Extreme diver, director of Dark Water Exploration Ltd and NAS member, Phil Short recounts his recent quick, cold dip into perfectly preserved Swedish history. With plans to go back for more! Find out more about what he discovered here...

Phil Short (right) shakes hands with fellow divers after a successful visit to the Gribshunden wreck

It’s a crisp cold morning as we pull into the car park alongside the dock near Ronneby, Sweden and as I get out of the car and stroll over to the dock, the site that greets me does not bode well! Although the water is glass calm and there is no wind, the water looks like dark over-brewed tea and I can only see one rung down the dock ladder into the panic gloom. I turn to Brendan Foley, PHD Archaeologist from Lund University and say – ‘looks like our recognisance dive will involve macro observations as we bump into things around the site!’ (In fact, it very much reminded me of my first dive on the Normans’ Bay wreck with NAS).

After some excellent coffee and a briefing from Johan Ronnby (Professor of Maritime Archaeology at Sodertorn University) on our day’s dive plans, we loaded all the dive gear and cast off. We headed out to the small island of Stora Ekon to locate the site and tied on to a fixed mooring block that is off site - a mechanism to help protect the site.

By now however, despite the early morning doubts as to what we may see based on visibility, the team is electric with excitement! On the boat journey out, the sea colour changed from dark to light brown, then again from light brown to green. Now that we are moored up, we can see many meters down the mooring line in clear green water.

First to dive are Johan and Mikael Björk (maritime archaeologist with the Blekinge Museum), and as they descend, I get really excited. They stop their descent, move away from the mooring block and start to move around the wreck. I know all this because from the boat deck I can see them moving around the wreck at 10 meters, the visibility is superb

Gribshunden underwater wreck site

As our dive is a Swedish Scientific Diving operation, I am appointed supervisor for the first dive, and when Johan and Mikael ascend and exit, Johan becomes supervisor for Brendan and I to dive.

Kitted up and ready, I stride entry from the stern of our dive boat. With dry suit, dry gloves, heated vest, heated gloves and an 8mm hood it is only my lips and cheeks that notice the bite of the four degrees Celsius sea temperature. But that is quickly forgotten as I look down and can see most of the ship laid out beneath me.

Brendan and I descend to the mooring, complete our in-water checks and then set off for a complete orientation of the site. The water is crystal clear with a beautiful emerald green tinge and at least 15 plus meters of visibility.  We start at the bow, passing a timber with a large circular hole that the anchor cable would have passed through, and follow the timbers all the way to the rudder. The timbers are in an incredible state of preservation due to the low oxygen, low salt and cold conditions found in this location, and we easily get a picture in our minds of a ship and how she is lying. As we swim a circuit of the site, we see gun carriages that would have held swivel guns amongst other artefacts.

Gun carriages from the Gribshunden wreck now raised and conserved in the Blekinge Museum

It’s incredible and humbling to see this in situ and realise that this ship is from 1495 - which is now 524 years old!

The ship is the Gribshunden (Griffen Hound) and was conclusively identified by key artefacts between 2000 and 2006. The date was proven by raising one of the ship’s capstans and the incredible, though terrifying, figure head of the dragon-like griffen hound with a human head screaming in its mouth. This figure head is currently in Copenhagen under conservation with Poly Ethylene Glycol and freeze-drying treatment. Other artefacts were recovered and conserved, and we had the opportunity to see many of these at the Blekinge Museum with a behind-the-scenes guided tour from the museum staff.

The next morning when we arrived at the museum, we were taken to a huge warehouse storage facility full of artefacts from many sites and time periods. We were led straight to a collection of wooden swivel gun carriages, perfectly preserved from the Gribshunden. For some reason, in these water conditions, all iron has corroded away to nothing whilst the wooden carriages, ship timbers and other artefacts remain. We then saw smaller items from an excavation trench including clay pipes, copper chain mail and a branded barrel lid and even a piece of sailor’s carving (a small model of a gun carriage).

Conserved artefacts now in the Blekinge Museum, from left to right: branded barrel lid, copper chain mail and sailor's carved gun carriage model.

One of the many things that make this particular ship exciting from a marine archaeological point of view, is that she dates from the time when ship building techniques were transitioning from clinker to carvel construction. Archaeologists hope that her remains can teach us much about this important era in ship building.

The purpose of our visit to the wreck site and to the museum was reconnaissance for a planned multi-week excavation of the site later this year that will be documented by NOVA. From what we saw in this brief visit, it looks like it will be an incredible site to investigate and record.

To experience what divers see underwater on the Gribshunden wreck, check out this video by Phil Short here.

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