AFTER A SLIGHTLY LUMPY BOAT JOURNEY of more than three hours, it’s a relief to arrive at the wreck site and settle down.
With many wrecks of similar depth closer to Eyemouth, a fair number of which have never been dived, skipper Iain Easingwood wouldn’t usually take his boat halfway to Aberdeen, especially when heading almost straight into a lumpy sea.
Last time I was in Eyemouth, the technical dive to remember was the WW1 cruiser HMS Pathfinder (December 2008). Today Ian is looking for another warship.
The Lease-Lend destroyer HMS Rockingham sank somewhere in this area, and Ian has selected an undived survey report of about the right size, about 90m long and only 10m wide, rising about 5m from the seabed.
Long and thin suggests that it may be a warship, and the dimensions are close enough to make it worth a look.
The Rockingham was laid down in 1918 as the American Wickes-class destroyer USS Swasey, and completed in 1919. The ship was held in reserve until transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940, serving as an escort destroyer for three years.
The age and unsuitability of Rockingham’s design for North Atlantic escort work meant that, like most Lease-Lend destroyers, she was replaced as soon as a better ship became available. Rockingham was refitted as a target ship at which Fleet Air Arm pilots could launch dummy torpedoes.
The approaches to the Firth of Forth were guarded by a defensive minefield. Ships could pass through charted gaps that could be more easily patrolled than the open sea.
However, during both world wars navigational errors, especially in rough weather, led to many friendly ships missing the safe channels and falling victim to the mines.
In Silver Star’s wheelhouse, Iain shows me the clusters of wreck marks on the chart-plotter where wayward captains suffered the penalty of navigational mistakes.
On 27 September, 1944, in bad weather, HMS Rockingham struck a mine while trying to navigate “Gap A” in the minefield. Bearings taken from a navigational radio beacon were later found to have been unreliable.
The Rockingham stayed afloat and was taken in tow as soon as she had drifted out of the minefield, but the tow failed and the destroyer sank at an uncertain location.
Iain has two possible marks a few miles apart. Survey data is now so accurate that he finds the most likely mark within a few minutes of arriving on site. After a few passes to check the line of the wreck, he soon has the shot on it.
The first divers descend. Five minutes later they send up a loose delayed SMB to confirm that the shot is on the wreck.
Some of the other divers are ready to go. I finish kitting up and enter last; Iain has predicted a long slack water, so there’s no need to rush.

IAIN’S SHOT IS AN UNUSUAL DESIGN, with multiple 1m tails of chain that make it heavy and prone to hug whatever it lands on. In this case I descend to 64m to find that it is hugging the bottom of an intact hold towards the stern of a rather narrow freighter.
Oh well, it’s a merchant steamship, but it’s also one target eliminated in the hunt for the Rockingham. It also turns out to be a very nice steamship, with some interesting features, so the dive is not disappointing.
I work forwards past an unusual engine-room skylight with a flat section between the two sets of sloping hatches, then past a boiler with the helm in front of it. The forward half of the ship is well broken and the bow a complete mess, so it could well have been another accidental victim of the minefield, perhaps from WW1.
Ascending the line, my tag is the last on the lazy shot, so I unclip and we all slowly drift off with the current.
All but two of us are on rebreathers and everyone is using a dive computer, so rather than bunch up at fixed stop depths we spread out a bit for comfort, most of us gently holding the line.
Back on Silver Star, other divers have been through the forward bulkhead to the stoke hold, discovering a second boiler in an unusual tandem arrangement. More importantly, the bell has been found.
It bears only the letter K and the number 20. We have no name, but this could lead to identification of the wreck.
The recompense for a lumpy journey out is a comfortable journey back to Eyemouth in sunshine and a following sea. Those inhabiting the bunks in the forepeak can sleep without becoming airborne. Cakes and a hot dinner made by Iain’s mum Ethel can be enjoyably consumed without spillage.
Those on deck can sunbathe without getting showered in spray.
Our next journey is into a north-easterly sea, but this wreck is only about 12 miles straight out from Fife Ness. This is to the north side of the Firth of Forth what St Abbs Head is to the south.
A couple of the team have dived our target earlier in the year, with Iain’s dad Jim skippering the boat. It had been a cold but still winter day in water several degrees colder than now.
On a necessarily short dive in low visibility, they had seen enough of an intact wreck to conclude that it was worth another look.
It turns out to be a well-constructed steel coaster, and not of the design we usually see wrecked around Britain.
It’s upright, and even the wheelhouse is still standing.
The stern has a big overhang aft of the rudder-post with an upright pillar that may just be a gun-mount, but with its solid covering of marine life I couldn’t be sure without ruining the neighbourhood for what looks like a few million dead men’s fingers.
Iain’s regular divers scan a selection of wreck books and conclude that this is probably the 400-ton Harley.
It’s been dived before, as we discovered on the dive, but the location was obviously not reported accurately.
On 14 November, 1944, the Harley sprang a leak on route from Sunderland to Aberdeen with a cargo of coal. She was soon overwhelmed by the sea and sank with seven men, including the captain.
Back in Eyemouth, the bunting is going up for the crowning of the Herring Queen at the end of the week.
Drums of Sofnolime are extracted from cars, vans and various locations about the dive centre as rebreathers are prepared for tomorrow’s dive.
Iain has been having a relatively easy time in the gas room, because only the two open-circuit divers need serious mixing. The rebreathers just need small top-ups of oxygen and diluent.
After a couple of days with late departures, we make an early start to catch the other tide. On a day off from new marks, we dive an old favourite of everyone who has dived it before.
The steamship Exmouth was another casualty of navigational mistakes, striking two mines on 31 July, 1944.
Located on the outer edge of the banks, the wreck rises from 52 to 46m,
so on a low-water slack is just about accessible to experienced air divers, though today everyone is still on trimix.
The Exmouth was a “Hog Islander”, after the shipyard built on Hog Island during WW1 to mass-produce two types of ship, both with four Scotch boilers and geared turbine propulsion.
With 50 slips, Hog Island was at one time the world’s largest shipyard, and completed 122 vessels between 1918 and 1921.
The 5120-ton Exmouth, launched as the Blue Triangle, was too late for WW1, as were all the Hog Islanders.
The whole scheduling of the venture, together with many of the ships being sold on for considerably less than their construction cost, led to allegations of incompetence, conspiracy and fraud among the US politicians and businessmen who conceived the venture.
The shipyard was subsequently filled in and levelled to build Philadelphia International Airport.
The wreck was first dived and identified by some of Iain’s regular technical divers in August 2008, shortly after my last visit. They recovered crockery marked “American Export Lines” and, on the next trip, a builder’s plate marked “Blue Triangle”.
The Exmouth is a big ship. Having been told about all its guns and the general complexity of the wreckage, I know there is no way I can cover it all in one dive. Taking others’ advice,
I decide to concentrate on the aft section. Visibility is good, so as I descend I can see the wreck below me.
Divers are spreading out from the fallen AA gun tub where the shot has landed, just forward of amidships on the forward section of the superstructure.
As usual, I take a few minutes settling down while taking a few pictures in the immediate area. With a gun right next to me, I don’t have to look far for a subject.
Then I head aft, hardly pausing across the second part of the superstructure and holds as I head for the auxiliary steering at the stern. Another diver waves me over to point it out, because it’s the one feature no-one should miss.
Beneath the solid stern-gun platform, it’s well protected from trawlers that have dragged their gear into the wreck. One net is pulled across the starboard side of the stern and across the gun.
Once I have slowly worked my way back to the shot I have 10 minutes or so left in my dive plan. I spend five where the bridge area has collapsed, with binnacles strewn among portholes, crockery and a wash-basin.

