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Scuba divers on a mission to solve a centuries old shipwreck

Underwater diver & cannon

Published at 11:41am 22nd June 2018.

Scuba divers on a mission to solve a centuries old shipwreck mystery off the Dorset coast, are also backing a campaign to support the UK Charter Boat industry.

Members of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) lead by Cameron Cromwell, have been using metal detectors to map the remains of two ships which sunk near Portland Bill.

The wrecks date back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

So far they have photographed several metal cannons, mortar balls and fragments of wood that may date back as far as the 1700s, with hopes to bring maritime history to the surface before the remains finally disintegrate in the tides.

The exciting project is being run thanks to the crew of Weymouth-based charter boat the Wey Chieftain IV, skippered by Richard Bright-Paul, who is also a BSAC diver.


Richard has spent years researching the seabed off the coast of Dorset from the Wey Chieftain IV, to map the locations of scores of shipwrecks, which are among around 300 scattered in and around Portland Bill and the Chesil beach bay area.

Cameron said: “These two sites have been known about for a while, but no-one knows what they are. We don’t yet know how old they are, but they could date back as far as the 18th century.”

“Interestingly there were elephant tusks found previously at one of the sites, so perhaps it could be a trading vessel from Africa or India.

“A lot of what is down there is buried just below the sand, which is why we are using metal detectors to try to get a fuller picture.

“We are trying to collect whatever evidence we can, and where possibile taking lots of photographs of what we see, to enable us to map the sites in more detail, plan more dives, and eventually hopefully identify the wrecks.

“There’s so much history down there that people don’t know anything about and we just want to find out as much as we can.” He added: “It’s immensely satisfying to work on a project that brings lots of divers together from all over the country to dive with a purpose.”

Wey Chieftain IV skipper Richard Bright-Paul said: “These are a couple of sites that we have been investigating for a number of years.

“The whole of the Chesil beach area is an interesting area. We think up to 300 ships were wrecked on the beach over the years.

“Many ships caught in a storm in Lyme Bay ended up being wrecked on Chesil Beach. The death toll was prolific in that area, there is a section which was known as Deadman’s bay as sadly so many people washed up there.

 “Every ship has a story to tell. They are all time capsules. On most there is a tragic story as there tended to be a loss of life.

 “It’s a bit of a puzzle to piece together what you are looking at. It’s not impossible that it could be several wrecks piled together on a site.”

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