Divernet

AFTER A TRIO OF WARSHIP TOURS over the past three months, its back to a straightforward cargo steamship for Septembers Wreck Tour. The 2750-ton Asborg, lying in 29m off the back of the Isle of Wight, is the wreck, and it has all the features one would expect to find, opened out for us to explore.
The highest point of the wreck that shows up well on an echo-sounder is the triple-expansion steam engine, peaking at 25m. A good target for a shot, this is where our tour of the Asborg begins (1). For orientation, the largest of three cylinders is aft and the smallest is forward.
The Asborg was built in 1896, so the engine is big, chunky and open, rather than the more enclosed type found on later ships. Descending further, on the starboard side of the engine is the array of big iron valve wheels and pipes used to control the engine.
Further out to starboard, but still within the confines of the engine-room, a single-cylinder auxiliary engine (2) looks as if it would have driven a small generator.
Forward of the engine is a single boiler (3), with bunker space saddled to both sides and a pair of fireboxes in the front.
The skeleton of a bulkhead runs across the ship, separating the boiler from the forward cargo holds.
One of the winches that used to service these holds rests upside-down against the bulkhead (4), with a second winch (5) across on the port side of the collapsed hold, up against the side of the hull.
Continuing forward, roughly on the centre line of the ship are a couple of corrugated steel tubes (6), unlikely to have been part of the ship - more likely part of the cargo, which included 450 tons of sheet steel and 10 tons of steel drums.
There is little sign of such a mass of steel cargo on the wreck, so it must have either been thin enough to have rusted away or been salvaged. The general collapse of the wreck in this area has been to port.
A couple of spars from the cargo-handling derricks lie out to port, but our route forward continues towards the starboard side of the wreck, where a small Admiralty-pattern anchor can be found off the corner of a hull-plate (7).
I suspect that this would have been a spare anchor carried on the deck behind the forecastle.
Next forward is the chain box (8), easily identified by the big pile of anchor chain it still contains. Chain leads out from the box to port beneath a pile of cable (9) and a pair of bollards, then disappears in debris behind the anchor winch (10). This has tumbled from the bow and is upside-down beneath its mounting plate.
The bow has fallen onto its port side, starboard side uppermost. Only a small fragment remains intact beneath the hawse pipes, with a stockless anchor still in place on the starboard side (11).
We now retrace our route and return to the engine past the starboard side of the boiler. From beneath the low-pressure cylinder, big rockers lead out to drive circulating pumps on the starboard side of the engine. Against the hull is a dome-topped water reservoir (12).
Behind the engine, the propeller shaft leads out through a thrust-bearing to the arched propeller-shaft tunnel (13). The skeleton of another bulkhead crosses the wreck, separating the engine-room from the aft cargo holds.
Just behind the bulkhead on the port side is the helm and steering engine (14). This would originally have been in the wheelhouse, just forward of the boiler. For something this heavy to end up here, it must have been dragged.
Perhaps the Asborg was swept to clear the water above for navigation, or else got snagged by a trawl.
The small bollards and steps resting next to the helm are less out of place. They could easily have come from the back of the boat deck, where it joins the main deck by the holds.
Back on the centre-line of the wreck, the propeller-shaft tunnel leads the way aft, broken open in a few places (15). The winches that would have served the aft holds can be found just to the starboard side of this tunnel, first one winch the right way up (16), then a second inverted (17).
The shaft emerges from the tunnel as it reaches the stern. Off to the port side are two pairs of mooring bollards (18), then a basic T-bar steering mechanism at the top of the rudder post, now resting on the seabed (19).
The stern itself has collapsed almost all the way to the keel. Only the strengthened part where the propeller shaft runs through the stern gland holds it all together, with the big four-bladed iron propeller still in place right at the stern (20).
The remains of the rudder lie next to this, slightly to starboard.
Above the propeller are the remains of the frame (21) that would have supported the rudder and steering, now just an empty frame rising to 22m, and showing just how high the stern of the original ship would have been.
This is the real shallow point of the wreck, but nowhere near as good an echo-sounder target as the engine and boiler. The top of the frame is an ideal vantage point for a last look down at the wreck, before releasing a delayed SMB to ascend.

Thanks to Dave Wendes and Derek Bridle.


TOUR GUIDE
GETTING THERE: From the roundabout at the M27 junction 1, turn south on the A337 through Lyndhurst and continue on to Lymington. Head towards the town centre until the road takes a sharp right turn uphill to the high street. Rather than go up the high street, continue straight on and follow the road downhill to the river and marinas.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 31.85N, 001 15.80W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies with its bow to the east.
TIDES: Slack is essential, and occurs 50 minutes before high water Dover, or 5.5 hours after high water Dover. On spring tides slack is very short, and can be a few minutes later than this.
diving Wight Spirit, skipper Dave Wendes, 02380 270390, www.wightspirit.co.uk
AIR: TAL Scuba, Christchurch, 01202 473030, www.shootingandscuba.co.uk
launching There is a slip in the marina at Lymington. It is tidal and dries towards low water.
accommodation The New Forest is a popular area, with everything from camping to hotels, 01590 689000, www.thenewforest.co.uk
QUALIFICATIONS: Suitable for reasonably experienced sports divers. An average depth of just under 30m makes the Asborg ideal for nitrox.
LAUNCHING: There is a slip in the marina at Lymington. It is tidal and dries towards low water.
accommodation The New Forest is a popular area, with everything from camping to hotels, 01590 689000, www.thenewforest.co.uk
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2045, Approaches to the Solent. Ordnance Survey Map 196, The Solent & the Isle of Wight. Dive Wight & Hampshire, by Martin Pritchard and Kendall McDonald.
PROS: Just about the right size to see the whole wreck in one dive without getting too far into decompression.
CONS: Slack water is almost non-existent at high-water spring tides.



Admiralty-pattern
Admiralty-pattern anchor, possibly a spare.

A
A conger eel peeks out of the hand-wheel that controlled the speed of the steam engine.

Cargo
Cargo winch, upside-down in the forward hold.

Auxiliary
Auxiliary engine, pump or generator.

Helm/steering
Helm/steering engine.

Propeller-shaft
Propeller-shaft and tunnel.

Steam
Steam reservoir.

Divernet



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NEUTRALITY NO PROTECTION
Asborg, cargo steamer. Built 1896, SUNK 1918

ASBORG, FORMERLY LEONIDAS, a neutral steamer of 2750 tons, was sailing under the Norwegian flag, but that didnt save her, writes Kendall McDonald.
At 3am on 3 January, 1918, Johann Lohs, the German ace commanding UC75, added Asborg to his huge list of Allied ships sunk when he torpedoed her in the port side, in the engine-room.
Though the explosion left her wide open to the sea, she took 35 minutes to go under, and all 25 of the Norwegian crew had plenty of time to take to the boats safely.
Asborgs captain, Johannes Johannesen, was the last man to leave the ship. He had been asleep in his bunk when the torpedo struck, having handed over command to his first mate an hour before.
Launched as the Leonidas by Short Bros in Sunderland in 1896, the schooner-rigged steel vessel was 321ft long with a beam of 43ft, and had tramped around the ports of Europe driven by a three-cylinder 252hp triple-expansion engine with single boiler and single screw.
After the start of the war in 1914, she continued trading between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean for her owner, Heistein & Sons of Oslo. Typical of this work was the voyage that would be her last.
She was travelling from the Tyne to Leghorn, Italy, carrying 450 tons of steel plates and 3350 tons of coal for the Italian government, and was some three miles south of
St Catherines Point in the Channel when she was torpedoed.