SHOULD I HEAD FORWARD across two more holds to the bow I am tempted simply to rack up more deco and see the rest of the wreck, but sensible thinking on helium prevails. Instead I make another quick tour of the amidships area before heading up the line.
What was early slack is now getting late enough to enjoy breakfast without having to get up early. Having headed north and north-east for three days, Iain points Silver Star down the coast towards Berwick and England.
Our target is the wreck of a small coaster in 62m on which Iain first dropped divers during the last technical week, but which has not been identified.
By the time I am halfway round it I have a feeling of déjà vu – it could be a twin of the Havlide, our Wreck Tour from the same part of the world in June 2011.
A few weeks later, I’m on the phone to Iain sorting out some details of the wrecks. One of the other divers is with Iain in the office, skimming DIVER, and exclaims: “How did he get that in the magazine so soon”
He missed the date on the cover, but the two wrecked coasters are similar right down to the collapse of the holds and the spare prop’s position. The unidentified one even shows traces of a cargo of coal.
Still, there are enough differences to make me sure this is another wreck. The upper part of the bow has been pulled off forwards. The winches have fallen 90° from the line of those on the Havlide.
Perhaps it’s not that big a coincidence. Small coasters of similar design were built in their hundreds if not thousands, many used to ship coal up and down the coast from the North-east.
By a process of elimination, a good candidate for the wreck is the Aulton, torpedoed by UB83 on 23 March, 1918, but questions remain.
Records show that the Aulton had a 12-pounder gun at the stern, but none of us saw one, and there was nowhere near the damage I would expect if a gun and its mount had been pulled off by a trawler.
For the last day of the technical week, we unanimously vote for the submarine H11, another discovery shared by Iain and his regulars, though none of the original discoverers are on board today.
H-class submarines were small coastal craft built in the USA and Canada for the Royal Navy from 1915 onwards.
Due to US neutrality, only the Canadian-built boats entered service before the USA joined the war in 1917.
H11 was the first US-built boat and, having served the last year of the war, it was sold for scrap in 1920, then lost while under tow to the shipbreakers in Arbroath in 1921.
It’s a little wreck with few external features, but it’s a significant dive for me. H11 may soon be declared a historic wreck, so I may never get to see it again.
To be honest, I won’t be rushing to do so. Not because I didn’t enjoy the dive, but because I have seen Iain’s stack of survey reports that have yet to be dived – most of which are in the comfortable trimix range between 50 and 70m.

FACTFILE
GETTING THERE: Eyemouth is on the A1107 in south-east Scotland, just off the A1. Follow the signs for the harbour. The Harbourside is on the north side.
DIVING & GAS: Marine Quest runs Silver Star and Jacob George from Eyemouth, 01890 752444, www.marine-quest. co.uk. It has a mixed-gas filling station at the Harbourside.
FURTHER INFORMATION Admiralty Chart 1407, Montrose to Berwick. Ordnance Survey Map 67, Duns, Dunbar & Eyemouth. Shipwrecks of the Forth, by Bob Baird.