NAS intern dives straight in
For the first five months of this year, NAS HQ in Portsmouth, UK, hosted Greek intern Persefoni Lesgidi for a part-time but activity-packed internship. Here she reports on her experiences in an edited version of the blog she submitted as part of her Masters degree at the University of Southampton.
Tuesday 30th of January was my first day as an intern at NAS HQ. Education Officer Peta Knott, my supervisor, arranged a Skype meeting beforehand for us to get to know each other. That was followed on my first day in the office at Fort Cumberland by an orientation tour and health and safety briefing. Peta also told me about the objectives and mission of the Society. On my second time there I met CEO Mark Beattie Edwards. Both Peta and Mark are the most cheerful people I know!
During the first part of my internship, I conducted several office-based assignments through which I explored the way the NAS was organised. I had a computer to myself, and helped with work such as printing paperwork or creating logbooks for members who complete a course, as well as gathering the training equipment for upcoming courses.
Image: Persefoni helping to prepare for the Shipwreck Conference in Plymouth
During my first week I was also asked to find archaeological news for the weekly email to members, which Peta then approved and then sent to members. I also added new members to the membership database. My organisational and communication skills have been enhanced by participating in these assignments.
In early March, I helped move artefacts and files to the Society’s new stores. My contribution was small, but overall the office space has improved and the NAS team seem well set for the future. Another important task I was assigned was photographing and placing artefacts in new boxes, ready to use on training courses. I was able to put my university archaeological photography training to use and gained experience in ways of recording and storing artefacts.
Peta trained me to assist her in the NAS training programme. My first accomplishment was successfully finishing the Foreshore Recorder Skills Day in Weymouth. After completing this, I was able to help participants in the next course; I felt confident with my knowledge and successful at doing my job. I also attended Photogrammetry, Recorder and Surveyor days and again helped participants.
Image: Offset survey exercise
One of the most important events of my placement was two days of archaeological diving on the Normans’ Bay protected wreck off the Sussex coast in southern England. It was a challenge and an achievement at the same time. I saw how an underwater survey was conducted and experienced diving and working in unfamiliar conditions. More concretely, I had to combine the theoretical knowledge gained at the university and at NAS with skills acquired during my internship. As a result, I took accurate measurements of two of the 51 cannon on the site. The pressures of time, cold water, currents and low visibility made the task challenging. But as nervous as I was at first, I overcame my fears when Peta showed me the steps I should follow. Having long-time NAS member Sara Hasan as an instructor beside me on my first UK underwater archaeological dive made me feel safe and confident.
Image: Diving on the Normans' Bay Protected Wreck
Overall, my internship strengthened my organisation and communication skills. By watching how an organisation operates, my management skills have grown, while my university experience helped me to meet deadlines. Completing three of the NAS E-learning courses tested my existing university education and added to my knowledge.
All in all, I am grateful to Peta and Mark who gave me this opportunity. I feel I gained an abundance of theoretical and practical skills as well as work experience. If I gained something beyond professional skills from my placement, it is learning that a real-world working experience provides more than any abstract training can.
Santa Maria de la Rosa - 50th Anniversary visit
4th July 2108 was the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the wreck of Santa Maria de la Rosa, the first Spanish Armada shipwreck to be found in modern times, off Great Blasket Island, near Dingle, County Kerry, in the south-west of Ireland. Several of those who volunteered on this expedition gained experience which led to careers in diving and/or underwater archaeology.
Two of the original team, (right), decided to mark the anniversary by a visit to the area, and to cast a rather windswept bunch of flowers on the water in memory of the Spaniards who drowned in 1588, and of those of the finders who have died since the 1968 expedition.
Image: Colin Martin (left) and Karol Bialowas (right), marking the anniversary (Photo Paula Martin)
NAS Protected Wreck Day gives members a close encounter with two UK protected wrecks.
The chance to dive two sites of historic significance was a dream come true for archaeology enthusiast Duncan Ross. So, when the opportunity came up to dive the HMS A1 submarine and the first HMS Invincible off southern England, he jumped at it. This is his report.
I booked my place on the NAS protected wreck day late last year, and spent the interim doing a little research. I found a couple of books in a second-hand bookshop near my home in Birkenhead, near Liverpool: one about early submarines and another on 18th century ship construction. Where they will go on my overloaded maritime archaeology bookcases I have no idea.
