It’s always interesting to dive a recently discovered wreck, and this collision-victim from the dawn of the 20th century has plenty to commend it, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
WHEN I FIRST DIVED this month’s wreck, back in 2003, it was an unknown. It was usually referred to as DS269 after its index in the Dive Sussex DIVER Guide, or the “Assend”, as the aft part is much more intact than the forward part of the wreck.
It was only last year that Jamie Smith and divers from Tunbridge Wells SAC finally managed to name the wreck, tying together clues from tiles, a maker’s mark on the boss of the helm and the engine configuration. This is the seventh wreck that they have named, with five of them being in the last few years – a commendable achievement (News, May).
Our tour begins towards the stern, in the aft hold, where Steve Johnson, skipper of Channel Diver, dropped the shot next to a pair of lost lobster pots (1). Looking from the boilers to the stern on an echo-sounder, this is pretty much in the middle of the visible part of the wreckage.
Heading across the hold and round below the stern, the four-bladed iron propeller (2) remains in place. With a scour to 38m, this is the deepest part of the dive.
Behind the propeller, the Stanhope’s rudder (3) is hard to starboard. This is difficult to understand, if the Stanhope was steaming ahead when the Coal Tar cut into the side. A turn to starboard would not have been a last-minute avoiding action.
On the other hand, perhaps the Stanhope had mistakenly turned to starboard, or perhaps the steering had broken, causing a turn to starboard, so the Stanhope cut across the Coal Tar’s bow. Our account of the sinking is drawn largely from a report the Tunbridge Wells divers found in the Eastbourne Chronicle, so the information would have been one-sided.
Ascending the stern, the deck is largely clear, with a pair of bollards (4) on the port side interestingly folded into a right-angle.
Heading forward past some deck-plates with empty hatch-coamings, the wreck slopes downhill towards the seabed, with hull-plates splayed out to either side.
The region between the aft holds is marked by a pair of cargo-winches (5), both upside-down.
Crossing the remains of the engine-room bulkhead brings us to the two-cylinder compound engine (6).
Checking that this was a two-cylinder engine, rather than the triple-expansion unit that word of mouth attributed to the wreck, was the final clue to its identity.
Forward from the engine are a pair of boilers (7), with plenty of pipework still in place. Only the upper parts of the boilers show above the general debris of the wreck.
The wreck is crossed by another bulkhead. Then, on the line between the boilers, a domed water tank stands (8), part of an evaporator system for making fresh water.
From here forwards the hull has pretty much fallen apart, with just a few plates and bits of bulkhead still standing.
The helm (9) is located a little further forwards, among a small mound of debris.
The boss should be easy to clear of recent growth, as it was well polished by the TWSAC divers as they tried to read the maker’s information.
The bulkhead between the forward holds (10) appears slightly out of square, so it could be that the Stanhope was not far off breaking in two when it sank.
Crossing the remains of the bulkhead, we find another lost lobster pot (11) next to the winches (12) that would originally have been on the deck above the bulkhead. Both winches are upside-down.
Between the winches is an Admiralty-pattern anchor (13). Carrying a spare anchor secured to the deck by the forward cargo-winches was quite common, and something to look for on most steamship wrecks.
Continuing forward, the way to the bow is marked by a pair of bollards (14). The bow itself has fallen to port, so away from the point of view of our illustration (15).
Venturing out a few metres from the keel and forward of the bow leads us to another Admiralty-pattern anchor (16).
Returning to the bow and off to port, the deck has fallen out, with the anchor-winch and chain-box (17). The anchor-winch is out of view.
From the seabed at 36m, ascending the bow to 33m brings us to the end of our tour, and a slightly shallower point at which to release a delayed SMB for a drifting decompression.
SAIL MEETS STEAM
THE STANHOPE, freighter. BUILT 1882, SUNK 1900
BUILT IN 1882 BY Irvine’s Shipbuilding & Drydock Co Ltd of West Hartlepool, the Stanhope was owned and operated by English Steamship Co Ltd of Middlesbrough and Swansea.
On what would be her last voyage, the Stanhope was homeward-bound to Middlesbrough from Bilbao with a cargo of 1800 tons of iron ore.
This suggests a typical trading pattern of the time – coal out to Spain, and iron ore on the return voyage.
The Stanhope was making good daily progress up the Channel, Captain Harlovsen proceeding at three-quarters speed. A three-masted schooner was observed to be on a parallel course off to starboard. At 2am on 16 March, 1900, six miles south-east of Beachy Head, the schooner bore down on Stanhope.
The bow of the Coal Tar cut into her amidships, just forward of the bridge.
The Stanhope began taking on water rapidly, while the Coal Tar sheared off and was lost to view.
The crew of 18 took to the lifeboats, leaving their belongings behind. They reached safety at Eastbourne after rowing for three and a half hours.
The only casualty was their black retriever, last seen running along the bridge as the Stanhope lurched and went under, taking the unfortunate dog with it.
GETTING THERE: Brighton marina is east of the town centre, off the A259 to Newhaven and Eastbourne. In Newhaven, the marina and slips are to the east of the river, directly across from the ferry dock.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 39.65N, 000 12.75E (degrees, minutes and decimals). The bow points to the north.
TIDES: Slack water is on high water Dover, or five hours before it.
DIVING: Channel Diver. Tunbridge Wells SAC is looking for new members.
ACCOMMODATION: There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs to choose from serving the Sussex seaside.
LAUNCHING Slips at Brighton and Newhaven.
QUALIFICATIONS: BSAC Dive Leader or PADI Deep speciality, ideally with a decompression qualification from one of the technical agencies. Perhaps just within the range of a BSAC Sports Diver or equivalent at low water slack.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head. Ordnance Survey Map 198, Brighton & Lewis, Worthing, Horsham & Haywards Heath. Dive Sussex, by Kendall McDonald. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles Vol 2, by Richard & Bridget Larn.
PROS: A less frequently dived wreck, because its identity was unknown until last year.
CONS: Visibility can be poor on a low water slack.
DEPTH: 35m – 40m
Thanks to Steve Johnson, Jamie Smith, Tunbridge Wells SAC.
Appeared in DIVER June 2012