When I started The Shipwreck Project a good few years ago now it was primarily based around diving and trying to get folks involved in maritime history, sadly it didn’t work out and hard expensive lessons were learned. Trying to do too many things at once is a failing of mine but that said in my defence if you don’t push on lots of doors you will not find out which ones open. Deeper Dorset is much more focused all about the local area and its maritime history above and below the water. At this time I am concentrating on two projects finding the Hercules and saving racing yacht Dolly Varden, typical me I choose two with a difficulty level off the scale! There is of course a bigger picture and shaping that is what keeps me going fighting like an alley cat. If I was to tell you what the bigger picture is I would be laughed out of town…… This either makes me visionary or mad!
It might look a bit Heath Robinson but we are slowly refining and tuning this bit of kit into our eyes beneath the waves. As can be seen a couple of posts back it has already found its first shipwreck and we are now very quickly able to check out sonar targets without wasting diver time. It didn’t come cheap nothing to do with being in or on the sea ever does and with that in mind I am now already starting to think about how we are going to fund the project if we haven’t found the aircraft by the end of the summer and our Kickstarter funding has run out. One thing for sure we wouldn’t be where we are without the Kickstarter backers and the publicity that surrounded the campaign, another thing for sure we are not going to give up we are way too far down the road for that to be an option. This project is not just about finding the aircraft it is just as much about telling the real story that according to many of today’s armchair aviation experts is already done, dusted and out there! Nowt so queer as folk best describes them I guess.
As we search for the remains of the Hercules we are often reminded just how much lies at the bottom of the English Channel. This is the wreck of a British minelayer from WW2 and back in the 90’s we were the first divers to visit her. She is upright largely intact 130ft long and lies in 210ft of water. By the time we complete our search we should have a nice little sonar image library of mid channel wrecks, not a bad little by-product to have.
The best day this year as we roar out into the channel yet again. We are settling into a routine now scouring the channel looking for what may remain of the Hercules. As the press interest dies and the hard up film production companies have given up ringing asking me to give away everything for nothing we settle back into a tough regime of long hard days punctuated by even longer days post processing and researching. This is a tough task and only the tough ones are left, it was never going to be a five minute operation ending with an instant result. Even our critics have gone quiet for now and silence surrounds us as we just keep smashing it the only way we know how.
As the title suggests this screen grab is a little shabby but in the can we have some nice footage of a mid 19th century iron sailing ship. This is what a virgin shipwreck looks like and don’t the fish just love it. Discovering and recording shipwrecks is what we do all at our expense and whilst we are pleased to uncover yet another piece of maritime history there is a downside. We are now able to do this without putting a diver in the water which from the point of view of safety is fine it is over 200ft below the boat but I find it sad that the spirit of exploration has all but died in today’s diver. I was very lucky to have been around as a diver and skipper in the hey day of channel shipwreck exploration which nowadays is looked back on by many with derision. I am forever being told mainly by academics and those that have been brain washed by them “we should leave things for future generations”. This particular shipwreck is barely showing above the seabed and in only a few years it will have disappeared. There is evidence all over the site that it is being battered by trawling but in the end it is erosion that will finish it. I now have the only record of this site by getting off my ass and getting out there and doing it. God only knows what this information would cost to gather if left to those that are paid to protect our maritime history? Leaving it for future generations equals an excuse to do nothing and an opportunity to label those of us that really care as grave robbers. The really bad news is that as the likes of Historic England run out of money in time we will end up with blanket bans on shipwreck sites and areas of interest that will make it look like we are doing our bit in the eyes of the International community. Finally if anyone can think of a shipwreck around the British Isles that was found by anyone other than an amateur explorer I would be interested to hear about it… I rest my case and as usual this is the musings of an old fool!
Gearing up the wheelhouse to recommence the Hercules search after a weather break. I would like to have everything set up permanently but RWTwo has another life as a dive boat and sadly divers and delicate electronics are a recipe for disaster! Come the winter I think I will be carrying out some alterations to the boat or replacing It, either way I need to end up with a dual-purpose dive/survey boat that I am not dismantling and rebuilding every time it changes role. As for the search we are now moving into the second area of interest having completed sonar operations but not camera operations in the first. Relentless is the word that springs to mind….
