NAS membership was once more Duncan Ross’s gateway to hands-on involvement on a major underwater archaeological project. He was again selected to be an NAS volunteer team member on this year’s investigation of 18th century Dutch East Indiaman the Rooswijk off the UK’s Kent coast—after a thrilling experience in 2017. Here he reports on this year’s activities.

Luck shone on me this summer when I was once again chosen to be part of the team investigating outlying areas of the Rooswijk wreck site. The Dutch East India Company merchantman Rooswijk sank on the Goodwin Sands—a.k.a. The Great Ship Swallower—in January 1740. The project is being run by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands with assistance from Historic England.

On a sunny evening in early August, our nine-member Anglo-Dutch team convened at Ramsgate, in the south-east English county of Kent, to discuss the forthcoming days. At a thoroughly unsociable 03.45 a.m. the following morning, we awoke, drank a quick coffee and headed out aboard our dive boat Peganina to catch a short, early morning slack tide. 

Fig 1: Planning the dive (Image: Mark Beattie-Edwards/NAS).

 Our sole task this year was to further investigate the ‘Gun Site’, an area 50m northeast of the main site. The most recent multibeam sonar scan had shown a couple of new anomalies and possible shifts in the position of guns. One of our tasks was to investigate whether the guns had moved, or whether they had simply been surveyed incorrectly during the previous season.

One of the theories about the formation of the Gun Site is that, as Rooswijk was struggling, the crew may have attempted to lighten the load by jettisoning some of their cannon. It is still possible, however, that the site is unrelated to Rooswijk: although there is no definite evidence of structural remains, the site could belong to a different wreck altogether. Project leader Martijn Manders’ revelation that the team has now located more guns than expected for the Rooswijk lends some credence to this interpretation. Either way it is very tantalising.

Fig 2: Plan of the Gun Site (Image: Mark Beattie-Edwards).

 

Our first dive focused on basic orientation and checking whether guidelines installed last year were still in place. Though beautifully sunny up top, darkness closed in as I descended the 20m or so down the shot line until it was virtually black: visibility was down to about 30cm. Aided by powerful torches, we spotted fishing nets next to some of the guns—which could explain their apparent movement.

Our surface interval was spent aboard DSV Curtis Marshall, where we were treated to bacon sandwiches, coffee and a viewing of some of the most recent finds. 

Fig. 3: A onion bottle from the Rooswijk inspected aboard DSV Curtis Marshall (Image: Duncan Ross).

 On the second dive, my buddy and I were assigned the task of locating the most northerly gun on the site and investigating the theory that there was another one close by. Following a guide line from gun no.9—where we also discovered some interesting timbers—we finned along for a few minutes expecting to arrive at the northern gun. In fact, we were surprised to discover that we had headed west (!) arriving instead at an unidentified feature (F-403 in Fig. 2). There are a few theories about what this could be, but no definite answer. But with the project at an end we may never find out for certain. The dive time remaining did not allow us to search on for the north gun.

 

Fig 4: Timbers next to gun no. 9 (Image: Duncan Ross).

Lady luck is a fickle mistress, and bad weather during an otherwise glorious summer saw the rest of the week’s diving cancelled. But this did not lessen the experience: we headed instead to Ramsgate harbour to measure anchors and a cannon, and to visit the museum, where some excellent artefacts from HMS Stirling Castle, wrecked in 1703, are displayed.

Fig. 5: Writing up after the dive (Image:  Mark Beattie-Edwards/NAS).

Although not as much diving took place as I would have wished for, good-natured banter and chats about archaeology and history ensured new friends were made a good time was had by all. A final mention must be made of NAS volunteer and diver Monica who cooked a most memorable banquet for us. I think it was the first time most of us had tasted peanut butter chicken!

Fig. 6: Monica’s banquet  (Image: Mark Beattie-Edwards/NAS)

 

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Edited by John Cooper

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