THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK FOR DIVERS, a reminder of the amazing discoveries amateur clubs made in the formative years of scuba-diving, and of how team spirit can sustain underwater campaigns, even against overwhelming odds.
In 1971, 13 members of City of Derry Sub Aqua Club discovered remains of the Spanish Armada vessel La Trinidad Valencera in Kinagoe Bay, off County Donegal in the northern part of Ireland. The 1100-ton Venetian merchantman had grounded on a reef in about 9m of water nearly 400 years earlier.
The vessel had carried 42 guns, 80 crew and some 280 soldiers. Forty men died in the wrecking, which occurred during a storm as she tried to make for Scotland and safety.
This wreck and the Girona, found some 20 miles away, have accounted for some 90% of all the artefacts recovered from the 20 or so Armada ships wrecked off Irish coasts.
But for many years the Irish authorities didn’t want to know about the excavation and the need to conserve vulnerable recoveries for display – there was no precedent or mechanism for dealing with historic wreck.
The cause was kept alive only by the dedication and resourcefulness of the club’s hardcore membership, aided by the expertise of that great maritime archaeologist Colin Martin and buoyed by public interest stimulated by the BBC’s Chronicle TV documentary team, which also helped to fund the excavation.
This book is written by Tony Atherton, who joined City of Derry SAC a year after the initial find. It’s a labour of love, a highly professional production with excellent photos (many taken by Martin) and contributions from others involved.
One detail irked me, however – the fact that the momentous initial find is dispatched so matter-of-factly, as the author pushes eagerly ahead to the long campaign to recover and conserve the artefacts: ”...it was not surprising, therefore, that on a cold winter day in 1971, with some trainee divers in the group, they decided upon an easier dive in the area immediately in front of the car park. It was the final stroke of luck in their long search when bronze cannons were discovered there...”
That’s it. Come on David, I’m all for understatement, but surely that moment at least could have been evoked a little more dramatically!
That apart, who says amateurs get in the way of archaeology This was a case of divers insisting on doing everything the right way, seeking expert advice, investing their own money into a long, arduous campaign and winning through in the end.
Some quotes from surviving members could have lifted this above being a document of record, but then I suppose Tony Atherton’s style reflects the methodical archaeological approach of the divers.
It’s a good book to read and to look at, and it should inspire proactive dive clubs everywhere.
Steve Weinman

Great Sea
ISBN: 9780956799319
Hardback, 128pp, £15