready to dive for 08.30 we are diving “ The King Cadwallian”
As all good plans with diving, this changed at the last minute due to one of our dive team requesting The Italia, therefore our skipper Dave said “ok be ready in 20 mins”. Therefore, the Dive Plan chanted to The Italia.
The Italia was an armed Italian registered Steam ship of 2792 tons. She ran aground on Wingletang reef on the 11th May 1917. She struck the reef during thick fog the same night as The Lady Charlotte which sank 3 miles east at Porth Helick, St Marys .
The local population on St Agnes were completely unaware of the sinking, thinking the steam and noise were coming from the Lady Charlotte, however a young girl did report the sinking but no one took her seriously. The following day the crew were found after they rowed ashore. No-one spoke Italian and it was wildly assumed that the Italian crew had rowed to St Agnes after a U-Boat sinking of another Italian vessel. The Italia was originally built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and named the Gulf of Florida in 1891, she was transporting coal from Cardiff to Toronto .
The ship sank in a steep sloping gully with her stern at 13m and bow at 45m. Our dive began with the shot being dropped amid ships near the boilers in around 20m of water. We proceeded along the engine block with the piston and crank very visible then to the boilers, then to the port side and headed towards the bow. We had no plan of reaching the bow , we came to the mast that lies across the port side at around 34m. From here, we turned and headed back towards the stern and shallower water, Ossie kept inside the wreckage to explore the nooks and crannies of the wreck a little more whilst I popped over the port side to take in all the magnificent colours of the sponges. We were buzzed a couple of times by a solitary seal to add to the excitement. Our dive on the Italia ended at the shot line where we did our accent, our total dive time including a longer than normal stop was 40 minutes. The Italia had been promised all week and we were both very happy to dive her as our penultimate dive of the week.
Hopefully Ossie will supply photographs!
Dinner This Evening - The Mermaid
You’ve guessed it, with all kit locked securely away in the container, it was off to The Mermaid for a few pints of Guinness. But not a lot, as everyone was feeling tired and as early as 3.00pm, everyone departed the pub for a snooze to be ready for our last evening meal together at you’ve guessed it, The Mermaid.
After dinner and the objective achieved if placing the club pennant on the bar, it was a late night for some.
It was a brilliant all round trip. Extremes of weather but everyone had a fantastic time above and below the water. Everyone got along with each other and it was a jovial group. Thanks to Dave Hall for his organisation and planning and here’s to hopefully a revisit in the near future. Take a look at Tom Bryer’s video which is a great summary of the week.