It has been a little quiet on here of late but that is a good thing as it means we are flat out working on the Hercules project. This is Colin deploying our new secret weapon! More about this at a later date suffice to say at this time it is a game changer for us. Looks like the weather is going to keep us ashore for a few days which for once is a good thing as the post processing is a little behind. I am also taking time to review the big picture as it is very easy to go off at a tangent something we cannot afford to do during this meticulous search.
One thing for sure whatever happens the Paul Meyer story is now well and truly in the public eye and out there for all to see. The BBC website within 24 hours of an update had over two million hits which is just amazing, latest can be found here. This last week has been busy with various TV production companies starting to take an interest however all appear to work on the same format which is, “We are exploring the possibilities for a client, what will the weather be like when we want to film and by the way we have no budget!” One absolute classic was “when do you expect to find the plane?” Guess I do not need to say anymore other than we are not working for nothing while everyone else gets paid, most importantly Paul Meyer and his family deserve the very best when it comes to telling the story.
America First everyone else behind, even the Queen!… Well I guess it makes a great sound byte for The Donald but in our case we are certainly putting America first as we continue to fight the corner for one of its lost. It does feel a little strange that a few Brits are doing what the USA pledged to do (leave no man behind) and even now after nearly fifty years the USAF shows no interest in helping to bring Paul Meyer home. Seems to me they are keen to tell us what didn’t happen but not quite so forthcoming when it comes to telling us what actually did happen.
As much as we are progressing the search for the Hercules we are progressing the story with the fantastic help of Emma Jane Kirby and the BBC. I see this project as four distinct areas 1) What happened leading up to the flight? 2) what happened during the flight? 3) what happened after the flight? 4) Where is the aircraft? Slowly we are edging forward on all fronts and even now we must have the clearest detail ever with regard to what actually happened. It is now noticeable that those who crowed about knowing the full story and acted as judge and jury in fact knew very little and most have gone very quiet. There are however still a few that think the whole thing is a farce and a waste of time and have even accused us of being unashamed self publicists with the sole aim of monetary gain. Nothing much we can do about that sort of twisted thinking other than to prove them wrong which one way or another we will. I guess the biggest surprise of all to me is the way the USAF treated Paul’s wife and family and the way it continues to think about what happened almost as if it had nothing to do with them and the USAF are victims of conspiracy theorists! For a nation that takes pride in bringing everyone home it seems odd that even now the USA are not interested in what happened to Paul Meyer. Not long ago I announced that 2018 would be the year of the plane here at Deeper Dorset and even at this early stage I can now further that and say it will continue through 2019. If we found the aircraft tomorrow it would not be the end of the story, firstly because we don’t know that the remains will tell us anything but leaving it lost at the bottom of the Channel it will tell us nothing but most importantly so much information has come our way that we now have a massive job collating and verifying it all. I remember saying when we set out on this journey we would come at it straight and level, that we will continue to do only with even more vigour because it is now very obvious there is an injustice here that we have to put right.
You may have noticed on the Deeper Dorset website there is a link to famous racing yacht Dolly Varden built 1872. With Deeper Dorset being all about maritime history when the opportunity arose to rescue her from a Dorset field after forty years literally in the wilderness rather than see her burnt I took it. At great expense she was moved undercover and initially I did a deal with The IBTC (International Boatbuilding Training College) to restore her and she was moved again to Boathouse 4 Portsmouth Dockyard. Sadly due to a change of management and a change of direction the IBTC let me down badly and we had to bring Dolly back to Weymouth where she is now incurring storage costs. All efforts to raise funds and bring this important piece of National Heritage back to life have so far failed and I am now at a crossroads. I have three choices, firstly just keep plugging away and hope that something happens, restore her myself something I am capable of doing but at my age not without help and finally scrap the vessel salvaging what we can. Obviously I am exploring the middle option however in order to even have a chance Dolly needs to be closer to Weymouth and preferably as close to the quay as is possible. All efforts to find a suitable building to rent have failed and at this time I am exploring the option of finding a space in a yard somewhere and putting up a temporary building. So if anyone in the Weymouth area knows of a yard I could rent or a big enough space anywhere local that won’t be an issue with residents please do get in touch. I took this picture of Dolly this morning which is not her best side and there is plenty going on around her but not on her, l hope that will be changing sometime soon.