The Hunt for Clear Water – wrecks of the SS Ferryhill and the Pandora

August 2015

by Richard Booth

The week prior to the planned day on Spellbinder started very promisingly with light winds for the majority of the remaining week. Hope continued to rise throughout the week, but then the heavens opened and Tyneside was awash with flash flooding with the resulting water running off into the Tyne.

Loading kit aboard the MV Spellbinder II, one could not but fail to notice the dark coffee coloured water travelling down the river, an unwelcome legacy from the recent heavy rain.

Setting off out of the Tyne Spellbinder made a quick detour south to check out conditions on the wreck of the Oslofjord on the off chance that the site had escaped the worst of the muddy water travelling out of the Tyne. A quick recce dive by Simon however soon confirmed that conditions were not good, so once he was safely recovered Spellbinder headed north in search of clear water.

Next site selected was a wreck believed to be that of the SS Ferryhill, a small collier lost on the 21/01/1940 after running into a mine with the loss of 11 members of her crew. The wreck was apparently then dispersed with explosives by the Ministry of War Transport in the mid 1950’s.

After dropping the shot, things were looking up with the line being visible descending down for several metres into the depths. Below 15 metres however the water darkened, considerably reducing the visibility. On the bottom we soon came across the remains and artefacts of a shattered steel steamship. Scattered over the seabed were very recognizable ship features, including the steel rims of deck hatchways and various cargo winches.

In the dark gloom it was not easy to navigate around the wreck site. Whilst eventually we came across an intriguing lump of wreckage complete with an anchor and chain attached, which presumably is the remains of the ship’s bow, we found no sign of the boilers and steam engine on this occasion.

Back on the surface with everyone safely recovered the MV Spellbinder headed closer to a beach south of the port of Blyth to investigate the possibility of a shallow dive on the wreck of the SS Muristan, Sadly this site also proved to have suffered from the recent swell and rain with very poor visibility being experienced by the first pair of divers dropped on to this site. It was time to move on.

After a lunch of chicken curry and rice, Spellbinder headed over to the wreck of the SS Pandora.  This steam ship was originally constructed in Middlesbrough and launched in 1902.  In 1913 this vessel was purchased by the Admiralty and renamed Pandora and converted to a submarine depot ship based in Harwich.

In 1923 she was moved to Portsmouth as an accommodation vessel for the Dolphin submarine training school.

In 1939 the Pandora was being towed by tugs up the North East coast when she struck a mine and rapidly sank, fortunately without loss of life.

Despite extensive commercial salvage, the wreck of the Pandora still offers an excellent dive. On this occasion Alan dropped the shot close to the three imposing boilers.

Heading north from the boilers it is a relatively short swim across the scattered wreckage until reaching the impressive remains of the bow, now resting over on its starboard side. On the raised port side, the hull plates appear to have peeled back off the ribs that support the structure of the bow which allows light to stream through and illuminate the inside of the bow.

It is worth inspecting this area of the wreck, not least to admire the shoals of fish that appear to enjoy sheltering inside this area of the wreck.

Moving on around the outside of the wreckage the curved line of the bow becomes more obvious.

With the tide now starting to pick up, we drifted back along the wreckage before seeking shelter behind the large boilers. Here we explore the impressive remains of the propeller shaft, complete with the huge cam shanks, which once converted the power of the steam engines into the rotation of the shaft.

From here it was just a short swim back to the shot line for the ascent back to the surface. An excellent days diving. Thanks to Nicola Faulks for organising the event, and Alan Lopez the skipper of the MV Spellbinder.

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