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Wreck Tour 59: Fenella Ann

Fenella Ann
Fenella Ann

How often do you get the chance to dive an intact wooden wreck in the UK? JOHN LIDDIARD has a nice little Manx trawler in mind. Illustration by MAX ELLIS

WHEN I DIVED THE RECENT WRECK OF THE FENELLA ANN last July, I just knew it had to be a Wreck Tour, and sooner rather than later. The Fenella Ann is only a small scallop trawler, but it is about as intact as a wreck could possibly be, complete with masts and rigging, so it’s well worth diving.

With its wooden hull it won’t remain in such pristine condition for many years, so I slotted it into the schedule as soon as I could.

It is impossible to plan where the shot will hit such a small target in a current at 40m, so I will begin our tour at the stern (1). Below the stern is a simple, square, flat rudder and a four-bladed propeller (2), nothing sophisticated.

The wreck is almost upright, tilted about 20° to starboard as the keel rests on a level shingle and sand seabed. Just a few metres off to starboard from the stern are the remains of part of the scallop-dredging gear, a rusty steel frame with toothed plates and chains stretched across it (3).

The visibility is typically so good that you can see most of the wreck and well off to the side. Further out to starboard, scattered piles of white sacks (4) are the remains of the Fenella Ann’s catch of scallops, fallen over the side as the boat sank.

Sacks of scallops tipped onto the seabed
Sacks of scallops tipped onto the seabed

Most are now dead, but a few have survived where the sacks have split open and allowed them to escape. In the distance, further sacks can be seen scattered to the north.

Back on the wreck, posts with pulleys projecting either side of the stern are spreaders for the gear (5). Immediately forward of these, the aftmost mast is the trawl gallows (6), used for lifting the trawl-boards.

Next forward, a square coaming surrounds the hatchway to the hold (7). Looking up, the entire goalpost mast system and rigging is quite spectacular, and it is covered in a fur of hydroids.

Some of the catch that didn’t fall over the side is a pile of scallops resting against the starboard gunwale (8), still mostly alive and partly burying another frame from the scallop dredge.

The main features of the aft deck are the main goalpost mast, which stands a bit like a rugby goal across the deck (9) and, between its legs, the winch.

Winch on the rear deck
Winch on the rear deck

I wouldn't advocate a zigzag dive profile here, so the mast is really something to look up at rather than to swim up at this stage of the dive.

The Fenella Ann was rigged for using either of two different sets of gear: a trawl-net for “queenies” over the stern; and dredges for scallops, one set over each side.

When rigged for trawling, the net would be laid over the stern. To recover the catch, the net would be hauled up, but not back into the boat. The Fenella Ann would then turn to bring the net alongside and just the tail-end of the net containing the catch would be hauled up with one of the emptying derricks (10) and dumped on deck.

The scallop-dredging gear is a little more complicated. Six dredges, comprising a chain-net behind a steel frame with toothed plates and chains stretched across, as seen off the stern (3), would be spread along the length of a steel beam.

One of these beams would be towed from each side of the Fenella Ann, dragging along the seabed and catching the ploughed-up scallops in the chain-net. The spreaders (5) would keep the towing lines from fouling.

To recover the catch, the dredges would be hauled alongside and the beams pulled inboard to lie along the gunwales, using a line over a block at the top of the main goalpost mast (9). The chain-nets carrying the catch would still be hanging over the side at this point.

Each dredge would then be tipped inboard and the scallops emptied by pulling a line over the emptying derrick (10) from the base of the dredge.

Back to the deck of the Fenella Ann, and we move forward to the wheelhouse. Looking in the doorway at the rear (11), to the left is the toilet and to the right the galley stove. The box-structure running up outside on the starboard side is the engine exhaust.

Inside the wheelhouse, seen through the port window
Inside the wheelhouse, seen through the port window

Following the starboard side further forward, a pair of old rubber-tyre fenders are still attached to the rail (12). Above these on the side of the wheelhouse, a curved plate (13) still bears some trace of the name “Fenella Ann” and would also have held a lifebuoy against the side of the wheelhouse.

The bow deck is clear. From the seabed in front of the bow (14), just look back and up to see the forward tripod mast, the wheelhouse and, in good visibility, the main goalpost mast silhouetted above.

Back to the wheelhouse, and on the roof at the front of the wheelhouse is a searchlight (15). The windows at the front are intact, but on the port side the main window is broken, providing a good view inside (16).

There is all the usual equipment with which most divers will be familiar from their hardboat diving – a small spoked wooden wheel, radios, echo and radar display. The Fenella Ann’s compass was originally from a Spitfire fighter aircraft, though this has been recovered.

Among the forest of equipment on the wheelhouse roof, the tallest item in the centre is the radar antenna (17). Immediately forward of this is a cooking-gas cylinder (18) to power the galley stove. Then, at the back, a rhomboid skeleton on a thin mast is a radar reflector (19), to ensure that the mostly wooden Fenella Ann would give a nice strong echo on any other ship’s radar set.

On a wreck this small and in typically good visibility there should be no problem relocating the shotline for ascent. Even so, slack water is short, so if more than a few minutes of decompression are accumulated it will be more comfortable to drift on a delayed SMB.

BURROO CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM

Burroo is what Viking raiders called it. Burroo means fortress in Norse and that is what those steep cliffs of the rocky outcrop at the southern tip of the Calf of Man, itself a mile-wide islet off the much bigger Isle of Man, looked like to the Norsemen.

Today the Burroo means something different to divers: spectacular walls, shallow or deep boat-diving, drifts in strong tides and wrecks, writes Kendall McDonald. Those tides around the Burroo have caused the wrecks of many ships over the centuries, and great timbers jammed into gullies mark their graves. But not all the wrecks are ancient.

You would think that local scallopers knew the Burroo well enough to keep clear, but somehow the scallop-trawler Fenella Ann got off course in the pitch-black evening of 9 November, 2002. The force 4 wind from the south-east, aided by the tide, pushed it inshore. It struck rock hard just off the cliffs and the sea began pouring in.

The Fenella Ann was homeward bound, registered at nearby Castletown, coded on it bows as CT27, but within minutes it was clear to its two-man crew that it wouldn’t get much further towards its home port.

Its distress signals went off at once and the Port St Mary lifeboat was launched. Despite the quick response, two other local scallop trawlers, De Bounty and Heather Maid, got there first. They were just in time to take the two men off before waves washed over the rails and it foundered.

TOUR GUIDE

GETTING THERE: Ferry from Liverpool or Heysham to Douglas with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

TIDES: Slack water is essential and occurs from one hour before low water Liverpool through to low water on neaps.

HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 54 02.642N 4 47.840W (degrees, minutes and decimals). There are no transits. The wreck lies east-west.

DIVING AND AIR: Mike Keggen runs a 6.5m RIB suitable for eight divers, based in Port St Mary. Diving costs £26 per day with two dives and 12-litre air fills. Isle Of Man Diving Charters.

ACCOMMODATION: Mike Keggen has a three-bedroom apartment sleeping eight for £400 per week. As it was already booked, John Liddiard stayed at Jakin Guest House.

QUALIFICATIONS: Depth makes the Fenella Ann an advanced dive, though it can be enjoyed without getting too far into decompression.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2094, Kirkcudbright To Mull Of Galloway And Isle Of Man. Ordnance Survey Map 95. Isle of Man Visitor Information

PROS: A rare chance to dive an intact fishing boat typical of those in service all around the UK.

CONS: A wooden wreck might last only a few years in such intact condition.

Thanks to Mike Keggen & Neil Watterson.

Appeared in Diver, January 2004

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