With any British dive plan, you pray for good conditions. When the day came, we hit a heatwave.
The A1 was the British Royal Navy’s first British-designed and British-built submarine, having been built at the Vickers yard in Barrow-in-Furness, north-west England, in 1902. She also holds the dubious accolade of being the first British submarine tragedy. In fact, she wrecked twice. All hands were lost when the mail steamer SS Berwick Castle struck her conning tower in 1904 as it passed above. She was eventually raised, and the bodies of the crew buried. She was then put back into service under a young Max Kennedy Horton, future admiral and commander-in-chief of the Western Approaches during the Second World War. Her eventual loss occurred in 1911 during training while being piloted automatically, and no lives were lost. The wreck now sits twenty minute’s boat-ride from Eastney beach, Hampshire, UK, at a depth of around 12 metres.
The A-class submarines had a chequered track record. They were the next step after the original the Holland class, and design ideas were still being tested—sometimes at the price of human lives. How men were recruited to crew them is mystifying: perhaps it was higher wages, a spirit of adventure—or simply in a time when dangerous occupations were more commonplace.
We set out from Eastney slipway at 8.30am in the NAS’s own rigid inflatable boat (RIB) under the guidance of Mark Beattie-Edwards and A1 licensee Martin Davies. The young lad in me can’t help feeling a bit ‘James Bond’ when setting out on a RIB: the post-dive clamber back aboard, huffing and puffing, with legs flailing – not so much.
We arrived over the site with plenty of slack tide and begin kitting up. A1 can be a little tricky to locate, but after a little exploring we dropped the shot line, and Martin Davies descended to check it was close to the wreck.
Image: Mark Beattie-Edwards at the helm of the NAS Dive Club's RIB "Honor" (Duncan Ross)
A good portion of the wreck is buried under the seabed. Her bow is clear, however, and points slightly upwards, allowing a little room to swim under. The torpedo hatch and mechanism are visible, carpeted with anemones. The rectangular torpedo loading hatches are visible along the fore part of the hull, and one of the missing hatch covers can be seen on the seabed. Tompot blennies are prolific and can be seen everywhere, peering from beneath rusted and anemone-coated iron. Shimmering schools of bib circle the periphery, vanishing with the flash of a torch.
Image: The torpedo loading hatch (Duncan Ross)
The conning tower—the last of many modifications—is intact, although a large split has opened up in the rear side, and there are several holes (possibly originally viewing holes) through which a diver can spy curious sea life. The outer hatch is missing, allowing a tantalising view inside. After its fatal collision in 1904, an extra outer hatch was fitted to the A1–an addition which then became standard in future submarine design.
Image: The conning tower (Duncan Ross)
The stern portion of the hull is virtually hidden in the seabed, and a little further along a circular feature (thought to be an old buoy) sits in the sand. My dive partner and I enjoyed a 30-minute dive on this important piece of maritime history, and could easily have stayed longer. But, there was more to do: after a quick break at NAS HQ in nearby Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth, we had lunch and a presentation from Martin Davies about the history, features and future of A1. We then changed our cylinders headed to the barge Avon for the day’s second dive.
Image: Safely back at the surface after our dive (NAS)
HMS Invincible began life as the French 74-gun ship-of-the-line L’Invincible, but was captured by the British at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre. She was put into service in the Royal Navy as a third-rate ship of the line until her sinking in 1758, fully laden and bound to fight the French in modern-day Nova Scotia, Canada.
At the time of Invincible’s capture, British warship innovation was lagging behind. The Royal Navy recognised her highly advanced construction, and soon incorporated her into the fighting fleet. Indeed, she represents a crucial paradigm shift in ship construction: at the 1805 battle of Trafalgar, three-quarters of vessels were of similar design.
Thankfully there was no loss of life when HMS Invincible became stuck on the Solent’s Horse and Dean Sand. But many would have died attacking and defending her during her fighting life: if not a war grave, then she is a sunken battlefield of sorts.
