Wreck Tour 146: The Borneo

Wreck Tour 146 The Borneo
Wreck Tour 146 The Borneo

JOHN LIDDIARD helped to identify this trawler wreck off Sussex, so he is even better-placed than usual to be our tour guide. MAX ELLIS produced the illustration

THIS MONTH’S WRECK TOUR is one with which I am more personally involved than usual.

Until a couple of years ago it was another of the many unknown wrecks off Beachy Head, usually referred to as DS271 after its reference in Dive Sussex.

Then I dived it with Jamie Smith of Tunbridge Wells SAC, and notes that I made on the dive provided the final clues that enabled Jamie to identify the wreck as the WW1 Admiralty trawler Borneo.

As our Wreck Tours often do, this one begins near the boiler. Boilers are usually the biggest and most recognisable target on an echo-sounder, and with the wreck lying bow to the north and across the tide, the shot catches across the port gunwale (1) by the forward end of the boiler.

Take care during the last few metres of descent, because when I dived the wreck a heavy fishing net was caught over the boiler and held up by floats. Had the shot been a few metres further aft, the line would have led through the net.

It is because of this hazard that I have increased the difficulty rating for our tour of the Borneo to 4, otherwise I would have given an average difficulty rating of 3.

Trawl-gallows fallen across a hatch-coaming on the port side, just forward of the mast.
Trawl-gallows fallen across a hatch-coaming on the port side, just forward of the mast

The deck is level at 37m, and deck timbers are generally intact. Immediately forward of the boiler is a slightly raised steel section with an oval hole for the flue (2), then immediately forward of that is the trawl-winch (3). This was the first clue to the identity. On most steam trawlers there would be a wheelhouse between the flue and the trawl-winch, so this hull is not configured like most steam trawlers.

Continuing forward, hatch coamings in the deck (4) lead down to the hold. Next forward on the centre-line, a trio of roller-bollards (5) arranged in a chevron would have guided the cables from the trawl-winch. To the port side, some of the decking is starting to rot through.

A skylight and ventilator above the forepeak has small portholes in its sides
A skylight and ventilator above the forepeak has small portholes in its sides

We now pass another open hatch-coaming and the steel cylindrical foot of the forward mast (6).
To port, the forward trawl-gallows (7) has fallen across the deck. There is no sign of a corresponding gallows on the starboard side, or of the broken footing, even on the seabed below – but don’t make this diversion now, we will be checking this later.

This was another clue to the identity, because the Borneo was fitted out to work only from the port side of the boat. The fallen gallows also crosses another hatch-coaming, this time giving access to the forepeak and crew quarters in the bow.

Continuing forward, the deck is flush, with no raised forecastle. A pair of bollards are fixed on the starboard side (8), but there is no corresponding pair to port.

There is a small raised square-box skylight in the middle of the bow with a single porthole in each face (9).

This distinctive skylight is shown on plans of the Borneo and is another clue to the identity of the wreck.
The anchor-winch (10) is tipped out of its position forward of the skylight and now rests between the skylight and the port gunwale. The mountings for the winch are offset slightly to port, and a single guide (11) leads to a hawse hole on the port side of the bow.

There is no corresponding hawse hole on the starboard side of the bow (12), and no sign of anchors on the seabed at 40m. Again, checking this against plans of the Borneo helps to confirm the identity from this unusual arrangement.

Guide for anchor chain to port side of bow
Guide for anchor-chain to port side of bow

As another check on the asymmetric fitting of the trawler, our route back aft follows the starboard side of the hull, verifying that nothing important has fallen off and now rests on the seabed.

Back again at the trawl-winch, a small hatch-coaming on the starboard side of the deck is the bunker-hatch for loading coal (13).

The boiler (14) fills most of the width of the hull, with less than 1m of deck to either side. It has been shifted in its mounts, with the aft end slightly higher than the forward end.

Lobster running along the gunnel
Lobster running along the gunwale

To either side, small sleeved round holes in the deck are the bases for ventilators, yet another small clue that ties in with the Borneo’s plans.

