MY FIELD OF VISION stretches as far as the beam of my powerful torch will take it. Wreckage now looms above me – I have swum inside what was once an exemplar of Edwardian opulence. Decorated in fin de siècle Parisian style, HMS Warrior II was once a millionaire’s yacht.
I make my way across twisted and broken metal, searching for interesting artefacts to contemplate and photograph.
Where walls have become ceilings and ceilings walls, my attention is drawn upwards to where my lamp illuminates a tropical letterbox porthole. Fixed firmly to what was the hull, this rare artefact reflects the wealth of the ship and the wonders of the voyages she once took.
Specified for vessels travelling in hot climates, such portholes prevented storm water entering cabins, while still enabling ventilation via small internal valves.
Finning across a stone-and-pebble seabed at 56m, I see more grand windows above, this time in rows, and flat to the seabed. Large and square with oval tops and still bolted into the superstructure, they once let light into stately rooms in which some of the world’s richest people talked business and took their pleasure.
At the highest point off the seabed, the remaining boilers stand to a height of almost 3.6m. From their central position I can circumnavigate the rest of the wreckage. Two engines also stand high off the bottom, each with intricate fittings, oil-boxes and pipework, some of it still attached.
Between these engines, a resident and very mean-looking anglerfish entertains us. Then, before we know it, the tide begins to run. Our bottom-time is over all too soon.
We break the surface after an hour of decompression, and the sun of a beautiful June day strikes my face. Waiting for the Portland dive-boat Skin Deeper to lift me from the water, I gaze up at the sky. It’s not easy to imagine the sight, let alone the noise, of the estimated 50 Lufwaffe aircraft that caught Warrior II isolated before setting all hell loose on her.
On that day, 11 July, 1940, Warrior II was bombed to the bottom of the Channel, and with her a rich history of voyages spanning four decades.
No expense had been spared when the Warrior was built in 1904 as a luxury yacht for the multi-millionaire Frederick William Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts had made their fortune from financing and constructing the New York railroad, and this £500,000 yacht was regarded as one of the most elegant vessels of her day.
The prow carried a finely carved figurehead depicting a black warrior dressed in flowing robes.
A swimming pool graced the upper decks, and a promenade deck aft was considered one of the earliest of its kind.
The Vanderbilt family, associates and friends would cruise the world before other wealthy aristocrats took ownership. Only two world wars could place restrictions on – or terminate – Warrior II’s voyaging.