Exploring the Wrecks off Druridge Bay

7th July 2007

At last, the weather Gods were looking on us more kindly. For most of June and the early part of July, like the rest of the country the North East of England has experienced heavy rain and a mixture of northerly and on shore winds, all of which has conspired to make for less than ideal diving conditions. Indeed, an earlier planned trip to explore this part of the coastline in June had to be cancelled because of the bad weather.

It was therefore with some trepidation that the organisers of this latter trip tracked the weather fronts in the days leading up to the 7th.

The heavens however continued to pour forth rain turning the River Tyne into a muddy brown colour, but crucially the wind at last started to swing around to the West and flattening off the sea. Whilst we knew that the underwater visibility off the Tyne area would inevitably be badly affected by the recent heavy rain, the waters off Druridge Bay were more likely to be clearer as the rivers that run off into this area are much smaller than the mighty Tyne. Furthermore the forecast for the Saturday was predicted to be a stiff NW breeze with outbreaks of sunshine and showers. Things were beginning to look up.

Saturday dawned and eleven eager divers plus kit assembled at the Blyth quayside. Cylinders, rebreathers, and dive kit were swiftly loaded aboard the MV Spellbinder and we then headed out of the harbour mouth before turning north to escape the murky outflow of the river Blyth; hopefully we would finder clearer water off Druridge Bay.

The first planned dive was on a small iron wreck which lays in 32 metres of water. The actual identity of this particular wreck is something of a mystery. It was discovered following a recent hydrographic survey. The wreck itself is very small with an intact hull and sits upright on the muddy seabed. Her wooden decks and wheelhouse have long since gone. She is however quite a scenic little wreck as a result of a rich covering of plumrose anemones that cover her corroding iron work. The wreck also appears to have quite a distinctive ‘domed shaped’ boiler that rises up from her deck. She is too small to be a cargo vessel, and has the dimensions of a solid workboat, possibly either a steam trawler or a small tug. One name mentioned as the possible identity of this wreck is that of the steam trawler Turnersons, a 156 ton vessel built at Beverley in 1891 as the ‘Agate’, but subsequently sold and renamed. This 31 metre vessel was lost on the 4th October 1931 after apparently springing a leak in heavy seas.

On her starboard side towards her stern a large trawl net is caught on the iron work, the majority of which is floating in a large lump above the wreck. This net however does not currently pose any significant hazard to visiting divers. Further back under the small stern, the tips of the propeller blades rise up from the encroaching seabed. The wreck appears to be slowly sinking into the soft seabed. Despite its depth the wreck is sufficiently small enough to safely circumnavigate and explore on air without running up any significant decompression penalties. Whilst its relative small size and shape makes it quite a difficult wreck to place a shot on it, it is worth the perseverance as it provides quite an interesting and scenic dive.

Once everybody was safely back aboard, Spellbinder headed further north and closer into the shore to locate the second dive site.

Again the actual identity of this particular wreck is not definitely known. It was once quite a large vessel with wreckage scattered over a considerable area, including 3 large boilers. It is a wreck that we have visited over the last 3 dive seasons. Last year we brought tape measures and attempted to survey parts of the wreck site in an effort to try and identify the name of the wreck. Although nothing has yet turned up that actually positively identifies this wreck, we suspect that it might be the last resting place of the SS Princess Maud. This 1, 566 ton steam ship was built at and launched in Glasgow in 1902. She was torpedoed by a U-boat on the 10th June 1918 whilst on passage from London to Leith. Taken in tow by two passing trawlers a desperate race took place to drag the sinking ship back to shallow water to beach her. This race however was lost when 30 minutes later when the ship apparently sank. Some reports state that she went down in deep water. Research will continue to unravel the name of this mystery wreck.

After a hearty meal of pie and mash prepared by boat skipper Alan Lopez, Spellbinder headed back towards Blyth with the intention of locating and diving the last wreck en-route, the steam tug Bulger.

We dived this little wreck last year and had been surprised to find an excellent wreck dive, despite adverse comments in various local dive guides that describe this site as only consisting of a few bottom plates. It is clear however that none of the authors concerned have actually dived this wreck site. Perhaps those that supplied information to the authors were intent on keeping the secrets of this site for themselves.

The wreck covers quite a small area and consists of two large boilers in a neat line. The stern lies a short distance away from the wreck and is easy to miss as there is no obvious debris field to lead you the short distance across the sandy bottom. Presumably it is this area that took the full force of the mine that sank this vessel. The stern has totally collapsed but is covered in plumrose anemones. The most colourful and scenic area of this wreck however is forward of the two boilers. Here you find the remains of the bow area, still upright and largely intact. The woodwork has long since rotted away leaving only her ironwork which is covered in white plumrose anemones and makes an extremely scenic sight against the green water background. The wreck lays in only 11metres of water and so provides an excellent ‘third’ dive site. The bottom however is very easily stirred up, so some care needs to be exercised whilst fining around this site.

Once everyone was safely aboard Spellbinder headed back to Blyth. It had been a successful days diving with all three wrecks successfully located and dived. The sea conditions had been settled. Underwater visibility was not as good as had been experienced on previous trips to these sites, but nevertheless still provided some fascinating dive experiences.