Behind the boiler, the space that would have been the engine-room (15) is a tangled mess of machinery and ship’s structure, the sort of damage that could have come only from a mine or torpedo explosion.

The mine struck the Borneo aft, and sank it instantly. The only survivor was standing forwards, and was blown clear and into the water.

The tangle of wreckage slowly descends to a slightly less-damaged stern deck (16), with the curvature of the stern intact and closer to the 40m seabed.

A trail of debris leads out to starboard and aft of the stern – a cover from the engine-room ventilation hatch and skylight (17), then the foot of the aft mast (18) and, most revealingly, the upturned double arch of the helm (19).

It was identifying the helm this far aft that for Jamie sparked the association of this wreck with the Borneo, where the wheelhouse was unusually located aft of the engine and high above the stern.

With that association in place, all the other clues checked out against the Borneo’s plans, and the identity was duly confirmed.

Rounding the stern, debris on the port side is limited to the rest of the mast (20). Then, back on deck by the port side of the boiler, we find a pair of bollards (21) – almost an anti-climax after the helm, but this is the point at which our tour of the trawler Borneo ends.

Bollards for routeing trawl cables, just aft of the mast
Bollards for routeing trawl cables, just aft of the mast

Be careful when sending up a delayed SMB to decompress, because the fishing net could still pose a hazard.

It is probably safest either to swim just off the stern before sending it up, or to swim back to the bow, both options now being safely away from the net over the boiler.


THE BORNEO, trawler. BUILT 1906, SUNK 1917

SHE WAS LAID DOWN AS A FISHING VESSEL with her major power coming from her sails. Her length was 115ft, beam 20ft and draught 10ft. With a gross tonnage of 211, she was stoutly built of steel in 1906 for Cook Wellington and Gemmell Ltd of Beverley, writes Kendall McDonald.

The Borneo was fitted with a single-screw, three-cylinder, triple-expansion engine with 60hp supplying a single boiler.

At the start of World War One she was hired by the Royal Navy as a trawler from the Grant & Baker Steam Fishing Co Ltd which, as owner, had registered the vessel at Grimsby.

She struck a mine off Beachy Head three years later when in ballast, and was found by divers in much more recent years. There appear to have been no details about the crew in the wrecking.


The Borneo Tour Guide
The Borneo Tour Guide

GETTING THERE: Brighton marina is east of the town centre, off the A259 to Newhaven and Eastbourne. Sovereign Marina is east of Eastbourne. From the A27, take the A259 through Pevensey towards Eastbourne from the east, and Sovereign Harbour is on the left. In Newhaven, the marina and slipways are to the east of the river, directly across from the ferry dock.

HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 37.930N, 000 13.170E (degrees, minutes and decimals). The bow points to the north.

TIDES: On a neap tide it is slack enough to dive about one hour before low water Newhaven, or 1.5 hours before high water Newhaven.

DIVING: John Liddiard dived with Tunbridge Wells SAC. Charter boats are available from Brighton, Newhaven and Eastbourne.

ACCOMMODATION: Plenty of hotels and B&Bs to choose from serving the Sussex seaside.

AIR: Newhaven Scuba Centre, Brighton Dive Centre.

QUALIFICATIONS: Best dived with a rich mix for decompression, so a minimum of Decompression Procedures or Extended Range with one of the technical agencies is recommended.

LAUNCHING: The nearest slip is in Newhaven.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Charts 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head and 536, Beachy Head to Dungeness. Ordnance Survey Maps 198, Brighton & Lewis, Worthing, Horsham & Haywards Heath, and 199, Eastbourne & Hastings, Crowborough, Battle & Heathfield. Dive Sussex, by Kendall McDonald. World War One Channel Wrecks by Neil Maw. Newhaven Local & Maritime Museum.

PROS: An unusual configuration of Admiralty trawler from World War One.

CONS: The hazard of the net by the boiler makes this a more challenging wreck than it would otherwise be.

DEPTH: 35-45m


Thanks to Jamie Smith and members of Tunbridge Wells SAC.

Appeared in DIVER February 2011


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