|THE JOURNEY OUT FROM NEWQUAY is deliberately slow. Atlantic Divers skipper Chris Lowe keeps on adjusting the throttle back. Its a feature of any dive from Newquay aiming for low-water slack. We have to leave the harbour with sufficient water before low tide, yet slack offshore is not until a couple of hours after low tide. |
With a clear sky, a southerly wind and a light following sea, it gives us time to take it easy and enjoy a lazy boat ride to the U1021, only recently identified as a result of research by Innes McCartney for the Deep Sea Mysteries TV documentary series.
Intelligence indicated that U-boats were heading for the inshore channel on the North Cornwall coast, so the Royal Navy laid a secret submarine trap minefield with anti-shipping mines deployed well below the surface. Ships could pass safely overhead, but a submerged submarine would be at the right depth to strike the mines.
Operating with the 11th U-boat Flotilla out of Bergen, U1021 left for patrol in the approaches to the Bristol Channel on 20 February, 1945.
On the night of 14 March 1945, the steamship Rolsborg, passing Trevose Head, reported hearing an explosion. Oil slicks were subsequently spotted.
After the war, the location of the wreck soon became known to fishermen, and was identified as a U-boat when divers first had a look. But its identity remained a mystery.
The location is actually on the line Innes McCartney subsequently plotted for a string of mines. From diving the wreck, he has identified specific features of a type VIIC/41 U-boat, and more specifically, items such as the life-raft canisters that identify it as U1021. Maybe the sub was even stalking the Rolsborg when it struck the mine.
All this is history for me. The U1021 is identified and I am just an underwater tourist.
Every skipper has a system, and Chriss is to drop the shot just before the first divers are ready to enter the water. A 25kg weight with a pair of strobes attached, already flashing, and
a lazy shot splitting off at 30m; all go in together. Chris makes a quick check with the sounder and the first divers are over and down.
With big tides and often a big groundswell too, leaving the shot to the last minute is Chriss way of making sure it cant drag too far before the divers are on the wreck and tie the waster line in.
I am with the last batch of divers over the side. On the way down, I can see the first few divers already making their way up the lazy shot. Passing the split, I clip off my token for later.
On the sand at 50m the shot has dragged a little, but not much. A snail trail leads off, and as my eyes adjust I can make out the shadow of the wreck. Further confirmation is a white line leading off in the direction of the shadow, now slack as surface tide is turning and the shot is starting to drag back again. Its only a few metres before the line is tied off to a block of wreckage and cut, the owner taking the reel with him.
The damage from the mine is immediately apparent. The bow of the U-boat has been broken off and lies separated from the remainder of the wreck by 7m or so. U1021 must have gone straight down.
With a list to port, further decay has scattered deck machinery, parts of the outer casing and the gun on the seabed to the port side of the wreck. The starboard side is clear of wreckage, except for one large block a few metres off the keel. I dont pay it much attention at the time, but reviewing my photographs later, it looks suspiciously like the carriage/anchor assembly for a mine. Is this the anchor for the mine that sank U1021
I head back up the shotline, the current becoming more apparent as I ascend. At 30m my token is the last one on the lazy shot.
I cut the lazy shot loose so that those still decompressing can drift with the current. Its Chriss system for keeping all the decompressing divers in roughly the same area. Once the lazy shot is free, we have instructions each to send up a delayed SMB so that he knows where everyone is.
Over the years I have come to trust my main reel completely. It has never jammed. I have even remarked that I thought it was jam-proof.
Today it proves me wrong, and I have to let it go. I make my deeper stops on the lazy shot, confident that Chris will see that my DSMB is unattended and deduce where I am. Even so, as soon as I can look up and see everyone is clear, I send my second DSMB up the line so that he knows exactly where I am.
THE FOLLOWING SEA THAT MADE THE JOURNEY OUT so pleasant has picked up and provides a lumpy ride back.
At least it isnt all the way back to Newquay in one go, because we divert towards Portcothan and the wreck of the Sicilia.
As the Offshore 105 takes the sea head-on, I investigate the coolbox full of lunch, an optional extra Chris provides along with accommodation in log cabins at the bottom of his
garden and a range of fried breakfasts. Cream-cheese and grape sandwich goes down a treat.
Close inshore, the 1895 wreck of the Sicilia is out of the current and only 15m down on a sandy seabed. Chris drops the shot on the boilers, with instructions to make sure we all come back up it; divers who drift inshore will have to walk home.
Some of the divers skip the dive, some go for a rummage, and I set out to see it all. 2129 tons of steamship has been snapped in two, spilling the boilers and turning the bow half so that it is almost parallel to the stern. The hull has collapsed down almost to the seabed.
Its intact all the way back to the stern, though the route to the bow crosses a few sandy breaks before I get all the way to the pointy bit, tipped onto the starboard side. Its an easy second dive and would also be suitable for beginners.
Back by the boilers, the rummagers have polished some pipework trapped beneath the keel. The area of the engine is a pile of rubble, though looking carefully I can pick out sections of crankshaft and piston.
THE ONE THING THAT REALLY surprises me is that I can find no sign of any of the winch gear. There are no cargo-handling winches among the holds, and no anchor winch by the pile of chain at the bow.
Could the deck-fittings have been salvaged before the wreck broke down to the seabed The decks may well have been dry or just awash at low water, so such salvage would have been relatively easy.
Back in Newquay, the tide is high. While the biggest spring tide for 20 years had meant an early departure, we can now unload directly onto the quay without having to climb any steps. Even the resident seals make the most of it, heads up to scrounge fish from any likely-looking soft touch on the quay.
The evening in Newquay is relatively sedate. Stag and hen parties wander between pubs and clubs, but its no busier than any other town centre on a Saturday night.
