Diving the Somali and the SS Ballycotton

3rd August 2013

by Richard Booth

Timings were going to be a bit ‘tight’ requiring an efficient team effort to prepare the club rib Seawitch for a fast launch from Beadnel beach if all of the party were going to enjoy a reasonable dive on the wreck of the Somali during the slack water period. Fortunately after several weeks of regular rib diving due to the recent fantastic summer weather, this day’s dive team were well practised in the art of speedy boat preparation. Like a well-oiled machine lighting boards were stripped off Seawitch and dive equipment was speedily loaded and within 20 minutes the rib was ready to be hitched to the tractor and launched.

We were soon heading out of the bay but immediately encountered a steady chop blown up by the strong breeze as we set course for the wreck site of the SS Somali, which lies about a mile out off Beadnel Point.

Dropping down the shotline we were rewarded for our efforts by good underwater visibility, evident from the view of the line dropping away beneath us down into the green gloom. Soon the feint outline of the wreck started to emerge out of the depths. The shot had landed close to the remains of the Somali’s engine room, now broken open and exposed to the sea. Her impressive steam engines however are still upright and rise up 4 metres from the seabed.

Underwater visibility in places was around 15 metres allowing for a good view of the remains of the shattered engine room.

Moving on we soon came across the large boilers which had once provided the enormous amounts of seam required to drive the huge engines that pushed this vessel across the world’s oceans. It was here that Dave Mitchell found a helpless lobster entangled and trapped by line. Using his shears Dave started to cut through the lines whilst having to avoid the lobster’s attempts to defend itself with its thrashing claws.

The lobster quickly withdrew into the depths of the wreckage now freed from the line.

Having safely made their ascent back to the surface, Dave and Richard assisted Andy and Fiona into their dive kit before manoeuvring Seawitch back close to the shotline buoy. Fortunately there was still little sign of the tide increasing around the buoy.

Whilst waiting on the surface the wind picked up further sending vicious gusts and sheeting rain across the sea. Oh the joy’s of rib diving in the North Sea!

After 40 minutes Andy and Fiona finally surfaced, having spent their dive moving back along the wreckage to the stern area where they had located the ships wartime gun and a large propeller. Being the only divers on the wreck and with a gently flooding tide, they had experienced particularly stunning visibility for this wreck site, so emerged with big grins on their faces.

Once back on board, dive kit was stowed away and Seawitch headed back to Beadnel beach to pick up Michael Hunt for the next chapter of our Northumbrian adventure. The wet and bumpy ride back however convinced us that the Farnes was going to a particularly uncomfortable journey, so we opted instead to explore some of the other potential dive sites closer to the shore, south of Beadnel Bay.

For a second dive we opted to choose a site that is believed to be the resting place of the SS Ballycotton. Launched on the 30th December 1880 at the William Simons & co yard in Renfrew, this small steamship was wrecked on a reef off Embleton on the 15th February 1900 on passage from Amsterdam to Leith, with the loss of three of her crew including the ships master a Mr William M Barnetson. Over the following 113 years since her loss, the wreck has become well dispersed with much of it now buried under the seabed.

The single large boiler and a massive deck winch however provide the visiting diver with interesting wreck features to explore.

Nearby we also came across what appeared to be the remains of the top of the ships rudder, now well buried into the seabed.

Moving on along the reef wall we came across numerous large seals, some of whom appeared to be sleeping under rocky ledges along the reef. Once disturbed they quickly disappeared although one inquisitive youngster boldly approached Richard, Dave and Michael and paused for a while to eyeball us, before twisting away into the green background.

Once divers were safely back on the RIB, preparations were made to head for our final dive, a spot off Dunstanburgh Castle, which according to some marks obtained by Andy via the internet were the last resting place of another wreck. Whilst the Hunts dived the rest of the party basked in the welcome sunshine which had emerged out of the clouds and admired the view of the impressive remains of the nearby castle ruins.

After 40 minutes the Hunts surfaced having apparently found plenty of kelp, a few lobsters but no signs of any wreckage!

Nevertheless we still all had an excellent day’s diving adventure, once again exploring some of the fabulous dive sites and scenery that the Northumberland coast has to offer. Thanks to Andy Hunt for organizing the days diving.