SS Chris Christensen & the SS Coryton

9th June 2007

Despite the rather misty conditions it was still possible to make out the shape of the Inner Farnes looming out of the haze from the harbour wall at Seahouses.

Sea Witch, the club RIB, was launched from the harbour slipway and with dive kit safely stowed, we headed out across the open water to the distant Farne Islands.

The sea appeared to be relatively calm raising hopes that our plan to dive Whirl rocks would come to fruition. This site is situated right out on the seaward end of the Farnes, out passed the Knivestone reef. It is a fabulous dive when conditions are right but should only ever be attempted during slack water and in a calm sea. Unfortunately on arrival on site we were met by quite a swell rising over the submerged reef, so abandoned plans to dive this site.

Instead we turned to plan B and headed back to the Longstone with the aim of locating and diving the wreck of the SS Chris Chistensen. This steel 1,491 ton steam ship was built in 1903. Registered in Copenhagen the Chris Christensen was on passage from Aarhus to Newcastle-upon-Tyne when she stranded upon the Longstone reef on the 16th February 1915. Fortunately her crew of 19 were all safely evacuated off the stricken vessel by the North Sunderland lifeboat. Fatally holed, she eventually slipped off the reef and sank into deeper water.

Today the wreck lies out from the SW corner of the Longstone with the remains of her stern area closest to the reef wall in 20 metres of water.

Her large boiler and the remains of her three cylinder engine lie further out in deeper water. Locating the wreck is fairly easy due to the impressive size of her boiler and engine block, which register well on a sounder. Having located her position the shot was dropped and we waited patiently for slack water. The tidal current is very strong over the main part of the wreckage, so this dive should only really attempted at slack water times. The advantage of strong currents however is that silt and debris are quickly swept away leaving a clean wreck covered in marine growth.

Dropping down the shot line through the clear water it was evident that we were in for a good dive. Below us the underwater panorama unfolded with the wreckage illuminated against the light reflecting off the bottom. The shot had landed close to the large boiler and the remains of huge steam engine in 33 metres of water. Almost immediately we were joined by inquisitive seals, which darted down through the wreckage, sneaking up behind one and playfully tugging on fins. Everywhere around one lay the smashed remains of this once proud ship. Large deck winches lay on the seabed amongst the layers of collapsed and rusting steel plates.

Slowly, with the minutes on our dive computers ticking away we floated up the debris slope, pausing briefly to examine the remains of the ships steel emergency wheel, which once would have graced the stern deck. Indeed for many years, this wheel stood proud from the seabed and indeed was used for a cover shot for a North East dive guide book which featured Mr Selby Brown, (an ex member of Tyneside 114) dressed in a yellow souwester holding the ship’s wheel minus dive mask; all taken at 30 metres plus. Sadly the wheel has been broken and now lies shattered on the seabed apparently following the efforts of some misguided divers to raise it.

 Moving further up the slope we found the intact iron propeller, still standing defiantly upright from the seabed balanced precariously on the remains of its shaft at the base of the underwater cliff face. More seals drifted gracefully around us as we began our slow ascent up the cliff face exploring the numerous gullies that cut into the rock face, before completing our deco stops at 6 metres. It had proved to be a fantastic dive. Once safely back aboard the RIB, we headed over the short distance to another nearby reef called the Blue Caps. Here Geoff Eggleston, accompanied by the branch DO completed his first open water dive in the North Sea. The visibility was excellent allowing those aboard the RIB to follow the progress of the two divers as they descended down through the green water.

For the final dive we headed north up the coast passed Bamborough castle up towards Holy Island with the aim of locating the wreck of the SS Coryton.

This 4,553 ton steamship was on passage between St John, New Brunswick for Hull in convoy when she was attacked by German aircraft whilst a few miles north east of the Farne Islands. In desperation her crew sailed the damaged ship towards Ross sands with the intention of beaching her in shallow water. Some 500 metres from the shore, the ship grounded on the soft sand, and her crew was evacuated by lifeboat with the exception of the captain who refused to leave his stricken vessel. The weather deteriorated and by the time further assistance arrived it was too late to save either the Coryton of her stubborn master. His body was subsequently washed up on the beach opposite the wreck.

Today no signs of the Coryton remain above water. She lays in shallow water several hundred metres off Ross Sand. When conditions are right, this wreck makes for an excellent shallow water dive. This wreck receives very little diver attention because of her location so far north of the Farnes.

Her boilers reach up to within a few metres of the surface. Indeed on this occasion we were actually able to look over the side of the RIB and view the top of the boilers below.

One of these large boilers has split open and with acre it is possible to actually swim right through it, looking down upon the broken condenser pipes below. Swimming along the nearby propeller shaft you soon come across large pieces of wreckage.

The stern of the vessel is now barely recognisable, however the remains of part of the accommodation quarters stands upright on the seabed complete with toilets and water cistern’s in place. Situated on an otherwise sandy bottom, the wreck has something of a magnet for marine life, with plenty of small lobsters, hermit crabs and an assortment of nudibranchs to be found. And all too soon 40 minutes had passed and it was with some reluctance that we made the short ascent back to the surface and the friendly faces waiting patiently on the RIB above.