At the loading pontoon in Sovereign Harbour.


I SOON RUN INTO THE EAST SUSSEX wreck-identification problem when planning a few days diving out of Eastbourne with Dave Ronnan, joint skipper with partner Sylvia Pryer of the Offshore 125 Our-W.
We are on opposite ends of a phone with similar piles of books spread in front of us, looking through wrecks in the 30-40m range - the bread and butter of UK wreck-diving.
How about the Balfour I suggest, adding that I dived it many years ago when I first ventured to this part of the country, when the massive Sovereign Harbour complex was just a deep puddle with a lock gate amid a plain of gravel and grass.
Dave explains that, back then, the wreck would not have been the Balfour. The wreck at this location is a steamship, not an armed trawler, and Her Majestys Trawler Balfour has since been identified as the wreck listed in Dive Sussex as the two-gun trawler. With that cleared up, Dave puts the Balfour/two-gun trawler down for our first day.
I have made some painfully early starts to dive this stretch of the Channel, but the timing now is quite civilised. Its a one-dive day with slack in the early afternoon. With a morning to spare,
the plan is to depart mid-morning and watch the Eastbourne Air Show from
a prime location just off the beach, before heading out to the wreck.
So much for plans. With now typical behaviour for a summer of floods, the wind picks up to a point at which diving is only just possible. Sitting around off the beach would not be comfortable.
Dave has walked to the seafront to check. We wont be missing much; there will be no fancy low-level aerial show in these conditions. We may as well wait for slack in the comfort of the marina.
Dave and Sylvia hook the shot into the keel at 34m, where the bow has collapsed to starboard. Further back, just forward of the boiler, a rent in the port side from deck to seabed confirms that this armed trawler is the Balfour. It matches the damage where the bow of the steamship Nidd collided with it, as described in detail in Neil Maws book World War One Channel Wrecks.
On 13 May, 1918, the Balfour was escorting the Nidd to Dieppe. At 9.15pm the Nidd ran over what turned out to be a U-boat. The damaged submarine surfaced astern and the Nidds gunners opened up as the ship steamed away.
The Balfour turned from its position ahead of the Nidd, and in the rush to have a go at the U-boat cut across the Nidds bow, causing the fatal collision. The Nidds captain kept his ship gently steaming ahead to hold the two vessels together as the Balfours crew climbed across to the Nidd.
The U-boat was reported to have been hit by at least one shell from the Nidd. According to maritime historian Oliver Lörscher the sub, UB74, suffered only minor damage but didnt return from the patrol.
Thirteen days later UB74 was sunk in Lyme Bay by depth charges from the Admiralty yacht Lorna. The logbook was recovered by Royal Navy divers and confirmed the incident.
From the gap in the port side, I work aft across boiler and engine, then down into the partly broken space at the stern. A depth charge among the debris is a reminder of another part of the story. Before leaving the Balfour one of the crew had sensibly disarmed the depth charges, which otherwise would have exploded beneath the Nidds keel.
I look in the debris and off the stern for a second gun.
The first is obvious, standing on a platform on the forward part of the ship. Records list only a single 3-pounder on the Balfour, but if the wreck is known as the Two Gun Trawler a diver must have mistaken something for a gun in the past. Perhaps it was a smaller gun, or part of the steering. I have seen similar confusion in the past.
The sea is so lively that I finish my decompression at 6m instead of my usual 3m shallow stop. Getting a firm grip on the diver-lift has me flailing off the stern of Our-W, as I try to pull my feet firmly onto the platform while protecting my camera from crashing into the rails. I suspect that if the sea had been this heavy before we started, we might not have dived.
The journey back to the marina is with the sea. The air show has picked up a bit, with a four-engined Hercules making a pass along the seafront, looping out over the sea and banking hard round the boat. Sylvia calls for Dave to take over the helm so that she can go on deck to watch.

ANOTHER LAZY START with the prospect of watching the air show is similarly delayed by strong wind and rough sea. Daves choice of wreck is a fine balancing act. We want to be far enough offshore for cleaner water, but not so far off Beachy Head that we lose any shelter against a wind thats just west of north. Todays group is a little more experienced, so we can go a few metres deeper.
A recent hydrographic survey has turned up a previously uncharted wreck, close to the UB130. As we travel along the coast, a lone aircraft circles high above Beachy Head, then swoops down along the seafront. Its a Spitfire from the RAF historic flight, followed by a Lancaster bomber as we prepare to dive.
The wreck is a considerably more serious dive than the Balfour. The seabed is 5m deeper and we have less than half the visibility. With the grey day and choppy surface, it is pitch black on the wreck.
The layout is of a typical four-hold steamship. I can tell straight away that it is a fairly old vessel, though that doesnt necessarily mean its an old wreck. Little things like the shape of the bow and anchors that would have been hauled on deck rather than pulled tight into hawse pipes give it away.
If I had seen the stern first, the clue would have been the simple tiller at the top of the rudder-post, to be pulled from side to side by chains from the helm. A more recent ship would have a quadrant.
Amidships, the age of the ship is even more obvious. A simple two-cylinder compound engine is fed steam from a boiler that spans the width of the hull.
I later join Jamie Smith from Tunbridge Wells SAC for a beer. He wasnt diving on the day, but we have been swapping notes about wrecks in the area, and can now discuss them across the pub table. He recognises the wreck from the rough location and my sketch, and tells me that he has heard it is the Stanhope. A friend of a friend has found a makers plate.

