Divers Mark Milburn and Colin Stratton were filmed by a BBC crew when they went out in search of the Darlwyne
DARLWYNE - the forgotten tragedy of 1966
SOMETIMES THINGS CAN surprise you. Something catches your attention, and you might even wonder how you missed it.
One day this May, we were having a lunch-break at the marina between dives when a guy from the sailing school came over. He had just taken out to sea a journalist who was interested in events surrounding the Football World Cup of 1966 – the one England actually won.
The journalist wanted to visit some of the places where the Darlwyne had been. Had I heard of the Darlwyne? I hadn’t.
He explained what he knew of the story. Fifty years ago, on 31 July, this pleasure-boat had left Mylor for Fowey, overloaded and unfit to be in the water. The passengers spent the day in Fowey, and the Darlwyne set off back to Mylor.
The winds had changed direction, so it would be a rough trip home for any boat.
A few people said they had spotted it making way, but it never arrived back. It disappeared with no survivors.
The man from the sailing school had never heard of the Darlwyne either, before taking the journalist out. The quay it left was only 100m or so from the sailing school, but that was before Mylor was the yacht harbour it is now.
He also mentioned a book by Martin Banks called The Mysterious Loss of the Darlwyne: A Cornish Holiday Tragedy.
I found nothing at wrecksite.eu, so I created a record for the Darlwyne.
Using Google I found the original Board of Trade report, which was quite detailed, but to sum up:
• The Darlwyne was not fit to go to sea;
• There was very little safety equipment and no radio;
• It had a capacity of 12 but was carrying 31 people;
• The wind forecast changed between leaving Mylor and the return voyage;
• Darlwyne was a 25-year-old timber ex-Admiralty picket boat;
• It was 13.5m long with a 3.5m beam and weighed 12.35 tons;
• It had two Perkins P6 diesel engines and had been re-propped;
• There was a massive air & sea search but only some wreckage recovered;
• Nobody survived;
• The 12 bodies recovered were of people who had died of deepwater drowning.
I WAS STRUCK by the massive loss of life in what was a relatively recent incident that, occurring the day after the World Cup victory, had somehow been overlooked. We had to try to find this wreck.
The Board Of Trade report also stated that 912 objects had been identified by the Royal Navy, which was involved in the searches, and that divers had investigated 142 of these. Historic England located within the National Archive the records we needed to see. By spelling Darlwyne as “Darlwin”, it found several other reports.
Google searches also revealed a recent interview with one of the RNLI crew who had searched at the time.
We knew him, a local ship-researcher and retired ship’s pilot.
The Darlwyne would be a small target to find in an area of mostly rocky seabed. An expert told us that we would need a caesium magnetometer flown 6m from the bottom to locate the relatively small boat-engines, which weighed around half a ton each.
This wouldn’t be a practical method, however, because the caesium tow-fish was likely to be damaged or lost among the rocks and pinnacles.
With potential depths of up to 60m, side-scan sonar would be better, though with that rocky seabed any results were likely to be unclear.
Without any actual real sightings of the vessel, the area to search was far too large, especially taking into account the depth of water. The area in which the wreckage and bodies had been found was 10 miles long and possibly two to three miles out to sea.
The report concluded that the Darlwyne had sunk in the Dodman Point area. The reef there is subject to strong tides and regular tidal overfalls – waves caused by strong currents at peak tidal flow. Under water there are many rocks and crevasses.
Nick, one of our team, put out a call for information on a local radio station. Someone who had worked on a scallop-dredger called to say that during the 1980s his boat had dragged up a wooden transom with the name Darlwyne on it from a gully SSW of Dodman Point, at a range of a third of a mile.
In another report, a fishing-boat had trawled up a propshaft and one or two propellers about two miles south-west of the Dodman. The items were left on the quayside at Mevagissey for the Ministry of Defence to identify.
According to the report, inspectors had confirmed that they were from the Darlwyne, but there seemed to be no official record of the visit. How would the MoD identify the Darlwyne from the propellers when it had been re-engined and fitted with smaller props?
LOCAL FISHERMEN also came up with the location of an unidentified timber wreck, very close to where the transom was supposedly trawled up. These locations also happened both to be in a wide gully, in which a wreck could easily be missed by normal surface-detection methods.
So we would have to try a diver-led search in the gully. If a trawler had been through the wreck, any timbers left would be spread around.
The engines and ballast could be anywhere, so we would have to look for anything that didn’t fit with the surroundings. There might be small corroded iron or steel objects, the engines, anchors or even the granite sets (square paving granite blocks) added for extra ballast after the Darlwyne was re-engined.
