Death of a Viking Princess
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A FAN of the Viking saga Beowulf. Briefly, this story describes how Grendel, a terrifying monster, raided a Viking drinking hall and killed the warriors gathered there.
The warriors went on to Viking heaven, or Valhalla, while Grendel’s anti-social activities ceased when Beowulf, a Viking chief, fought and killed him.
In my story the monster is not Grendel, but the very real and devastating storms of the winter of 2013/14.
The Viking Princess was a 20m trawler decommissioned as part of the reduction of the UK fishing fleet.
She was stripped down, the Cummins diesel engine and prop removed and bows cut down to satisfy the conditions of the Fisheries Commission compensation scheme.
She was being towed to the breaker’s yard on the River Dart when she was swamped and sank off the South Devon coast about five miles east of Plymouth, close to the mouth of the Yealm river.
My wife, Karen, found the then-mystery wreck in 2002 during a drift dive in the area known locally as Fairylands. The pine decking was still in place and there were empty paint-cans, discarded fishing-gear and other shipyard junk still below decks in the hold. It was actually possible to enter the hold via a hatch.
The story of the finding of the wreck appeared as an article, Hulk In Fairyland, in divEr in April 2006.
Karen had done some investigation and discovered the name of the wreck and
its history from the late-lamented fisherman and dive boat-skipper Peter Hambly, who had owned a similar boat himself.
WE PRETTY WELL HAD the wreck to ourselves for four years, but eventually the story got out among the local diving fraternity and the Viking Princess became a regular dive-site used by both commercial and private boats.
Over the years the wreck suffered damage and the decking, worn when we found it, eroded away, leaving the internal metal structure exposed.
It was always interesting, however, with a large shoal of bib hovering above and resident congers in the engine bay. The gradual deterioration of the wreck added to its beauty and made it more photogenic.
The winter of 2013/14 was very severe on the south coast of Devon. Winds of up to 90 miles an hour and huge seas swept in, pounding the shore and causing erosion and flooding.
Further along the coast, the railway was washed out at Dawlish, leaving the track hanging in mid-air.
Diving was off the agenda for some time. When we did get back into the water the sea had a milky appearance, probably because of the fine sediments on the seabed being ruthlessly stirred up in
As this settled, the May plankton bloom started and, although patchy, knocked back visibility.
I EVENTUALLY MANAGED TO DIVE the Viking Princess again in July 2014. I had been told that it had suffered badly in the storms, but I had no idea how much damage had been done. Arriving at the site it was unrecognisable on the sounder; nothing seemed to be standing up very much from the bottom profile at all.
I even started to doubt the GPS location, as I was using a new plotter. Anyway, over went the shot and I dropped into a gentle tide and reasonable visibility.
On the seabed I couldn’t see the usual “loom” of darkness that led to the wreck, nor was the shoal of bib to be seen.
Moving forward, I found a long-corroded metal plate lying flat on the seabed and, continuing, more pieces became apparent.
What astounded me was the degree of destruction that had occurred, considering that the wreck lies between 19 and 25m deep, depending on the state of the tide.
When I had last seen the wreck, it had been a recognisable vessel. A Kort nozzle was fitted to the stern, decking ribs were still intact and the engine-room still contained parts of pumps and pipework.
Moving on again, I found a short piece of one side of the hull smashed against
a gully wall, and a section of the hull that looked as though it had come from the engine-room lying flat.
A conger with a very scratched nose partially emerged from its lair below this plate. Was it the same conger that Karen had photographed in 2013?
A small shoal of poor cod became apparent as I moved around the site looking for more wreckage, but the coherent wreck I remembered had been broken up into disjointed wreckage.
As I write this in January 2015 a force 8/9 gale is once again pounding the South-west. I wonder if there will be anything significant to see of the Viking Princess in the spring.
I hope so. It would a great shame if all traces of this Viking Princess disappeared into Valhalla like Beowulf’s warriors with the ravages of that monster, the British weather. How many more wrecks will suffer the same fate this winter?
Incidentally, the local skippers had suggested that decommissioned fishing-boats could be sunk in Whitsand Bay, the current location of the Scylla wreck.
Regrettably, the scheme was turned down, and as far as I know all the boats went to breakers’ yards.