Kendall McDonald, a former Fleet Street editor, has been diving (and writing about it) for more than 45 years. He has been DIVER's wreck expert since 1960.
IS DIVING ON OLDER WRECKS TO BE BANNED?
I keep hearing rumours that UK wreck diving is finished, with the Government planning to make all wrecks over 50 years old into historic wrecks and banning us from diving them. Another rumour I have heard is that divers will be forced by law to report any wreck they see, giving exact positions and full details. In that case there'll be a lot of divers in prison soon. Can any of this be true? Tom Green, Birmingham
Sadly, like all rumours, some of these have more than a grain of truth in them. Two committees have been set up to advise the government on framing new legislation to replace the present laws on wrecks and salvage. The politicians want to be seen to be in the forefront of protecting our marine environment, hence the two committees, called 'Heritage Protection Review Working Groups'. They came about after English Heritage took control of archaeological sites under water as well as those on land. It seems that English Heritage consulted archaeologists about their new role in the protection of the underwater heritage, apparently unaware that many non-diving archaeologists regard sport divers and their sensational wreck discoveries, including the Mary Rose, as a threat to their grants and livelihood. So began the demonising of amateur divers, despite the fact that it is they who found all the historic wrecks, reported them and are the licence-holders protecting most of them. Unfortunately, non-diving politicians and non-diving archaeologists believed calls by certain headline-hunting archaeologists to end the disturbance of undersea graveyards by amateur 'diving grave-robbers' and 'treasure-hunters'. This is why one of the working groups is discussing the suggestion that all wrecks more than 50 years old should be named as historic and have diving restricted on them. It started out thinking about wrecks more than 100 years old but, like all committees, its ideas grew wilder the longer it sat. The 50-year cut-off would cover all wrecks sunk before 1956, from dug-outs to container ships, taking in several historic treasure ships along the way! The committee will almost certainly recommend something of this sort, but divers must hope that common sense triumphs when legislators come to terms with spending millions to make and enforce such rules on hundreds of thousands of wrecks.The other committee is basically a working group on salvage, reporting discoveries and the rewards for recoveries made by the Receiver of Wreck. It has the more difficult job. Imagine telling the world's great salvage companies that they can't raise material from ships for which they have bought the rights, and which have been on their operation plans for years. Imagine divers being told that they can't expect to be rewarded for handing in material to the Receiver of Wreck, because the rules have been changed. Imagine destroying the title and workings of the Receiver of Wreck at the whim of a few archaeologists. Imagine forcing by law every diver who comes across a cannonball or old anchor, a tiny piece of wreckage or indeed a whole wreck, to report its exact position and full details of what he or she has seen for somebody's else benefit. I wouldn't worry too much about these rumours, Tom. Politicians are not completely barmy. I think in the end that they will make minimal changes to the rules that have governed our underwater heritage for centuries without too many problems.
The 5 is right
A good report on the M1 and M2 (December 2005), but I thought you might like to know that these are not the only M-class wrecks in the English Channel. The M5 is here just off Eastbourne, but it became a protected wreck earlier this year. I was lucky enough to be able to dive it before it was protected. I hope to get a licence and dive it again this year. Rob, Eastbourne
You had me confused for a moment there. I'm sure you meant to say the Holland 5, not the M5. The M5 was never built. There were to be four subs in the M-class, each 300ft long with a surface speed of more than 15 knots and nearly 10 submerged. Each was to carry a huge 12in gun taken from a battleship. The M1 and M2 were ordered from Vickers, the M3 and M4 from Armstrong. They had a lot of problems with the gun on M1. They had to load it on the surface and then pop it up to fire. Water sometimes got in, and when they fired they blew off half the barrel. The war was over in 1918 before she could fire a shot in anger and she was sunk in 1925. M2 and M3 were completed in 1920. In 1927 M2's gun was replaced by a little seaplane in a hangar. In 1932, M2 was lost. M3 was scrapped soon afterwards, and the contract for M4 cancelled. That was the end of the M-class. The Holland class were the first submarines to be commissioned into the Royal Navy and were the start of the British submarine service. Holland 5 cost£35,000 and was the first to be completed. She was launched on 10 June, 1902. By that time the submarine service was racing ahead, with 13 A-class submarines already ordered. Holland 5 was soon obsolete, and used only for training. She sank while under tow to Sheerness on 8 August, 1912 and was found by a diver in 1995, perfectly intact on a bed of white sand. Holland 5 was made an historic protected wreck in 2001 and is now used for training once again - for teaching underwater archaeologists.
Who says archaeologists never find a wreck? Well, I suppose I intimated that earlier in this column, but the photo above is of Brandon Mason and Nigel Bryant, archaeologist members of a Bournemouth University field trip. They are displaying a new wreck discovery in Starehole Bay, just outside Salcombe Estuary, South Devon. During a dive on the wreck of the four-masted sailing ship Herzogin Cecilie in the bay, two of the students found the letter 'N' made of lead lying on the sand nearby. It was too crudely made to be from the Herzogin, and all her letters (including an 'N') recovered over the years were of brass. Old records state that the smack Nelly was wrecked in the bay on 24 July, 1852, while 'attempting to land smuggled goods'. Local divers are now diving in search of the rest of the wreck of naughty Nelly! The students spent 14 days being guided around some of the South-West's historic wreck sites by divers of the South West Maritime Archaeology Group.