Image: HMS Invincible as drawn by John Charnock between 1747 and 1748 (nmm.ac.uk)
The wreck of HMS Invincible was discovered in 1979 in the eastern Solent waterway between Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the southern UK, when local fishermen snagged it with their nets. Since then several phases of excavation have taken place, initially by John Bingeman (Licensee 1980 – 2010) and more recently by current licensee Dan Pascoe, sponsored by MAST and Bournemouth University. In recent years, shifting sands have prompted a phase of emergency excavation.
Descending the shot line to a very accessible 8-metre depth, my buddy and I were immediately amongst the wooden wreckage and an underwater excavation in progress – the first I had ever seen. Scaffolding grids, tools and sandbags surrounded us, and in our periphery commercial divers went about their tasks. One of the first things noticeable was the surprising depth of some of the excavation trenches. Finning up and over the scaffolding grid I dropped down at least a metre into part of the hull and could see structural features. Invincible was constructed using 200 wood-clad iron knees, possibly due to wood shortages in Europe.
Image: A wood-encased iron knee on the wreck of HMS Invicible: the nails on the panelling look as if a French boatyard worker had driven them in only yesterday (Duncan Ross)
Although guidelines ran throughout the site, we quickly became disoriented. But there was so much to see that this did not lessen the experience: every direction yielded new features. The day before the dive, I had taken a tour around HMS Victory in Portsmouth to gain an impression of a warship from the age of sail. To think that the wreck of Invincible is of a similar size is mind-blowing. Dan Pascoe said the site is around 50 metres in length.
Image: Some of HMS Invincible’s remarkably preserved decking lies tilted at around 45 degrees (Duncan Ross)
The sheer amount and preservation of artefacts and ships timbers is astounding. Just days before we arrived, the team had uncovered the shot locker with a horde of cannonballs and several small concreted swivel guns. This was my favourite area: like a scene from the Alien films, dark orbs littered the seabed, some broken free by the archaeology team and others still concreted together.
Image: Cannon balls on HMS Invincible (Martin Davies)
“Feel free to pick some up,” we were told during our pre-dive briefing—so long as we put them right back. The cricket-ball-sized ones were tricky enough to lift, not to mention the bowling-ball-sized ones, and to think sailors had to carry these up to the gundeck. The thought of one being fired at the speed of sound toward another ship is unimaginable. The firepower needed to propel projectiles of this size and weight was colossal. A full broadside would have been quite a thing.
Amongst the concreted mass of cannonballs were two remaining swivel guns—the others having been excavated already. One was partially excavated, with the first reinforce and cascabel clearly showing. The other had only the chase and muzzle visible beneath a solid layer of light grey concretion. Historical documents state that all the guns were salvaged from Invincible as she foundered on the sands in 1758, so this was a great surprise. Dan explained that these deck guns would have been stowed away until needed.
Image: This excavated swivel gun from HMS Invincible will need four years of conservation to stabilise it (Duncan Ross)
Other artefacts from the wreck, including bottles and a square wooden meal plate, can be viewed in the Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The excavation team also hold periodic open days where a range of other finds can be viewed: the next is scheduled for 22 September in Poole, Dorset, UK. Current funding for the HMS Invincible project has open up the excavation experience to war veterans: we briefly spoke to two former military divers who were clearly enjoying the work. Long may the funding continue!
There may have been abundant sea life amongst the wreckage of Invincible, but I was so engrossed that, if there was, I sadly missed it. My only encounter was when I reached out to touch what I thought was seaweed waving in the current: as my fingers connected with the fluttering object, a cuttlefish shot away, startling me.
A one-hour bottom time flew by, and I could have stayed much longer on what was one of the most unique dives I have experienced. What a day. And all for £40, if I remember rightly. Travelling down from my home in Liverpool obviously incurs extra cost, but it was worth every penny. I will certainly sign up again next year if possible.
John Swinfield’s book Sea Devils, Pioneer Submariners details the fates of many of the A-class submarines, including A1.
The following link gives an excellent interactive 3D view of the wreck of the A1, plus lots of information,
pictures and video https://3deepmedia.com/examples/a1-submarine/
The following link is an excellent source of information on HMS Invincible, using state-of-the-art technology to
virtually take you amongst the wreck https://www.cloudtour.tv/invincible
Image: Happy divers aboard Avon (NAS)