Using a recording slate to sketch smaller encrusted objects on the seabed around the cargo.

FUNNY HOW INTERESTING A PILE OF ROCKS CAN BE. As I looked closely, I could just make out the outline of freshly uncovered timbers. So I inspected the stones more intently, and could see that they had been honed and even dressed, ready to take their place in some monumental building.
This was, to the naked eye, just a big pile of stones, but to the men and women of the Nautical Archaeology Society it was a challenge, a mystery they needed to unearth. And they were doing a pretty good job of it.
The dive site lies east of Selsey Bill in West Sussex, and had for years been known as the Limestone Wreck.
Thanks to the efforts of the NAS, however, many previously unanswered questions are now established facts. For example, the blocks are not limestone at all - theyre granite. Whoever first described the wreck got their geology a little muddled. The vessel is believed to have sunk during the 19th century, and Mark Beattie-Edwards NAS team was closing in on giving it a name.
I joined the team during summer to dive the wreck and see how the NAS does things. In the process I learned more about the wreck, and the unique WreckMap 2006 project undertaken by the NAS this year.
Using Wittering Divers boat, the small team was in the water, clipboards and pencils in hand. While the others worked on their existing drawings to improve their overview of the site, I had been given a WreckMap recording sheet to see what I came up with.
As part of an ongoing project, the NAS is building a database of all the wrecks around the coast. The sheet, the thing that fell out of your March issue of DIVER, was designed for divers in the UK to use to record any wrecks on which they dived. It came in two parts - a data-recording form and a gridded page on which to draw a diagram of the wreckage.
I was glad to have been given a laminated sketch sheet, because there was no way I had the brain capacity to do it after the dive. However, the data- recording dealt only in basic information that would be easily remembered or would appear in your logbook anyway.
We simply want to find a quick and easy method of getting knowledge and information out of a divers head and logbook and into the public domain, explained Mark.
The biological information will be sent on to SeaSearch, which is the project arm of the Marine Conservation Society, to help it with the understanding of species in UK waters.
The archaeological information is destined for the National Monuments Records of either England, Scotland or Wales. These are the national archives of information on the physical remains on land and under water.
Why shouldnt divers not only be able to utilise this information but also contribute to it After all, its the recreational diver who is under water most weekends looking at wrecks or finding new ones.
The NAS is designing the web pages to allow submissions to be viewed over its website so that anyone can see information on a particular site and, we hope, use it for deciding which wrecks to dive on.
So in I went with camera and recording sheet. The shot was right on target, and Mark and I started our dive amidships - well, I assume it was amidships, because there isnt much ship left, but we swam along the wreck towards the anchor.
This is the furthest-forward object to be recorded on the wreck, and for a 19th century bit of kit thats been battered by quite a few English Channel storms, its in pretty good shape.
It was recorded and we moved back along the ship towards its cargo - the granite blocks.
To my untrained eye these looked, well, block-like, big lumps of stone that I could easily have taken to be a reef.
But on closer inspection the stones were regular in size, dressed and honed as if ready to fit precisely into a building. Which building Who knows, but thats one line of inquiry that the NAS team is pursuing.
Mark and I measured the stones, he recording them on his larger underwater data-recording grid and me with a camera. We worked our way back away from the anchor to what I presumed was the stern. The only indication was the outline of the wooden hull that could be seen on the seabed at the same level.
This outline either fell beneath the seabed or the remains of the hull had rotten away at the opposite end to the anchor, because the few lumps of encrusted metal that dotted the seabed here were the only sign of wreckage.
Mark and I moved around the other side of the wreck and into the current through a shoal of bib. We measured the blocks here. These are numbered and now, thanks to Mark and his teams efforts, mapped.
I got to thinking about all those other wrecks - the well-dived and the little-visited that have yet to give up so many secrets but with which divers now, thanks to the NAS initiative, have the opportunity to help.
Its not only the older wrecks that form part of WreckMap, as Mark explained: We would like divers to submit information on any wreck, whether it sank 500 years ago or five years ago. Strange as it may seem, even the new wrecks will become archaeologically significant one day.
Dont worry if youre no good at drawing, either. The form was designed so that divers can simply fill in boxes with relevant information on things like size, orientation and state of preservation. If people dont feel able to add a drawing of what theyve seen thats fine, and certainly shouldnt stop them taking part in the project, explained Mark.
It certainly made my efforts seem far more useful than I had thought. Taking part in the WreckMap project added an extra dimension to the dive, as well. But thats not the only reason to take part.
There are probably fewer than 50 employed maritime archaeologists in the country with an estimated 250,000 wrecks out there in UK waters - thats a lot of wrecks each, says Mark. However, there are about 100,000 UK divers, which to us sounds like a much more realistic proposition.
Archaeology in the UK has a strong background of participation by everyone - the NAS wants to make sure that this is also the future for archaeology.
So I got my datasheet sent in to the NAS, and I hope you did too. But if you missed out last year, its no problem. WreckMap Britain recording forms can still be downloaded from the NAS website and the NAS will continue to update the database of sites recorded. Help build a better picture of the marine history we all visit each year.

  • Visit the project pages of the NAS website at

  • Sketching
    Sketching the anchor - the most prominent feature of the wreck besides the cargo of stones.
    Inspecting the outline of the wooden hull.