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Wreck Tour 49: The Heidrun

The Heidrun
The Heidrun

If you have dived this Norwegian steamer, sunk off Cornwall in 1918, you might have entered it under a different name in your logbook. JOHN LIDDIARD explains all. Illustration by MAX ELLIS

THIS MONTH’S WRECK TOUR is of the Heidrun. At least current consensus is that it is most likely to be the Heidrun, although books list the wreck at this position as the Ibis.

Connecting rod from the engine
Connecting-rod from the engine

Identification as the Heidrun comes from a plate that local diver Dave Fisher recovered from the engine-block and traced back to the manufacturer. Tony Hall, another local diver, thinks the reason for the confusion is that a life-ring from the Ibis was found floating at this position and recorded as the (approximate) location of the Ibis.

When I dived the Heidrun, a small buoy was tied to the rudder (1), lying just clear of the stern at a depth of 32m. In what was poor visibility for south Cornwall, the body of the wreck was not immediately visible, lying just the other side of a line of rocks. If in doubt, the wreck lies to the north.

At the stern (2) a four-bladed iron propeller is still attached to the tail-shaft in a V-section of the keel. The hinge that would have held the rudder-arches round the propeller has collapsed to port. Inside the keel section, the propeller-shaft continues a short way forwards before breaking at a flange marking the end of a section (3).

A pair of bollards have fallen well off to the starboard side of the wreck (4), indicating that they must have fallen from the stern before it collapsed in the other direction.

On the centre-line of the wreck, the propeller-shaft continues forward again (5) with a slight bend, perhaps a result of stress before the bolts holding the aft section in place fractured. This area of the wreck would have been in the middle of the aft holds, but there is no sign of any cargo, neither the iron ore carried by the Ibis nor the anthracite the Heidrun was carrying.

Following the propeller-shaft forward, one of the shaft supports and bearings is hanging from it, supported clear of the hull below (6). At the time I dived the Heidrun, the question over its identity had not really sunk in. In fact I even mentioned the Ibis in an article about the Seven Stones (Diver, July 2002).

I could find only the remains of two cylinders from the steam engine (7), so thought that perhaps it had an old two-cylinder compound engine, or that I was looking at a more typical triple-expansion engine and the third cylinder was somehow missing.

Now it has been confirmed that the Heidrun was fitted with a two-cylinder compound engine. In retrospect, I could kick myself for not seeking more detail while I was there.

Moving away from the engine, just off the port side of the wreck is a large steel box-structure that I suspect is a water-tank (8).

Bib among fire tubes from the boiler that has broken open
Bib among fire-tubes from the boiler that has broken open

The starboard boiler is rotated through 90° to point across the wreck, and is broken open to reveal the fire-tubes (9). In contrast, the port boiler lies precisely in place (10).

Alongside the port boiler, I thought at first that a smaller cylinder with rounded ends could have been a condenser (11). However, considering that the engine was a more primitive two-cylinder compound engine, I think this is more likely to have been a steam reservoir.

A corresponding cylinder (12) associated with the starboard boiler (9) is broken open to reveal a hollow interior. A condenser would have contained a mass of copper-plate or tubes and has most likely been salvaged.

Forward of the boilers is a fair scattering of coal (13), showing that there would have been a single bunker across the ship rather than a saddle configuration either side of the boilers. There is no sign of coal anywhere else on the wreck, so it’s unlikely to have been the anthracite cargo which, I suspect, was light enough to have been washed away.

Almost among the coal is the end of a mast that has fallen along the centre-line of the ship. The remains of the winch that would have been associated with the mast are well off to starboard (14).

Following the mast forward, there are again no signs of iron ore or anthracite across the area that would have been the forward hold. The other end of the mast rests next to a large pile of anchor-chain (15) that spreads to the port side of the wreck.

By the anchor and hawse pipe at the port side of the bow
By the anchor and hawse-pipe at the port side of the bow

A pair of bollards rest pretty much alone a little further to port (16), with another broken winch to starboard (17).

The bow is well-broken and has fallen forward and to starboard, leaving the anchor hawse-pipes exposed (18). An anchor pokes half out of the port side.

At the top of the bow, the furthest forward point on the wreck, a crane for lifting anchors over the side is stretched out along the seabed (19).

With the bow falling to starboard, the anchor-winch is located upside-down near the top of the hawse-pipes (20). Chain leads from the anchor, through its hawse-pipe, under the winch and back to the pile (15).

The Heidrun is a small wreck, so there should be plenty of time during a no-stop dive to retrace your path to the buoy-line to ascend. As for the Ibis, Gordon Jones has been searching the nearby area with a magnetometer – but the real Ibis has yet to be found.

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

The Norwegian steamer Heidrun has been a popular dive for many years off Mullion in Cornwall. But everyone dived her as the Ibis, a British steamer that sank with all hands after a collision with an Irish steamer in May 1918, writes Kendall McDonald.

In fact the wreck would still be put in logbooks as the Ibis if it were not for Penzance diver Dave Fisher, who discovered its real name on a plate on its small compound engine.

This clearly identified it as the Heidrun, a 64m Norwegian steamer built by Palmers of Newcastle in 1871. As a result, many reference books and records, let alone logbooks, now need to be updated.

Dave Fisher set to work to research the right ship and soon discovered that the Heidrun was a single-funnel 972-tonner, with a two-cylinder engine and two boilers producing 115hp. At times in her long life she had also been called the Dalny and the Vildosala.

Over Christmas, 1915, Heidrun was loaded with anthracite in Swansea and Captain Paul Malmstein and his crew of 14 sailed on Boxing Day, bound for Rouen.

The following day they rounded Land’s End and apparently ran straight into a horrendous storm that was recorded as ravaging shipping in Mount's Bay. All onboard were finally presumed lost when she disappeared without trace.

Dave Fishe’’s discovery was the first news that relatives of the crew in Norway had of her position and of what had happened. The Norwegians wanted to know more and a party of them flew over to talk to the divers.

As a result, the relatives arranged for a memorial to be placed in the little church of Gunwalloe, the nearest church to the grave of the Heidrun, Captain Malmstein and all his long-lost crew.

GETTING THERE: Follow the M5 to Exeter, then the A30 towards Penzance. Before Penzance, turn back on the A394 towards Helston. Rosudgeon is about 3 miles along the road, with Porthleven another 5 miles on.

ACCOMMODATION: Bed & breakfast is available in Rosudgeon with Gordon & Kitty Jones.

DIVING AND AIR: From Porthleven you can book on Siteseeker, skipper Gordon Jones, who can arrange for cylinders to be pumped at local compressors. Air is also available from Bill Bowen on Penzance Pier.

TIDES: The Heidrun can be dived at any state of the tide.

HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 01.49N, 05 19.64W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck is flat on a seabed of rocky ridges, so is not easy to see on an echo-sounder.

LAUNCHING: The closest slips are at Porthleven and Penzance.

QUALIFICATIONS: Suitable for sport divers and above. The wreck is at an ideal depth for nitrox.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 777, Land’s End To Falmouth. Ordnance Survey Map 203, Land’s End, The Lizard & The Isles Of Scilly. Diver Guide – Dive South Cornwall by Richard Larn. Penzance tourist information.

PROS: Another good Penzance dive.

CONS: Difficult to locate.

Thanks to Gordon Jones, Tony Hall, Dave Fisher, Steve McKey & members of Penzance BSAC.

Appeared in Diver, March 2003

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