Sometimes the forgotten wrecks make a great option – and at least you get them to yourself. This steamer off the Sussex coast is a case in point, says JOHN LIDDIARD. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
THIS MONTH’S TOUR is one of the less-dived wrecks out of Littlehampton, but the 1552-ton steamship Ramsgarth is a nice little dive, and well worth a look for a change from the usual suspects. At 29m down on a high-water slack, it’s at an ideal depth for most dive clubs.
Our tour begins on the broken hull (1), because this is where the shot caught when skipper team Vernon and Daniel Parker threw it over the side.
I forget who was at the helm and sounder and who was actually throwing the shot on the day. The target had been the boilers, but they have rolled out of the wreck and the shot caught on one of the holes decayed in the hull, rather than dragging onto the boilers.
The Ramsgarth was boarded and scuttled by UB39, coming to rest on its starboard side before collapsing.
The hull rises only a couple of metres from the seabed at this point, so a quick traverse across it will reveal the deck- or keel-side of the wreck without wasting too much time.
On the deck-side, a set of boiler-mounts (2) poke out from under the hull. Just aft from these, the top of the Ramsgarth‘s triple-expansion steam engine (3) also protrudes. The two boilers (4) have rolled further out, with one wedged up against the other.
Outside these, the mounting brackets (5) from the second boiler just poke out of the gravel seabed.
Further out, the last identifiable scrap of wreckage is the skylight (6) and ventilation hatches from above the engine-room.
Heading back in to the main body of the wreckage, there is a break just behind the engine (7), allowing the lower part of the engine and crankshaft to be seen beneath the arch of the hull, and offering limited penetration for those who really want to wriggle underneath.
The propeller-shaft, just out from the break, ends at a flange where the bolts have sheared. A few metres on, the propeller-shaft continues (8) with the aft part of the wreck. After a couple of sections, it disappears into the remaining part of the propshaft tunnel (9). This would have run along the keel in the bottom of the aft holds.
With the wreck fallen to starboard, the two winches (10) that would have served the aft holds now rest inside the flattened hull, just out to starboard from the propshaft tunnel.
Between the winches is the heavy plate with hollow ring that would have supported the mast. The mast (11) lies behind the second winch, pointing diagonally away from the wreck.
The stern remains more intact, tipped over on its starboard side with the deck not quite upright, and rising to 24m from the 29m seabed. There is more space for a peek inside than there was by the engine.
The wooden planks of the deck have survived remarkably well, with single bollards (12) to either side and a large steering quadrant (13) almost filling the last part of the deck.
Below the stern, the rudder is missing and so is the propeller. All that remains is the tail of the propeller-shaft (14).
We now head forward again, across the aft holds to the starboard and deck side of the wreck (15), then crossing the gap back to the forward part by the boilers (4). To help in poor visibility, a large twisted section of hull (16) bridges most of the gap.
Forward of the boilers, a smaller donkey-boiler (17) has also fallen out from the wreck, and probably rolled forward a bit, because it is closer to the winches (18) that serve the forward holds than it is to the main boilers.
Between the winches is a mast-foot similar to the one between the aft holds, but there is no sign of the corresponding mast.
The forward part of the hull has tipped over so that there is no gap between hull and seabed. This section is also more intact than further aft, with fewer holes rotted in the hull-plates.
We are now in the closing stages of the tour at the bow. Like the stern, the bow is tipped over to starboard, so that the deck is almost upright, and rising to 24m. Again like the stern, the wooden deck-planking remains mostly intact. There is a large anchor-winch (19) in the middle of the deck, and pairs of bollards to either side.
Below deck, there is easy access into the forecastle (20), though further below the upright ribs are a little too close together.
From the anchor-winch, the anchor-chains are stretched tight through the port and starboard hawse-pipes, with both anchors tight in place against the hull (21).
The upper port edge of the bow is a good point to release a delayed SMB to make a drifting ascent and see to your decompression.
FATAL ACT OF KINDNESS
RAMSGARTH, cargo steamship. BUILT 1910, SUNK 1916
THE RAMSGARTH, a small, unarmed, British schooner-rigged steamer of 1552 tons, was built in Middlesbrough in 1910. She tried hard to escape being sunk by one of the first U-boat aces of WW1, Oberleutnant Wilhelm Furbringer, who was then commanding UB39, writes Kendall McDonald.
But at 5am on 27 November, 1916, while eight miles south of Worthing Pier, Captain Tom Appleton of the Ramsgarth made the mistake of trying to help another small British ship he saw to be in trouble.
Ramsgarth was travelling in water ballast from Cardiff and Brixham for the Tyne. Through their binoculars, Appleton and his second officer, Percy Walke, saw a ship letting off steam and lowering her lifeboats.
One lifeboat pulled away from the ship, which triggered Appleton to start to close in. He was about to order this change of course when he saw the forward part of a submarine poking out from behind the other ship. So he ordered full ahead on his engines, and broke away as fast as he could.
He left it too late. Furbringer opened fire, and one of the shells hit the Ramsgarth in her starboard side. Appleton realised that he had no chance of escape, and ordered his ship to heave to, and his 19 crew to take to the boats.
Furbringer then ordered a boarding party from his U-boat to plant bombs on the Ramsgarth. After these exploded, the ship took only a few minutes to sink.
The Germans let the crew go, and they rowed safely into Worthing later that day.
Kapitanleutnant Furbringer survived the war, after being captured when depth-charged and sunk off the Durham coast on 19 July, 1918, in UB110.
GETTING THERE: See the map on the Our Joy website. Boats are berthed on the pontoon to the east of the river, where the riverside road meets the seafront road, by the Nelson Hotel.
HOW TO FIND IT: The GPS co-ordinates are 50 40.030N, 000 23.639W (degrees, minutes and decimals). The bow points north of north-west.
TIDES: Slack water is at high water Littlehampton.
DIVING: Our Joy, skippers Daniel and Vernon Parker.
AIR: Ocean View Diving Services, Lancing, Mulberry Divers, Selsey.
ACCOMMODATION: B&B at the Nelson Hotel, conveniently located next to the charter-boat pontoon, 01903 713358.
QUALIFICATIONS: At a depth of 29m, the Ramsgarth is ideally suited for the average spread of qualifications on a club trip.
LAUNCHING: The closest slip is at Littlehampton.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Harbourmaster, 01903 721215. Admiralty Chart 1652, Selsey Bill to Beachy Head. Ordnance Survey Map 197, Chichester & the South Downs, Bognor Regis and Arundel. Dive Sussex, by Kendall McDonald. Mole Valley SAC.
PROS: It’s located conveniently close to Littlehampton, and there are unlikely to be other divers on the wreck for stopping off at the Lyness Museum.
CONS: The collapsed hull is not particularly interesting.
DEPTH RANGE: 20-35m
Thanks to Daniel and Vernon Parker, Tim Walsh and Mole Valley SAC.
Appeared in DIVER April 2010