The collier Vendome sank off the north-west tip of Pembrokeshire way back in 1888 and makes a good no-stop dive, says JOHN LIDDIARD – if you can find it. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
THE WRECK OF THE STEAMSHIP Vendome lies broken at the foot of the reef at Tri Maen-trai in west Wales, right up against the rocks. On an echo-sounder, it’s hard to tell the two apart, so on a wreck this size the shot could land anywhere.
Fortunately, when I dived the Vendome a buoy was tied to the stern, so our tour begins at 31m on the frame that would have supported the rudder (1). Further out from this there are a few scraps of ribs and plates, but nothing I could identify as the rudder. It has either been torn to pieces, or perhaps was lost on the rocks.
The Vendome’s propeller is still intact and attached to the shaft, one of the four blades buried below, with the other three rather rounded blades showing (2). The propeller-shaft continues through a short section of the keel part of the stern, then breaks soon after the stern ends (3).
Some beams across the stern support just enough of it to provide a cavity worth a quick look inside (4).
Continuing forward a little, a couple of sections of the propeller-shaft lie downhill from the starboard side of the wreck (5).
The Vendome broke its back when it washed sideways onto Tri Maen-trai, the break being just aft of the engine.
The next section of shaft actually lies uphill from the port side of the wreck (6), still attached to the remains of the two-cylinder compound engine (7). At 28m, this is pretty much the shallowest point of the wreck, with the line of the wreck at this point turning almost 90° to starboard and back down the slope.
Working uphill from this, the deck from above the stoke-hold has collapsed towards the port side of the wreck, with the coaming from a coal-bunker loading-hatch still attached to a section of the deck (10).
Forward again, a small anchor (11) is unlikely to be anything to do with the wreck, more likely an anchor fouled on the Vendome and lost since it sank in December 1888.
The larger coaming from the forward hold (12) lies almost in line with the boiler, about three-quarters intact.
From the forward hold it is straight to the bow area, with pairs of bollards to either side (13) of the Vendome’s single winch (14). As there are no other signs of winch-gear on the wreck, it is likely that this also served as both an anchor-winch and a cargo-handling winch.
The bow has largely disintegrated, with two large piles of anchor-chain lying across a few remaining ribs (15).
Directly forward of the anchor-chain the wreckage fizzles out, with some unrecognisable girders at 35m, though there are still worthwhile bits of wreck off to port and a little up the slope (16).
A pair of Admiralty-pattern anchors lie crossed-over beside the anchor hawse-pipes (17). Just forward from this, the forward edge of the bow (18) is the strongest and last surviving part of this end of the Vendome, and brings us to the end of our tour.
The Vendome is small enough that at 35m most divers will be able to see all this on a no-stop dive and still have time to return to the buoyline or shot and ascend.
For those with bottom time remaining and dive-computers, following from the section of propeller-shaft at the break (6) leads up onto the reef that breaks the surface at Tri Maen-trai (19), and a good selection of Pembrokeshire marine life.
On ascent, take care not to surface directly in front of the rock, because breaking waves will prevent the boat from picking you up.
COAL AND A HOLE
The Vendome, a six-year-old 480-ton steamer belonging to the Dynevor Colliery Company of Wales, was 47m long with a beam of 7m, and drew only 4m, writes Kendall McDonald.
While this shallow draught may have been an advantage during Vendome’s regular runs with coal to small French ports, it certainly didn’t save her from the high winds from the south-west and the pitch black of the night of 4 December, 1888.
At five that morning, returning in ballast to Neath from Ramsay, Isle of Man, where she had delivered a cargo of coal, the Vendome ran onto a rock off Strumble Head. As it was taking water in through its hull and was clearly finished, Captain William Parry of St David’s ordered his crew of 11 to their two small boats. With great difficulty they managed to launch safely.
At daybreak, when they could see where they were, they made for Fishguard Harbour. But first they saw the fate of their ship. Wind-pushed waves rocked the steamer back and forth until it slipped off the rocks into deep water and drifted only a short way before going down.
It was not the first time Vendome had sunk. Three years earlier, it had gone down after a collision with another ship near a French port, and stayed under water for two years before being raised and made seaworthy once again.
This time it would not be raised. Surprisingly, Captain Parry had his master’s certificate suspended for only three months.
The Adventurous Divers Club of Swansea found the wreck some years ago. Members recovered the inscribed ship’s bell and mounting, which sold at public auction for more than £500 in May 2000.
GETTING THERE: Follow the M4 and A40 to Fishguard and on to Goodwick (where the ferry terminal is). Celtic Diving is next to Ocean Lab on the waterfront.
TIDES: Slack water is essential and occurs approximately 1.5 hours before high water Milford Haven and 4.5 hours after high water Milford Haven. Because there are unstable back-eddies as the tide passes Strumble Head, slack can vary considerably with weather and spring tides.
HOW TO FIND IT: GPS co-ordinates are 52 00.479N, 005 05.353W (degrees, minutes and decimals). Against the reef with bow to the north-west, stern to the north-east, the wreck is very difficult to locate, the boiler being the highest point.
DIVING, AIR: Celtic Diving, 01348 871938.
LAUNCHING : The public slip is by Ocean Lab and the tourist information centre, just along the waterfront from the entrance to the ferry terminal in Goodwick. It dries for a couple of hours either side of low tide. Slips are also available at Porthgain and Abercastle, though Abercastle is wet only at high tide.
ACCOMMODATION: B&B at Celtic Diving.
QUALIFICATIONS: Good for divers who don’t want to get into decompression.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 1973, Cardigan Bay – Southern Part. Ordnance Survey Map 157, St David’s and Haverfordwest Area. Fishguard Tourist Information, 01348 872037.
PROS: A nice little wreck that can be seen in a no-stop dive.
CONS: Hard to pick up on an echo-sounder, because it lies against the reef.
Appeared in DIVER December 2005