New NAS member Dan joined us for a week of early morning starts and fieldwork on the beautiful Sandwich Flats surrounded by shipwrecks and fish traps. Find out what he discovered here...

Being quite new to NAS, I haven’t had the opportunity to undertake intertidal work before. I’m a diver, so my element is more under the water than walking around in it, but I wanted to take the chance to practice and adapt my underwater skills to another setting. When NAS advertised the intertidal work at Sandwich Bay I decided to volunteer for the entirety of the work.

Sandwich Bay is a regularly visited site for NAS, with eleven wrecks located and recorded in varying levels of details since 2018. It is an intertidal site, making it difficult to get access to the various wrecks as you only have a limited window because of the tides.

Interactive map of Sandwich Flats, available on the Sandwich Flats Project website here.

The intertidal zone also raised a number of issues for us to safely work on it. Whilst most of it was quite stable, there were areas of mud which could prove quite treacherous, patches of waterlogged sand in which you could sink (especially for those of us who were normal sized and not little women). Add with the rapid tides made for fun all round.

In many situations, use of a ‘sacrificial Cat’ was required (the smallest and lightest person in the team) as she was less likely to sink in the soft sand. Being a taller person, I was less impressed that everyone else in the team was able to walk around the majority of the wreck without sinking. This is why every team member has a multitask meter pole with them to use as a scale in photos, to test suspect areas of soft sand and to act as a stabiliser when extracting oneself from sticky mud. Each team also had a throw rope for really desperate situations – we never used them thankfully!

In addition to all of the wrecks, we were also working with CITiZAN to obtain other data. The bay was covered with the remain of fish traps (and one very annoyed fish). Coastal surveys were also being conducted; with the contours of the beach being surveyed to establish how much this part of the coast had changed.


Bright and early on the Monday morning (I’d forgotten that there was a 0430am still) we met in the Green Room of the Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory for our safety brief and planned areas of work; led by NAS Education Officer Peta Knott.

As it was the first day of the week we were to be spending here, the Monday morning was as much as a site orientation for those of us who hadn’t visited the site before. We aimed to be on the beach ready for first light so we could see where we were going, and judge when the tide would be going out. As such, my first view of the beach was a beautiful sun rise.


After lots of ooos and ahhhs as the sun rose, we got to work; conducting a field walk up and down the beach and doing visual inspections of the wrecks. This involved checking when each wreck was starting to be covered by the tide, giving us an idea of when it would be safe to work on the wreck throughout the rest of the week.

After lots of ooos and ahhhs as the sun rose, we got to work; conducting a field walk up and down the beach and doing visual inspections of the wrecks. This involved checking when each wreck was starting to be covered by the tide, giving us an idea of when it would be safe to work on the wreck throughout the rest of the week.


During our field walk we were off to a good start, as we managed to locate all of the wrecks! Even better, some of the wrecks which had been covered with sand on previous visits had been partly uncovered by the tide, so we had more access to them.


Sadly, after a couple of hours work, the tide decided to make an appearance and covered the wrecks back up. So we returned back to the Bird Observatory for well-earned bacon butties and cups of tea (and the paperwork). The afternoon was spent refreshing and learning skills in 2D and 3D survey techniques, with the rectangular pond in the Observatory grounds called ‘Tony’s Dipping Pool’ being critiqued for not being very level!


We then headed to the Deal Maritime and Local History Museum, where we spent two hours perusing photos and documents, trying to find links to the wrecks which we could use to identify them.


Tuesday came around very quickly, with another early start but without the lovely sunrise as it had clouded over. Our plan was to work on a 2D survey of the largest wreck; SB0007. Since the last visit, the sands had parted, meaning that the wreck was more exposed than it had ever been. The wreck was even showing off some of the internal and external planking. We weren’t totally successful however, only managing half the wreck in the couple of hours before the wreck sunk below the waters again.


Wednesday allowed us to complete our survey of the wreck, before we snuck off to visit the wreck of a B17 Bomber which had been ditched during the Second World War. The B17, or SB0004, was often mistaken by the locals as a Lancaster bomber which had crashed around two miles to the south of the bay.



During our walk around the intertidal zone we also managed to find and record a number of artefacts including wooden timbers and a three metre tall wooden rudder. We also found, recorded, retrieved and reported to the Receiver of Wreck some pieces of pottery including a piece of German Westerwold in very good condition with the handle and part of the side. This is now being conserved in fresh water awaiting a verdict from the Receiver of Wreck.


After completing our notes I then spent a little time learning how to use ‘R2D2’ (officially known as an RTK GPS device), which we used to complete a more accurate survey of the wrecks. Our partner organisation for the week CITiZAN provided us use of this RTK and also plenty of instruction whilst we learnt how it all worked.


Thursday and Friday were spent enjoying the lovely, chilling wind whilst holding onto the pole of ‘R2D2’ so that all the ribs of the wrecks could be recorded. Four wrecks were fully or partially surveyed, with the tide proving a lot faster than anticipated as it rushed in to push us off the wrecks.


Friday evening was spent trying to bribe people as to what film we were going to watch using a democratic system (the bribery failed), eating pizza and popcorn, and celebrating our week’s work by critiquing the extremely accurate archaeological film Sahara! The Goonies should have won but our democratic system proved similar to Brexit, with votes materialising from the void.


Saturday, the final day on the beach, was dedicated to showing off the wrecks to the local members of the public with two guided walks for 60 people. We staged several examples of volunteers (and archaeologists) at work doing various tasks to demonstrate some of the work we had completed, with lots of interest shown and questions asked (‘what are the names of the wrecks’ and ‘how old are they’ being prevailing amongst them).



Finally, with the last of our work completed, all we had left to do was to tidy up and plan what was going to happen when we return in September 2020!


Find out more about the Sandwich Flats fieldwork here.

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