Earlier in the day, the beaches had been busy with strolling pensioners and pre-school families building sandcastles.
A few minutes walk from the centre of town, the only noise in the cabins at Chriss place is from snoring divers. Whatever happened to the much media-hyped formula of sun, sand and sex It isnt that far out of season.
MOVING TO THE OTHER TIDE, we have an 8am start, boarding the boat at high water for a run down the coast to a steamship wreck off Perranporth.
At 40m the North Cornwall visibility is 10m or so, plenty good enough, but not up to the stunning standard it can be. Or maybe its just a grey day with a choppy surface that dims the light.
With the shot by the boilers I swim to the stern, then to the bow and back. Its all there, but flattened to the seabed except for the large pair of boilers. Its a medium-sized steamship with a single winch to each pair of holds, anchors and hawse pipes broken from the bow, and
a really nice steering quadrant at the stern, though no sign of armament.
Apparently no positive identification has been found, but a metal plate with some markings in Spanish suggests that it could be the Cristina, built in Cadiz in 1903. The Cristina was torpedoed by U55 on 10 March, 1918, while sailing from Port Talbot to Bilbao with a cargo of coal. It is listed as being further inshore, but the wreck at that position has been identified as a barge.
The wreck we dive is the right size for the Cristinas 2083 tons and two boilers. Being Spanish and neutral, the Cristina was not armed.
The cargo of coal has no doubt been dispersed by the deep groundswell. Close beside the boilers is a really nice steering engine. I wonder if that gives any clues The Shipwreck Index notes that the machinery was all built in Hartlepool.
We head back to Newquay between dives. The group on the boat is from Go-Dive in Derby and some divers are skipping the afternoon to get started on the long drive home. It must be worth the long drive, as they are with Chris at least once a month through the summer.
Divers unloaded, we tie up to a mooring in the bay to wait through low water. On the beach below the now-dry harbour, a pick-up truck is making a mess of launching a speedboat.
A gig-racing team rows in, then back out, Sunday training from Perranporth to Newquay and back.
Its the Newquay Fish Festival, and all sorts of entertainment is on at the harbour. I tuck into a ham and cheese sandwich while listening to the band music that wafts out to sea.
Its a shorter journey out for low-water slack on the wreck of the Orfordness, in the same direction as the Cristina but a couple of miles closer and 10m shallower.
Another casualty of World War One, the 2790-ton Orfordness was returning to Barry from Rouen when torpedoed by U60 on 20 July, 1918. The torpedo struck aft of the engine-room, and she went down fast by the stern.
Chris again drops the shot on the boilers. Like the Cristina, the wreck is mostly laid flat to the seabed, though perhaps with a bit more structure intact. Closer inshore at low-water slack, it a shallower dive at 32m to the seabed.
DODGING CUCKOO WRASSE, I begin at the forward part of the wreck, pausing between holds, where a pair of anchors are stowed alongside one of the winches - an odd place to keep spare anchors.
Even more unusual, one of the anchors is an old Admiralty-pattern type with folding stock, hardly in keeping with the rest of the ship. The other spare anchor and those in the hawse pipes at the bow are the more modern stockless anchors typical of steamships.
Aft of the boilers, the propshaft leads past holds and winches before breaking just about where the tail section would have passed through the stern. In fact the whole wreck breaks here, snapped clean across as the Orfordness went down. Chris had advised me that the rest of the stern could be found off the side, and that on a good day it can even be seen from the main body of the wreck.
I search out across the rippled sand to find a hatch coaming, a propeller blade and the rudder, but try as I might, I just cant find the main body of the stern.
After another 15 minutes searching the tide has picked up to the point where it is time for me to pop my delayed SMB and decompress, pleased that my reel is back on better form.
A WEEKEND COULD HAVE ENDED THERE, but Mondays forecast is perfect and there is an early high-water slack on the wreck of the Siracusa, Newquays local wreck. It would be a shame to go home without doing it. Another wreck from before World War One, the 1003-ton Siracusa foundered in a storm in 1897 while under way from Newport to Naples with a cargo of coal.
As usual, the shot is at the boilers - this time inside the broken starboard boiler. Despite being an older wreck, the Siracusa has kept more structure than the Cristina or Orfordness. From the boilers forward, a fair amount of the hull still stands.
Siracusa was built in Germany in 1879, and its always worth looking out for unusual engineering on ships of this age, from the days before everything became standardised.
Today I am rewarded at the stern where, in place of the usual quadrant, the steering mechanism is a geared assembly enclosed in a dustbin-sized casing at the top of the rudder-shaft.
I am loading my car when Chris calls me back. I had almost left my sandwich behind. Mmm, bacon and brie.
|The gun mounts from U1021 have fallen to the seabed |
|the aft torpedo loading hatch |
|Chris Lowe, skipper of Atlantic Diver |
|The Sicilias long-bladed iron propeller is still attached to the shaft |
|The boilers stand on end, casings partly broken to reveal the fire tubes |
|Pouting by the Christinas steering quadrant |
|a spare anchor rests behind the broken anchor winch |
|The high-pressure cylinder of the Orfordnesss triple-expansion engine has broken on its side |
|The low-pressure end of the Siracusas engine, showing how the entire unit has dropped to starboard |
GETTING THERE: Follow the M5 to Exeter, then the A30 past Bodmin to Indian Queens, before turning north on the A392 to Newquay.
DIVING, AIR & ACCOMMODATION: Atlantic Diver, skipper Chris Lowe, 01637 850 930, www.atlanticdiver.co.uk. .
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1149, Pendeen to Trevose Head. Ordnance Survey Map 200, Newquay, Bodmin and Surrounding Area. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles, Volume 1, by Richard and Bridget Larn. Dive The Isles of Scilly and North Cornwall, by Richard Larn and David McBride.