What
What could divers possibly hope to find at this sort of depth

OME STORIES REEK of adventure and draw the eye of any potential explorer. A combination of mystery, intrigue, history and genuine exploration meant that for me - an ex-bomb-disposal diver and budding explorer - the story of HMS Wager was irresistible.
The fact that finding it would involve a month of diving on a remote and uninhabited island made it a dream opportunity.
In just a couple of hours, but over several beers, I formed a paper-thin plan with John Blashford-Snell, the legendary British explorer, to take a team of divers to Wager Island in Patagonian Chile to find a lost 18th-century British warship, HMS Wager.
Wager was the stores ship for Commodore Ansons fleet, which circumnavigated the globe in the early 1740s. Her wrecking, mutiny and subsequent adventures, which included some of the crew rowing 2500 miles on the way home, is a maritime classic.
Nine months after that first planning meeting, I was on the plane to Chile with, as is the way on a long flight, rather too much time to reflect on the impossible nature of our task.
We would be stranded on a desolate island for a month, camping in conditions similar to those in Scotland in late winter, and with little chance of rescue if anything went wrong.
We had only the accounts of a mutineer and an 18-year-old aristocrat, later known as Foul Weather Jack, to help us pinpoint the wreck within 12 square miles of rugged coastline. One thing was definite: a little luck would be needed for our expedition to succeed.
The team was an eclectic and adventurous bunch of 11 men and one woman, the type of divers you would recognise in most clubs.
There was a handful of serving and ex-military types, comfortable at the prospect of living under canvas for a month, but uncomfortable watching a Hugh Grant film on the way over.
There was a group of hardened British divers, who responded to the warnings of foul weather and limited-vis diving with a shrug - normally muttering something like cant be any worse than the Mull trip in 93.
There were also a couple of Martini divers, motivated by the historical significance of our task but deeply concerned about the lack of an hotel, and the intricacies of keeping kit serviceable while living on a beach.
Added to the mix were two Americans and two Chilean Navy divers, instructed to live and dive on an uninhabited island very much against their will.
After a four-day journey across beautiful Patagonia, we were finally left alone and unsupported on Wager island, with a couple of inflatables and compressors, a worried-looking team doctor and a pile of freeze-dried food that was to have remarkable long-term effects on all our digestive systems.

LIFE ON A DIVING DAY WAS FANTASTIC. The remote nature of the Gulfo de Penas (loosely translated as the Gulf of Pain) meant that every dive was a virgin dive. The team systematically named the dive-sites and bays around the northern shore of what quickly became our island.
With a maximum depth of around 10m and pretty average visibility, it wont become the next Palau. The untouched environment did, however, make for surprisingly rewarding diving. The daily presence of inquisitive dolphins and the abundance of unfamiliar species such as penguins balanced out the average conditions.
The challenge of the hunt, and the sure knowledge that we were the first people to try to find Wager since Charles Darwin in 1839, made for an unforgettable experience.
The excitement of every dive was only heightened when, after two weeks on the island, a pod of orcas was seen feeding in the bay in which we had been diving.
Unusually for me, as a dive supervisor, this was an enjoyable and stress-free experience. We have all seen people kit up and flop in without completing pre-dive checks, a constant frustration for those who organise diving and accept responsibility for others, but this was not the case on Wager Island.
I have seldom seen a group of divers carry out their pre-dive checks so completely, or ask so many questions of a new buddy or supervisor. The knowledge that you are two days away from the nearest compression chamber or A&E department focuses the mind. If all divers were as conscientious in safer environments, it would save many of us a few grey hairs!
Before departure, the mixed bunch of PADI, BSAC and military divers had agreed on safe diving procedures.
We also had a shake-out dive on the south coast of England, going through and agreeing on how we would conduct emergency drills.
This was more difficult than I had expected. It was fascinating to see how many different ways of doing seemingly simple drills had been taught over the years. It demonstrated clearly that,
even among an experienced group, you cannot assume that all divers will do roughly the same thing in an emergency. It really is worth talking these things through.
After a days honeymoon period, the conditions settled down into the bizarre routine that would continue for the rest of our stay. On almost every dive the weather would differ completely on surfacing from when we had descended, ranging from brilliant sunshine through rain squalls to violent hailstorms.
I had never operated in a more unpredictable climate.
Our only means of transport were two small inflatables, and on several occasions the trip out to the dive site contrasted with the return.
Most memorable was a long transit to the treacherous northern coast, which was accompanied by burning sunshine, dolphin displays and smiles all round.
The return, two hours later, saw us with faces straining in concentration and butt-cheeks clenched, heading into a 2m swell with white water exploding 20m into the air off the jagged rocks surrounding the island.
Thankfully we had no major incidents, but we did have to take some self-regulating safety decisions. More than once, a hairy-bummed diver would return to the surface before I was expecting him, usually with some innocuous comment like bit choppy today or mask keeps flooding.
By the time we were sitting around the campfire at night, the reality of the enveloping zero visibility or sub-surface current would have been explained in full and, if necessary, exaggerated just a bit!
Kit and its maintenance soon became as much of an obsession as diving methods. There was no friendly local dive shop to visit if you lost a fin-strap, or if your demand valve started to freeflow.
A combination of wind and sand had varying effects. Do you want sand with that was a regular dinner-time rhetorical question, but at least my teeth are now shiny. My dive gear didnt fare so well. Keeping it clean and serviceable became a constant battle, and in some cases a battle not quite won.

