NASAC member Karen Moule has been a member of the Nautical Archaeology Society for the best part of 24 years with many of those years also as a member of the NAS diving club.

Sinking a fake wreck is harder than you think! 

Vobster Quay is a popular flooded quarry in Somerset and an established dive centre. Vobster boasts lots of features for divers to explore and investigate including aircraft, helicopter, cars, quarry machinery etc., but nothing suitable in a reasonable depth which lends itself to 2-dimensional archaeological survey. With NAS planning to run Underwater Skills Days at Vobster, we were on the lookout for a suitable site to carry out courses.

Following good conversations with Vobster, they granted us permission to create something which suits our teaching purpose and offered us an area 8m x 30m at a depth of 12m. We planned to create a fake underwater archaeological wreck site consisting of an old dingy we purchased, next to a jetty with handrails made of scavenged pallets.

Image: Very sad looking dinghy ready to be sunk.

Using the dingy, pallets, and concrete bollards (buckets) we planned to create this in an area covering approximately 9m x 6m, with all the features connected, allowing enough room for divers to carry out trilateration and offset measurements. Our Education Manager, Peta Knott, drew up a detailed plan for the wreck site, to help us all visualise how this was going to look when it was finished. 

The plan started to become a reality in late February, when Peta started accumulating broken pallets and old wood in her front garden!


Image: Education Manager, Peta Knott's front garden accumulating materials for our wreck!

She then experimented with the assistance of our Kickstarter Matt Ritcher, how best to make concrete bollards.


Image: Peta and Matt with their first attempts at making concrete bollards - they did get better!

NAS Trustee and tutor Dave Johnston made several underwater signs to hopefully encourage responsible diver activity on our site.


Image: one of the several signs attached to the wreck to promote responsible use of the site

The next step was to build the fake ‘jetty’ and railings out of those items, so on Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd March several NAS members got together at Vobster for some DIY!

Images: NAS members and power tools creating our fake wreck!

In spite of the weather being very chilly with a fine drizzle all day, great fun was had with power tools! Having successfully built the 2 side railings and two walkways for the fake jetty, these had the concrete bollards attached to them to help them sink enough so they could be moved underwater to the designated location by divers.

Image: NAS Fake Wreck Construction Zone at Vobster Quay.

It turned out that sinking wooden objects is a lot harder than you think! Despite careful calculations, we needed a lot more concrete bollards than expected to sink the pallets. And it took several attempts to sink the very dilapidated and holey dinghy. By the end of the two days, we'd sunk about two thirds of the wreck material. So we were just going to have to come back for more fake wreck fun.

Image: Wreck materials tucked away for the next construction session

This work continued with three of the team returning on Friday 18th March and six participating on Saturday 19th March. The dives focused on moving the individual items into the pre-determined positions from Peta’s original site plan. Although this sounds simple, when you’re trying to do things underwater, it takes more planning beforehand. As soon as you move anything the visibility disappears, so actions have to be precise and then left for the silt to settle again before carrying on with the next action. Some of the activities included flipping one of the jetty sections over, moving it to the right location, separating the railings, putting them in the correct place, then weighting each item appropriately.


Image: A section of the 'jetty' ready to be sunk.

With the silt settled, underwater photogrammetry expert Marcus Blatchford and his trusty and very qualified assistant Phil Short surveyed the new fake wreck site to add to the Vobster Photogrammetry Project. You can see the excellent work that these two NAS members did recording our new construction in the screenshot below or as an interactive model on SketchFab.


Image: Screenshot of Vobster Wreck interactive model on SketchFab

Massive thanks to Vobster for letting NAS put a fake wreck site into their lake. Now we have a wreck site that is very nearly ready for training to start so that underwater archaeology can be shared with even more divers. That’s got to be a good thing!

If you’re interested in taking part in NAS Underwater Skills courses, they are listed and available for booking on our website. Our first course at Vobster using this wreck is on 18-19 June. Why not be part of the first divers to record this site!

Any further questions, you can always contact our Education Manager, Peta Knott at [email protected]