ALL SEEMS GOOD as I check the details in the Shipwreck Index. The Stanhope was a 1367-ton steamship, built in 1882 and powered by a two-cylinder compound engine. It was lost in roughly the right position, as long as we allow for navigational errors in the position reported in 1900.
Length and beam are about right, though no-one has applied a tape measure.
The Stanhope was sunk in a collision with the schooner Coal Tar on 16 March, 1900. The only serious damage to the hull is an obvious V-shaped rent in the starboard side, just forward of the boiler. There are even a couple of anchors more typical of a sailing ship among the debris inside this split. All visible damage points to ramming by a sailing ship.
All seems good - until I read that the Stanhope had two boilers. The wreck
I dived had only one. I check against the other Stanhope listed, which sank off Start Point. It also has two boilers,
so even if the details of the two had become swapped over, it wouldnt make any difference. Either the index lists the wrong number of boilers, or this wreck is not the Stanhope after all.
So if anyone dives the mark on Our-Ws plotter labelled JR1, there are a couple of little jobs to help tie down the identification. The easy one is to use a tape measure or reel and knots to measure the length and beam. The Stanhope was 74.37m by 10.08m.
The difficult one is to dig through the silt banked in one of the holds and find a sample of the cargo. The Stanhope was carrying iron ore.
We finally get a day with little wind that looks perfect for diving. On the other hand, we have switched to the other tide, so it is not so perfect for getting up in the morning. On the way out of Sovereign Harbour there are only a few boats sharing the lock.
Dave and Sylvia hook the shot onto the stern of the Caleb Sprague, an 1813-ton steamship torpedoed in an E-boat raid on 31 January, 1944. The same attack sank the steamship Emerald, also off Beachy Head, and the escorting trawler HMT Pine, which makes a well-broken shallow dive off Bognor.
On a ship this size, taking the more difficult option of hooking the shot at the deeper end of a wreck is a nice favour for me. It means I can swim round the stern and the gun close to the seabed at 46m, then follow the debris of number 3 and 4 holds up to the main deck at 38m for the rest of the dive.
The torpedo explosion laid waste the aft holds. They are such a mess that its hard to tell the difference between the cargo of steel and sections of the hull.
When I get to the forward end of the holds, the character of the wreck changes completely. The boat deck has sagged down towards the main deck, but the steel wheelhouse, the deckhouse above the engine-room and the anti-aircraft gun positions are all intact.
The layout of the boat deck is a bit unusual, but I put this down to the Caleb Sprague having been built in 1943 in California. If it wasnt listed as a steamship with a triple-expansion engine and two boilers hidden below, I would have guessed it was a motor ship. The forward part of the wreck is very nicely intact.
Its such a nice day that the skippers grab a dive each, Sylvia diving first before swapping with Dave while I am down. They must have enjoyed themselves, because on the way back to Eastbourne they suggest a change of plan to dive the other slack, by now getting late in the afternoon.
Dave fires up the on-board compressor to top up cylinders and we make a brief stop back at the marina so that I can pick up a tub of Sofnalime. As the original plan was just the one dive, I had not come prepared to change the scrubber on my death machine.

WE ARRIVE ABOVE THE FD LAMBERT in good time for slack water.
This 2195-tonner was another steamship casualty of World War One, striking a mine on 13 February, 1917. I dived it a few years ago, in near-zero visibility.
This time visibility is quite good, limited more by the late afternoon light from above than by bits in the water.
At an average depth of 25m I have plenty of time for two complete circuits of the wreck and pick out the interesting features, from an unusual design of anchor at the bow to the spare propeller at the back of the remains of the aft hold.
A scrap of netting that last time in the gloom had deterred me from exploring further turns out to be just a small tangle, and easily avoided.
The story doesnt end there. When I later look up the FD Lambert in the Shipwreck Index, it is listed as having a triple-expansion engine and one boiler.
I agree about the engine, but the wreck I dived had two boilers side by side. So it may not be the FD Lambert after all.
Again, if anyone dives it with a tape measure, perhaps they can tell me how close it comes to the Lambert s specified length and beam of 85.55m by 11.58m.
Also worth looking into: are the rocks piled across the aft holds actually big lumps of coal with a covering of silt and marine life, or something else
Which brings me back to my opening thoughts about unidentified and misidentified wrecks in this part of the English Channel.
A series of dives that should have been three known wrecks and one unknown turned out to be two known wrecks and two that may well have been wrongly identified. You dont need to go to technical depths to find a mystery off East Sussex.

Our W / Dive-125 (07764 585353, www.dive125.co.uk) has an onboard compressor, but if you require anything other than small quantities of oxygen for nitrox, or helium, its best to arrange it in advance. The nearest commercial air station is Newhaven Scuba Centre (01273 612012, www.newhaven-scuba.co.uk). Further information: Admiralty Charts 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head, and 536, Beachy Head to Dungeness. Ordnance Survey Map 199, Eastbourne & Hastings, Crowborough, Battle & Heathfield.

Passing
Passing through the lock.
Gun
Gun on the Balfour
steam
steam pipe from boiler to engine on the same wreck
spider
spider crab on a cargo winch that has fallen upside-down in the aft hold of what may be the Stanhope
from
from steam pipe to condenser on that wreck.
Cargo
Cargo winch across the stern on the Caleb Sprague
steel
steel ingots from the cargo in the aft hold
a
a searchlight or signal light pillar,fallen at the port side of the amidships superstructure
the
the wheelhouse has fallen into the superstructure where the deck has collapsed.
Diver
Diver by the Caleb Spragues cargo winch.
The
The helm/steering engine on the FD Lambert
this
this anchor is of an unusual design with a swivelling shaft
the
the propeller-shaft tunnel where it meets the engine-room bulkhead
cargo
cargo winch.