CHOICE OF KIT was important, robust and reliable being chosen by everyone for almost every item over state of the art or hi-tech.
This included drysuits. Knowing that we would be yomping up streams, carrying heavy gear over rocks and, as it turned out, battling through deep undergrowth, I wanted the latent thermal property of a neoprene rather than a membrane suit. I may have had a couple of wet dives, but I didnt have a cold one.
To keep kit working, we used a very diluted mix of Salt-away, lots of lubricants and an industrial quantity of Aquasure. And all the team would agree that a scuba housing for a compact camera is worth its weight in gold on such a trip.
We were relying on logic and intuition to interpret the accounts of the wrecking of Wager, but it soon became clear that things were not as they should be. A series of earthquakes in the area, culminating in a peak of 9.6 on the Richter scale in 1962, had changed the whole geography of the island.
There was no written information on the changes, but from our inland observations we concluded that the high-water mark was about 8m lower than it had been in 1742, when Wager had floundered.
We had to face the possibility that our diving expedition could be over - Wager was probably on land.
Looking inland rather than on the coast, we quickly found the landmark we were looking for
- the aptly named Mount Misery. From the summit, it was clear that there was now a series of large inland lakes where Wager Bay used to lie.
We were back on a diving expedition again. We started a week of hauling heavy dive gear up and down unforgiving sets of rapids, and a series of dives that would be best compared to diving in a very pretty but muddy Scottish loch.

IT WAS ON THE RETURN from one of these challenging, delightful trips that one of the team, a hardy military chap, stubbed his toe in the river and launched into a flurry of colourful language.
As he worked to uncover the offending item, his face blanched. Slowly but surely, he uncovered more and more of a timber structure.
Just 10m from our camp site, and in the very spot where we had been washing our pots and pans, smalls and bodily parts for the previous two weeks, we uncovered a large piece of hull section of an 18th-century warship.
An extraordinary set of circumstances had led us to be in the right place at the right time and with the right people literally to fall over a wreck that had been lost for 260 years.
Sadly, we had time only for a quick celebration and survey, and to find a single musket ball, before leaving the island.
The Chilean authorities have now funded a two-year study at the site, which will aim to locate the remaining structure and contents of Wager. They are keen that British divers should be involved, and I will ensure that DIVER readers are made aware of the next adventure to this remarkable island.

Chris
Chris Holt is co-director of Full Circle Expeditions and provides safety and logistics for all its diving, including the production of adventure documentaries. A retired Army Diver and Bomb Disposal Officer, in his spare time Chris also leads expeditions for the Scientific Exploration Society.
Chris
Chris Holt with right-hand man Andy Torbet finally have something to celebrate.
Part
Part of the hull planking of HMS Wager is filmed and recorded for a future expedition.
Sadly,
Sadly, this little artefact, a musket ball, was the only one recovered on the trip!
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