21st July 2013
by Richard Booth
Four intrepid club members assembled at the South Shields slip early on Sunday morning to launch Seaflea.
At low water this task can prove quite testing due to the rocky seabed at the end of the slipway.
Seaflea’s relatively small size and light weight however comes into its own in such situations compared to larger RIBs, and we were soon afloat and heading out of the Tyne.
First target, a wreck which Andy had obtained marks for off an internet website. We soon came across a good sonar target and the shot was dropped.
First pair into the water were Richard and Tiago who descended down the line fighting the strong current. Fortunately once on the bottom some shelter could be found behind the large single boiler that dominated this site, whilst nearby was a tangle of thick cable perhaps left over from some long distant salvage work.
There was no sign of the steam engine however and most of the wreck had been levelled down to the seabed. Swimming away across the seabed we came across other odd lumps of rusting iron wreckage. This wreckage was well scattered possibly indicating that the wreck had been heavily salvaged no doubt due to her relative proximity to the entrance of the Tyne.
Intact on the bottom she would have presented a considerable hazard to passing shipping. What is the name of this wreck? Unfortunately this information appears to have been lost over time.
The large boiler’s exposed surfaces are covered in soft corals. On the top of the boiler amongst the deadmens fingers Tiago located a small lobster with serious attitude.
An interesting dive but perhaps one that we will not rush to revisit in the near future.
For a second dive we headed over to the south pier to brave the wrath of the anglers to dive the wreck of HMS Witherington.
It is at least 15 years since the Club last dived this particular wreck site. Recent reports from other local divers described the wreck as having taken something of a battering over recent winter storms. What would we find?
The wreck itself has something of an interesting history. Launched on the 16th January 1919 at the James Samuel White & Co yard on the Isle of White. She was powered by twin steam turbine engines and had a top speed of 34 knots. By all accounts the Witherington gave sterling wartime service seeing active service in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Norwegian campaigns. She was credited with playing an important role in the sinking of U-340 on 1/11/1943.
HMS Witherington also had a strong North East connection, being adopted by the City of Durham in 1942. Indeed following her decommissioning from the Royal Navy in 1945, her ships bell was presented to the city council and today hangs in the Council Chambers but we digress.
Finding a space away from the fishermen’s trailing lines, Richard and Tiago entered the water and soon came across wreckage from this wreck.
Underwater visibility again proved to be excellent allowing the impressive remains of the vessels engine room machinery to be fully appreciated.
Everywhere there seemed to shiny brass; however don’t be tempted to remove any non ferrous metal as the wreck owner’s house overlooks the site and he keeps a close eye on is underwater property!
For Tiago it was his first dive on this wreck and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, not least because of the fantastic amount of sea life that we found on this wreck.
The numerous passing shoals of fish also no doubt accounted for the interest of the anglers fishing from the top of the nearby south pier. Everywhere there was discarded fishing line and tackle making a knife or line cutter a requirement on this dive.
Plans are already being made to revisit this site again. In good visibility this site can provide a great dive for all ranges of dive experience. Another fun day out on the Tyne for members of 114.