Most sailing-ship wrecks retain too little detail to warrant the full Wreck Tour treatment, but JOHN LIDDIARD and illustrator MAX ELLIS have come up with a double-header – one Victorian sailing ship in Pembrokeshire, another in the Isle of Man, and both really nice dives!
WE BEGIN WITH THE HIGHLAND HOME, an iron-hulled barque located 32m below Freshwater Bay in Pembrokeshire. The 1371-ton vessel was lost when the cable parted while under tow.
The only part of the Highland Home that stands significantly from the seabed is the bow (1), which has fallen to port and rises to 28m. Some of the upper parts would have been constructed of wood, and have now rotted away to leave an iron hawse-pipe and a big traditional Admiralty-pattern anchor resting on the seabed (2).
Behind the bow is an anchor-winch (3), indicating that the Highland Home must have been fitted with a small donkey boiler to provide steam to power the winch, though I was unable to find any debris from such a boiler. It’s quite likely that it would have been made of copper, so would have been a likely item for salvage.
The corresponding anchor-chain forms a concreted pile down by the keel of the bow (4).
I suspect that the Highland Home sank on an even keel, then broke to port, because this is the direction in which the bow and stern have fallen, and debris from deck and rigging can be found.
Staying just off the port side of the wreckage, you’ll see a small section of iron hatch-coaming, followed by a pair of small bollards upright on their mounting-plate (5).
A little further aft and out to port is the lower section of the forward mast (6). As on many sailing ships, only the lower part of the mast would have been of iron or steel, and the upper part wood.
Behind the mast section is a small winch spindle (7). There would probably have been just one winch fitted to handle the rigging between all three masts.
A similar mast section from the main mast can be found a little further aft (8). The Highland Home was a three-masted barque, which means that the foremast and main mast would have been square-rigged, but the aft (mizzen) mast would have been fore-aft rigged.
It would not be unusual for the mizzen mast to have been completely wooden, so there is no corresponding lower metal section from the mizzen mast.
Proximity to the stern is indicated by a curved section of hull ribs (9), then finally the rudder-post and rudder (10). Like the rest of the ship, the stern has fallen to port.
The keel of the ship is intact, leading all the way back to the bow (11) and (12). Here the iron frames and ribs, stripped of the hull planking, show the complete skeleton of the hull.
A dive on the Highland Home is unlikely to get into long decompression stops, so a few minutes accumulated can easily be handled while ascending back up the shotline.
HIGHLAND HOME, sailing ship. BUILT 1886, SUNK 1895
THE HAWSER THAT BOUND the 1371-ton iron barque Highland Home of Glasgow to the steam tug Warrior could not stand the strain of the south-west gale that struck at 9pm on 10 November, 1895, writes Kendall McDonald. The vessels were in Pembroke’s West Freshwater Bay, Highland Home being towed to London in ballast.
Huge seas built up very quickly, the hawser snapped suddenly and the crew of the tug saw her whirled away from them into the dark.
At 10pm, distress signals were seen by the coastguard at Angle, but the light suddenly disappeared, and the only sizeable trace of the Highland Home was her nameboard, which was washed ashore the next morning.
Captain John McWhir, his 17 crew and two passengers were never seen again. Wreckage of the barque, which had been built in 1886 by Ramage & Ferguson of Leith, was later found in Freshwater Bay, around Linney Head.
GETTING THERE: Follow the M4, A40 and A477 to Pembroke Dock, then cross the bridge to Neyland and follow the signs for the marina.
HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 51 39.80N 5 06.70W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The wreck lies mostly flat to a sandy seabed, with only the bow showing on an echo-sounder.
TIDES: With a typically 6m tidal range, slack is essential, and coincides with high and low water at Brest.
LAUNCHING: Slips are available at Neyland and Dale.
DIVING, & AIR: Pembrokeshire Dive Charters, 01437 781569.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2878, Approaches to Milford Haven. Ordnance Survey Map 157, St David’s & Haverfordwest Area. Shipwreck Index of the British Isles Vol 5, West Coast and Wales, by Richard & Bridget Larn.
PROS: A little-dived wreck from the tail-end of the big sailing-ship era.
CONS: One dive and you have seen it all.
Thanks to Steve Lewis and Oliver Boyle.
Appeared in DIVER December 2007