|FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, our club had travelled from Cheshire to the tip of Cornwall every Easter to visit Lamorna Cove. We had wonderful times diving in clear waters on numerous wrecks, and the spectacular pinnacle of rock known as the Outer and Inner Buck Rocks. Here members discovered the schooner-rigged steamer Garonne, lost in 1868.|
At night, we would settle in the bar of the Wink, or at St Buryan and the Ship Inn at Mousehole, where we would listen to majestic male-voice choirs.
As we became friends with many of the locals, the area became our second home. Several members went to live down there.
So we listened intently to the breaking news on the night of 21 December, 1981, when appalling weather conditions along the south-west coast caused several vessels to get into trouble.
The next day we were devastated by the news that not only had a ship called Union Star been lost with all hands near Lamorna, but that the Solomon Brown lifeboat, which had gone to help her, had also been lost with all hands.
There was much discussion before we decided to make our annual trip as usual the following Easter. Wanting to be careful where we dived, we checked first with John Daniels, owner of the cove and the local county councillor.
John assured us that there was no problem but suggested that we should not go near the Union Star, which was high and dry on the rocks in the next bay, between Tater-du and Boscawen Point. He also asked us to look out for anything from the wrecks, as the lifeboat had not been located, and some crew-members had not been found.
I always lodged with the Jefferies family, which owned a farm called Tregurnow overlooking the bay where the Union Star lay.
Mr Jefferies told me how he had gone out on the cliff with his sons on the night of the tragedy. He had seen the tugboat Noord Holland, standing off while a helicopter hovering above illuminated the sight of the Union Star drifting into the shallow bay.
He described the sea conditions as breathtaking. It had been impossible even to stand upright in the driving wind and rain, and he and his boys had been sheltering behind rocky outcrops.
It was difficult to see what was happening but he had seen the lights of what he perceived to be the lifeboat going alongside the Union Star. Then it had appeared to leave the stricken vessel and start back for the mouth of the bay, before suddenly veering and disappearing under the cliff.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, not all police forces had underwater search teams, and without todays Health & Safety commercial diving regulations in force, often relied on sport divers to help them. Mr Jefferies suggested that we should dive at the spot to see if there was any evidence of the loss of the lifeboat, and John Daniels agreed.
As we dropped through the water below the cliff known as Black Rock, we could see something shining in the kelp. Our hearts quickened as we saw part of a crushed aluminium structure and sundry tools. Looking at the underwater cliff face, we could also see a small container trapped under a giant boulder.
We photographed what were clearly parts from the Solomon Brown, but there was no sign of a hull. We surfaced pleased to have found some evidence of the disaster but at the same time deeply sad. There was little conversation as we returned to the cove to tell the Coastguard that we had buoyed the site.
The authorities had assumed that the hull would have been swept down towards Lands End and had concentrated their searches in this area.
THE NEXT DAY, A GROUP OF CLUB DIVERS led by Pat Heron dived on the Garonne in the Inner Buck. Towards the end of their dive, they drifted towards the lighthouse of Tater-du and spotted a large piece of wreckage.
The current swept them by too quickly to examine it, and they had no camera. When they told us of their find, those of us with cameras kitted up and, led by Pat and Allen Heywood, went to relocate the wreckage.
Pat was spot on with his marks, which put us about 100m out from the lighthouse. As soon as we dived we could see the white shape below in the 12m vis. It was the stern section of the bottom of the Solomon Brown. The one propeller still attached was entwined with rope, which had twisted into the shaft and appeared to have melted.We found no other wreckage.
Back at the cove, we told the authorities that we would send them the photographs. Club-member Jeff Peppitt, who worked for Television South West, told his boss what we had found, and the photos were also used in the evening news.
That evening we were called by two other members, John Wright and Angus Andrews, who had gone back to Cheshire before we had returned from our dive. It seemed that, as they had been surfacing from their dive on the Bucks, they glanced back at the bottom and saw a red object they thought could be from the wreck - or even a body. They had had too little air left to check.
Sea conditions were perfect the next morning as we headed out. Mick Everett, Jeff Peppitt and I dived down the outside of the Bucks, with its stunning 16m visibility.
All we knew was that the object was roughly at the bottom of the rocks.
Twenty minutes into the dive, Mike and Jeff indicated that they were low on air. I still had air left and signalled for them to surface while I carried on with the search. But on the sandy bottom at about 40m, I began to doubt my chances of finding the object, and became apprehensive at being at such a depth on my own.
Then I rose over a large boulder - and saw the red object ahead of me.
As I approached, I could see that it was a storm-proof jacket that appeared to be full, with what looked like an arm sticking up in the air, as if beckoning me, and another arm lying across the chest, as though trying to open the jacket.
The object was hard to the touch; it seemed that I had found someones remains, held together by the jacket.
My contents gauge read 60 bar - time was running out. Should I retrieve the body now, or mark it and come back next day with some help What if the marker was lost, or the weather broke All these thoughts flashed through my mind and, rightly or wrongly, I decided to do a lift. Kneeling, I checked my kit and lifted the torso respectfully under my left arm. It was much heavier than I had expected. Inflating my life-jacket slightly, I started to ascend. It was hard going, and I had to fin hard.
At 12m, I decided to put more air into my jacket. It was a Fenzy direct-feed and, feeling for the inflate button, I realised that the air-hose was no longer connected. I looked down but could see no sign of it - it must have been trapped under the body. I headed for the surface as best I could.
THEN, AS I LOOKED UP, my mouthpiece came apart and I started to sink back down. Determined not to let go of the torso, my only hope was to jettison my weightbelt and go for the surface. In the early days of BSAC, we would practise free ascents.
Taking the pin out of my belt with my free hand and making sure that it would not snag on anything was not easy, but I succeeded. I went for the surface with all the determination I could muster, remembering to breathe out all the way.
Fortunately, I broke surface almost at the side of the inflatable. That first gulp of air was nectar, and Jeff took my find from me while Mick and his girlfriend Carol helped me into the boat.
We covered the object up to try to mask the overpowering smell, and radioed for the Coastguard to send someone to meet us at Lamorna Cove.
The police and the local coroner were waiting when we arrived. Their initial appraisal of the object was that it was a torso, but closer examination revealed the life-jacket to be full of rotten weed and sand, with no human remains present at all.
Under the flap of the inner pocket, the coroner found the name of the Solomon Brown cox - William Trevelyan Richards.
The jacket was washed and dried and, we understand, was given to Williams mother, who would treasure it. Our efforts had not been in vain.
So ended a sad but extraordinary weeks diving for BSACs East Cheshire Branch. I dived the next day and retrieved my weightbelt.
|the bent propellor shaft |
|view through an inspection hatch in the hull |