None of these were big targets, and everything but the granite blocks would be encrusted, so it would have to be a slow, studious search.
We left Mylor and made our way to the Dodman. We had planned a day with the winds offshore and neap tides – the Dodman has some notorious currents, and we needed as few of those as possible.
We trolled the boat up and down and, using a combination of the newer, higher- resolution electronic charts on the plotter and our echo-sounder, studied the seabed.
Our echo-sounder has a high-definition “downscan” that is part of its side-imaging system, with a multi-split-screen function to show the downscan beside the sidescan images, displaying
the charts and sonar simultaneously.
We used our back-up plotter for the charts once on site.
The gully we had been looking at on the charts had a rocky bottom with a sandy strip that would not be wide enough for a scallop dredge, so we carried on searching.
The only other gully that matched the information we had been given was on the north side of a reef known as the Bellows. This was much larger, 400m wide and more than 800m long, stretching out into the sea. It would take a lot of searching, and we found nothing on our electronics other than the end of the gully.
ON OUR FIRST DAY of diving, five of us did two dives each. The first pair went diagonally across the gully, marking the entry and exit points on the chart-plotter and looking for scallops and scallop-trawl marks to confirm that the gully fitted the criteria, which it did.
The second group followed the edge of the gully, hoping to find anything that had fallen off the edges of the trawls. One granite block was found, its sides around 30cm long, so larger than a granite set. The records had stated granite sets, but anything could have been used. Nothing else was found, and we returned to Mylor.
We decided that next time we would try to find the end of the trawl-marks, where the dredgers would have stopped and turned back because of rocks or a change of seabed. Parts of the wreck might have been deposited there, after being dragged along.
A few weeks later we returned. The weather was good, but the tide was still running quite fast when we arrived. We decided to let it do the work and entered the water on a rocky seabed. The tide would take us to the sand, where we hoped to find the end of the trawls.
We soon came across an area covered in stones. It was what we were looking for. There were rocks of all sizes, various pieces of concrete and encrusted iron, all hard to tell apart from the natural rocks. The tide was pushing us along fast, and we were quickly dragged away.
We came to the scallop ground on coarse sand, and could have ended the dive there and waited for the tide to stop, but we were already down and the vis was good, so we decided to carry on.
After about 45 minutes we came across very low lines in the seabed. As I got closer, I could see that this was steel or iron, partially encrusted and some of it looking rusty. Looking around, we could see more items – a fisherman’s anchor, some worm-eaten wood and some recently exposed wood.
There was also a large lump that looked like a winch, plus some other iron or steel objects. The current was still running, so I took some photos as best I could before it took me away. I then started my ascent, as I needed to let them know on the boat. The tide stopped during our ascent.
I TOLD EVERYONE on the boat what I had seen and photographed, and they were excited. We dropped a shotline where we thought the wreckage was, allowing for my having drifted off the site before the tide stopped.
The next group planned to do a circular search with the shotline as a starting point. They descended and searched, but found nothing.
Had I found the Darlwyne? The location was as described by the fishermen who had trawled up the transom – scallop grounds that had obviously been dredged in the past.
The bearing from Dodman Point was almost exactly as described, although the distance was out. We often find that distances at sea are hard to get right, as endless seas have no references.
From the location both Hemmick Beach and Portloe were visible, and there had been eye-witnesses from both locations at the time of the sinking.
The spread of visible material was over an area within the dimensions of the Darlwyne. The anchor was of the type carried and the right sort of size.
There were some timbers exposed, though we had expected to see very little timber remaining. There would have been several iron and steel parts, including the tender’s davits, fitted aboard, which could account for the random pieces of encrusted steel littered around the area.
No other possible wrecks in the area were known of by Historic England or our other resources. Short of going back to search for the engines, which could take days or weeks, we’ll never know for sure.
The engines could have been trawled up and scrapped at any time, and the granite sets mixed up with stones at the end of the trawl, or miles out at sea.
Taking everything into account, it’s likely that what we found was what was left of the Darlwyne.
THE DARLWYNE was a special search in several ways. The ship sank within living memory, with close relatives of the dead still alive. There were plans for a 50-year commemoration service with the Bishop of Truro and surviving relatives at Mylor church.
We had very little time for our search – the winds and tides played their part and we had only until 31 July to find the wreck. On what was almost the last dive of the last suitable day before the service took place, I found an unknown wreck.
Was it the Darlwyne? We may never know, but a commemorative service took place above the wreck we found, which may at least give some measure of closure to the families.