It might take some finding, but an intact lightship inexplicably rammed and sunk in the North Sea is a rare treat indeed, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
THIS MONTH’S WRECK TOUR IS OF ONE OF the more unusual wrecks I have dived – an upright and intact lightship.
I dived the LV83 from Gordon Wadsworth's boat Jane R. Gordon has a system of tying his boat in to a wreck overnight while everyone takes one-hour turns on anchor watch. So I got to dive the wreck late afternoon and then again early next morning.
Some hardy souls made a night dive, but next morning they were still asleep while my buddy and I had the wreck to ourselves. The first dive with 12 of us in the water had been good, but the early-morning dive was sublime. The sea was oily calm, the sun was shining, the wreck was covered in anemones, and there were shoals of fish everywhere.
Jane R was tied in to the top of the light tower (1), which rises to 20m from the 34m seabed. The glass and lens for the light are missing, but there is still a spindle in the centre on which the light would have been mounted.
A platform with partially intact railing surrounds the remains of the light. Although interesting, detailed inspection is probably best left until ascending at the end of the dive.
The tower rises from the centre of a superstructure that runs most of the length of the ship. Aft of the tower are mounts for two lifeboats and the collapsed remains of the derricks that would have been used to launch them (2).
Continuing sternwards, the empty mounting for the stern navigation light can be found behind a raised box at the aft end of the superstructure (3).
On the main deck below, open ventilation hatches lead to the generator room (4). The engines inside are for electric generators and not for propulsion. The LV83 was towed to its location and moored, so had no need for its own motive power.
The ventilator hatches are too small for a diver to fit through easily, as is a square hatch in the deck just behind them.
The gunwale surrounding the deck was made of lighter steel than the hull and has mostly rotted through to leave just an open framework round the stern (5).
If diving on tables, it is probably best to stick to the main deck level at 30m, but if diving on a computer, a short diversion to have a look at the rudder (6) will not seriously affect later decompression obligations. With no motive power, the LV83 consequently has no propeller.
Ascending the port side of the ship, a long beam rests against the main deck (7). I could find no features to identify this. It could have been a mast, but there is no obvious place from which it could have fallen. Another possibility is that it is part of a trawler’s gear lost on the wreck, but there are no signs of netting on the beam.
Back at the main deck level, the superstructure spans the width of the wreck, with covered companionways along either side through which it‘s easy to swim (8). Broken windows and rotted gunwales allow plenty of light inside.
Coming out amidships, the superstructure narrows to provide deck space for a hand-driven water-pump (9). Cranking wheels at either end have ornate curved spokes, and the centre of the wheel is draped with scraps of netting, showing that a trawler has run its gear into the wreck at some time, so perhaps that is where the beam came from.
Forward past the superstructure, the bow deck is dominated by an enormous anchor-winch (10). Level with it on either side are pairs of large mooring bollards. Just forward on the port side, a large spare anchor is firmly attached to a sloped fairing set in above the deck (11).
Along the centreline is a trio of open hatches: first a small square hatch, then a larger square hatch with the remains of a curved cover over it (12), and finally a small round hatch right against the inside of the bow. On either side, chains from the anchor-winch lead forward and disappear through hawse-pipes, outside the bow leading off along the seabed (13).
On the starboard side, the spare anchor has fallen to the seabed. Level with the anchor-winch, the entire side of the hull is sharply stoved in and ripped open where the Polish trawler Snardy ploughed into the side of the lightship on 16 August, 1967 (14).
Continuing back on the starboard side, an easy way inside the superstructure is through a doorway (15) where the superstructure waists slightly for the light tower. Inside, most of the partitions have rotted and collapsed to leave a framework of uprights with plenty of room to swim through, though there are also plenty of dangling cables on which to risk getting entangled.
The light tower continues unbroken inside the superstructure. I haven’t been inside it, but the information from Gordon is that it is possible to get up inside it by going one deck lower, and that the inside is fitted with gas cylinders that would have contained acetylene for the back-up light.
Rather than get too adventurous, a simple route that allows a brief look about is to swim straight across the wreck, exiting through a corresponding doorway on the port side (16) next to the deck-pump.
Rising a couple of metres to the top of the main cabins, the forward part of the superstructure is surrounded by an intact railing. Right at the front, a small wheelhouse looks out across the bow deck (17). The interesting feature here is a large foghorn mounted vertically on the roof (18).
From here, the easiest ascent route is to cross to the light tower (19) and spend any remaining time looking at the light fittings that I recommended skipping at the start of the dive.
COULDN’T THEY SEE THE LIGHT?
How anyone could fail to see the great central lamp tower sticking up from a lightship on a calm sea in the brilliant sunshine of an August morning in 1967 beggars belief.
How anyone could fail to see in such perfect visibility that Light Vessel 83 was on tow with a tug not far ahead of her is equally mind-boggling. But somehow a Polish steam trawler managed to ram her at speed, writes Kendall McDonald.
LV83 was on tow for a refit in South Shields, after acting as a warning marker of the Outer Banks off the Norfolk coast.
The ship staggered and lurched wildly as the collision occurred. Bob Durrant and his mate Jimmy had only just climbed into their bunks at the end of their watch and were hardly asleep. They jumped down and were brought to full consciousness by landing in cold, waist-deep water rising between their bunks.
More water was pouring down on them from the shattered companionway. There was obviously no escape to the deck that way. In the end they managed to open a small hatch forward and struggle through to the open air and sunlight. The huge bulk of the Polish trawler Snardy loomed over them as it backed away from LV83’s buckled and torn starboard side.
Bob Durrant stood and stared. How could this have happened? But he didn’t have long to wonder. The lightship was sinking so fast that her crew had only just time to jump into a lifeboat sent back from their tug before the sea ran right across her deck.
The tip of the light tower rushed down and under the surface in moments. And there on the seabed, some 14 miles off Easington, Cleveland, it stayed upright and almost forgotten until a salvage diver found the wreck in the late 1980s.
GETTING THERE: From the South, follow the A1(M) north, then take the A64 past York to Scarborough. From the North leave the A1(M) on the A61 or A168 for Thirsk, and take the A170 to Scarborough.
TIDES: Slack water is four hours after high or low water Scarborough.
HOW TO FIND IT: The location of this wreck is one that skippers like to keep a little bit quiet about. The best we can give you is 20 miles east of Withernsea.
DIVING AND AIR: John Liddiard dived the LV83 from the liveaboard Jane R, boarding at Scarborough. The vessel spends most of the year in either Norway or Oban, but can be available for charter from Scarborough as it switches location in late summer or early autumn.
LAUNCHING: Slip or beach launching are available at Flamborough, Bridlington and Hornsea.
QUALIFICATIONS: This is a great wreck for a group with mixed levels of experience, from sport diver and above.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 121, Flamborough Head to Withernsea. Ordnance Survey Map 101, Scarborough, Bridlington & Filey. The Comprehensive Guide to Shipwrecks of the East Coast Vol 2 (1918-2000) by Ron Young (to be published in June).
PROS: A unique wreck that can be enjoyed without getting too far into decompression.
CONS: Not many diving charter boats can get you there.
Thanks to Gordon Wadsworth, Helen George, Andy Moll, and members of Severnside BSAC.
Appeared in Diver, May 2003