treasure hunter

Lizard Archaeology – Treasure Hunter

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13 August 2007

A well known local site

The Lizard peninsula is home to many wrecks, some are dived almost everyday like the WWI cargo ship, the Volnay. The large liner called the Mohegan which struck Vase rock at full speed, losing it’s rudder then crashing into Maen Voes leaving a large hole in the side. New wrecks are always being found, recently a wreck was found in about 16m by a diver swimming between dive sites. Some will never been found as they have either rotted away or have sunk deep into the sand.

Colin, who was the licensee of the area and had been researching the history for many years had organised the trip and wanted locally experienced divers. As we commonly dive as much of Cornwall as possible and were all regulars on Bay Marines’ boat ‘Autumn Dream’ we were invited along to do some investigative diving in the area known to contain a few wrecks. Colin and Shaun had arranged a big road compressor to run a large air lift, there was also going to be a magnetometer and a hand held metal detector for us to use. I was asked to bring my RHIB along to help getting divers in and out of the water as Autumn Dream was going to be anchored down.

Two of the divers were travelling down with the boat on Friday evening, if the conditions were suitable they would anchor up in the bay and stay put. I had a call saying that there was a swell running into the bay and that they would end up in Penzance harbour. Sharky and I would be arriving on Saturday morning to launch the RHIB and join the boat in the harbour. On the way to Penzance I had a text message, Penzance harbour was too rough and they had ended up in Newlyn harbour. We launched the RHIB at Penzance and made our way to Newlyn Harbour.

Luckily I went to see the boat off in Falmouth on Friday and had loaded my kit on board already, it was quite a walk from the car park to the boat with Sharky’s kit. When we arrived at Autumn Dream’s berth the BBC were there to meet us. There had been some interest in what we were doing by both ITV and the BBC, the BBC were the ones that had space in their schedule to put us in. Sometime during September on BBC 1’s Inside Out program, a short documentary of what we were doing will be aired. With this in mind both Northern Diver and Fourth Element had agreed to sponsor the trip.

Preliminary Site Investigation

Saturday was going to be a day of a preliminary site investigation. On arrival at the site, the conditions overnight had created a swell which would mean anchoring would be a problem, so we switched from our first selected wreck site to another area which had showed up strongly on a previous magnetometer survey. Shaun anchored up the boat and myself and Darren went for a look around with a metal detector, Darren had the metal detector and I had the shovel. We had dropped a shot line as close to the strong magnetometer hit as possible and would do a circular search from there. It wasn’t long before the metal detector started going wild, so I started digging. The sand was very soft and moved fluidly, quickly filling in the hole I was trying to make. Darren joined in with his hands and we managed to get down about two feet before the sand became our match. I decided to go back and grab the shot weight and move it into the hole we had made. We then carried on our circular search from there. We were getting several hits as we swam around which I realised were in a line, south west and north east of the shot. Even though the water was shallow and we could have stayed there a lot longer, we needed something bigger to move the sand, time for the air lift, so up we came.

Back on the boat we explained to Colin what we had found out and it was agreed that the airlift would be dropped so Neil and Sharky could start to excavate. Time to anchor the boat properly. We ran out 4 plough anchors and started to get everything ready for the air lift. In went the divers and the airlift. After a while I joined them and started swimming around to see if I could find anything else of interest. With the big airlift it wasn’t long before we uncovered what had caused the hit by the magnetometer, granite. Granite is well known for causing spikes in magnetometer readings or metal detectors and as we exposed more in the line we had found with the metal detector it was obvious that it was a seam of granite. We shut down the air lift and returned to the boat.

We moved the boat and air lift to another close hit and started it up again, you’ll never guess what we found under the sand, more granite. It was now time to call it the end of the day, we hadn’t managed to get on our primary target so the lack of finds hadn’t dampened spirits. Lets hope the swell would disappear for tomorrow.

Wrong age finds!

Sunday was another early start. This time we had a different person from the BBC, but the same cameraman. The director of this segment of Inside Out was on another project but would be with us on Monday, today we had his boss. It was another long trip over to the Lizard, luckily it was warmer and flatter than the previous day. When we arrived it appeared flat so we made straight for our primary target and ran the anchors out, as soon as we had all four in the swell appeared. It was far to big to risk setting up and putting divers in the water so we lifted the anchors and went back to where we were yesterday. A slight level of despondency echoed through everyone, but we still had more areas to explore. The anchors were run out and the air lift and metal detector were dropped down to the divers. We ran the metal detector around looking for a reading and soon found one. The air lift was started and we began shifting sand. Almost immediately the lift stopped, it was right under the boat and Shaun didn’t want the bottom sandblasted. So off we went with the metal detector to look for another piece of sand to expose. We circled around for quite a while not finding anything before deciding to return to the boat. After some lunch we looked over the bay and the earlier swell that was going to cause us problems had subsided. Up came the anchors and off we went to drop them again. The air lift went straight in as did the metal detector and all four divers. Myself and Darren started excavating while Sharky laid a line that we were to follow and Neil scanned the line with the metal detector. After about ten minutes we wondered why we hadn’t heard from Neil, all we were finding was sand and rock beneath. We stopped the airlift and followed Sharky’s line. We had been told that the whole area was covered in sand with a few rocks sticking up, so you can imagine we were surprised to see a whole reef system within 10m of where we were. You could see that the area hadn’t been exposed for long as the bottom of the rocks had no growth on them at all. We followed the line.

Eventually we came across Sharky and Neil looking at two pieces of metal approximately four or five feet long and four inches square, all very puzzling, they didn’t fit in with the age of vessel we were looking for and were made of solid steel, they didn’t even appear to be cast iron. Swimming around the area we came across another two steel objects, both a little longer, one measured twelve feet long and ten inches across. We went back to the boat to tell Colin what we had found.

Our best guess were that the steel beams were keel beams from a trawler, there was a trawler sunk in the area forty or fifty years ago. Day two over and we headed back, hoping the sea would remain flat for tomorrow.

Where’s the sea life?

Monday started bright and sunny, the wind had picked up a little but had switched to a north easterly as forecast, which was fine with us. The hour long trip was much more pleasant today, the sea was almost flat, the sun was shining and the time soon flew past. As soon as we arrived we made straight to the area we were at the previous day and started searching for anything else. I stayed on the RHIB while the others went in to recover one of the beams. It wasn’t long before the lift bags were up, with the divers all smiling. I dragged the lift bags to Autumn Dream where they lifted the item on the lift. It wasn’t the steel beam, it was an old encrusted anchor.

I was returned to the area with Sharky at the helm of my RHIB. The underwater topography was very interesting with loads of gullies and overhanging rocks. Strange circular pools had cut themselves into the slate, which caused the water to swirl around. The areas that had previously covered by sand were clean. We hoped to find things in the gullies and pools uncovered by the shifting sands, but just found stones and pebbles. The one thing I did notice about the whole area was the total lack of sea life, not just fish, but crabs. Everywhere you look there are crabs to be found, but not here. I saw two small sea bass and that was it! After my dive we ran the anchors out to set up the air lift again, we were getting very proficient at this now. Sharky, Neil and Darren started a trench across another area that showed strong readings with the magnetometer. It wasn’t long before they had completed a trench over the whole area we had been interested in and returned to the boat. What had they found? The same as we found on the previous days, sand and rock.

We headed back to Newlyn for the last time, all happy that we had done what we intended to although we hadn’t found anything of the period we were interested in. There are other areas which need to be looked at, until we uncover every area that had showed up on the magnetometer search our job is not done.