By Brian Matthewman
Diving in the North East coast is often a challenge in its self as the sea gods can be very cruel. The visibility is often grim at best and they are a lot of river over flows which add to this problem. So, after finding the ship wreck of the famous SS Hogarth in 2009, we wondered how we could top last year’s expedition.

There are over 1500 unknown wrecks and underwater obstructions listed in the hydrographic charts of the British Isles. It is no wonder that there are some nice wrecks to be found every year. But the key to finding great wrecks is not just diving skills and good luck; it is extensive research and the investment of a lot of time, effort and resources of a team. Conducting the research for Silent Running dive group is Brent Hudson who spent a lot of his time engaging in this research over the winter months.

Several marks in the 50m to 70m range where identified and then narrowed to a search grid due to a limited time of one week’s exploration.

Silent Running Dive Team dive all year round, including the winter to ensure the highest levels of skill and safety are achieved and that each member and their equipment are prepared for expedition diving.

Preparation is key and one of the most important tasks before our expeditions is to ensure all the cylinders are mixed, analysed and marked correctly. The depths and extended bottom times that we plan on diving require the use of exotic helium gas mixtures and various backup cylinders called ‘bail out’. Each gas cylinder is planned, discussed and mixed at our own gas blending station.

We are lucky that we have our own compressors, a Bauer Captiano and a back up Hamworthy with a Sitec GBD40 Booster which pumps 323 bar up to 112 litres per minute!!! Kindly supplied by Brent Hudson from Narked at 90 Ltd.

I awoke on Monday morning and filled the kettle ready for my dive Buddy and best friend Brent “Borg” Hudson to arrive. The weather was dark but the wind was slight. Brent arrived and we loaded the car and set off to meet the rest of the team and the boat at South Shields dock. We always dive with Alan Lopez who owns Spellbinder II. He is one of the best skippers we have dived with and understands our safety protocols and procedures.
Our usual routine of banter and excitement of diving virgin wrecks filled the car with the occasional chorus to “High tech diver, under water man of mystery”. Some of the team where coming up from down South, “York” and would have already been on the road for some hours. The drive up took just 40 minutes.

We landed at Customs House quays to be met by a slight breeze. Walked down the ramp to meet and greet the team. Everyone was buzzing with excitement as we loaded our kit aboard and did our equipment checks. Positive and negative checks complete, kit stowed away, coffee in hand. Job done ready of our 1 & half hour steam out. The sea gods where kind today and we settled down to the usual banter and mickey taking.

Warm drinks in hand, we started to go through our dive plans. Brent and I would tie in, Jeff and Ian would send up anchor, Steve and Mike would deploy the decompression station and Paul and Chris would attach the drop bottles full of life saving 100% O2. Every team member has a task to complete to ensure the safety of the group.
Arriving at the wreck site, everyone dons their drysuit and makes ready. We had never dived this mark before and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I knew Brent was anxious and didn’t want to disappoint the team by finding an old Norwegian trawler or something! The first task is to shot the wreck. No, you read it right, the line to the wreck is called the shot line and my job is to deploy it correctly. Alan Lopez, our skipper runs over our planned site with Spellbinder and carefully watches the sonar and 3D imager until he believes we are in just the right position. This is a matter of skill and experience that no amount of electronic wizardry can replace. I stood at the gate waiting for the Skippers shout to release the shot line with a heavy anchor. Alan buzzers the wreck and then the engines slow down and the shout from the bridge echo’s out!!! Down goes the anchor pulling the shot line with it deep into the fairly clear blue water. Waves are splashing over the gate due to the slight swell. After a couple of gentle tugs on the line it snags in the wreck and we throw the large buoy over board.

The amount of equipment we must take with us when conducting such long dives at depth means that it takes some effort to get ready.
Once we are ready, there is a moment to calm and reflect before we enter the water. Everyone respects this short silence, some call it getting in the zone, others use it as ‘chill time’. Regardless, it is as essential part of the dive as being in the water. Kit on, pre breath and electronics system check completed I gave my buddy the once over as we did our buddy checks. “Divers ready!” the shout came out. Bob the deck hand helped me to my feet. I mentioned before that due to the depths we dive we need to carry a lot of equipment, but carrying over 70kgs it is an effort to get off a bench!

Dumping air from my suit and counter lungs, I grab the shot line and fin down hard. I stop at 8 meters and look up, right next to me is Brent. We signal to do a bubble checks. This is where I turn round and Brent looks for any bubble leaks and visa versa. Bubble leaks are not good on a rebreather system, its amazing efficiency is only possible when a perfect ‘closed loop’ is maintained.

Down we go! Visibility is very good so far and as we descend ambient light stays with us till about 40 or 50 meters then the lights go out! Clearing my ears and adding air in to my dry suit I gently float in to the dark abyss. All I can hear is the hiss of Trimix diluent been injected into my loop by the Auto Diluent Valve. My Liquivision LCD screen, which I use as a D-timer, tells me I'm at nearly 60m and as I slow my ascent I can see dead man’s fingers on the wreck! A few meters above the wreck I turn my powerful strobe on and clip it to the shot line so it is visible from as far away as possible. I shine my torch and look for a good point on the wreck to tie the shot line waster too. I turn on my helmet torches to make this task easier. While I do this Brent has already affixed his wreck line to the shot and has picked a direction to travel in.

Brent once travelled from the engines to the bridge entirely inside the corridors of the Zenobia wreck, and with his cave diving experience I know when he gets his line out, I am in safe hands. Waster tied, job done so the rest of the guys can hit the wreck.
As we slowly made our way along the wreck which was quite heavily covered with netting I spotted a large brass window. I signalled to Brent as these details can be significant when there is doubt over the origins of a ship wreck.

Brent was about 3 meters away from me as we hit a flattened section of the wreck, I heard him shout out in that boyish excited voice of his and as I made my way over. All I could see was his fins sticking out from under a huge plate, next thing I know he has the ships compass in his hand!!! Bagged and sent up to the surface. I checked out our bottom time and we had only been on the wreck 30 minutes. I continued to scour the wreck for signs of an identifier. Often wrecks of significant years underwater are well overgrown and any item that could potentially identify a wreck are covered in silt, encrustation and other debris which prevent a diver from making any writing or other clues out underwater. Invariably, the only way to positively identify a wreck is by bringing back some artefacts that can be researched onshore. Finding big writing on the side and being able to read it is kept for the movies only I’m afraid.
Close to where Brent first found bridge equipment, I check under another plate and spot a familiar shape of a ships helm. I signal Brent by flashing my torch and he comes over. The helm of a vessel often has the makers name and a serial number which can be traced back to a shipyard and ultimately to the wreck itself. A method of wreck identification we have used successfully before. I attach a lift bag to the helm carefully as it is important not to cause any damage to the item or the wreck. Helms are heavy and as I fill the 90 kg lift bag it doesn’t
move! I put on a 65kg and give her a
gentle pull. She starts to move and we move out the way, as the helm slowly rises I can see why she was stuck, the solid brass wheel was still attached and stuck in the mud.

Time to turn the dive, Brent starts to reel back as I slowly move in front of him and follow the distance line back. We have a system that ensures that at no point are either of us out of contact with the line. At this depth, and with the duration we have been on the wreck, it is impossible to carry sufficient bail out gas to get back unaided if we have a catastrophic failure of our closed circuit rebreathers.
The shot line has staged gas positioned on it, so a return to the line is essential to ensure our spotless safety record. I catch a glimpse of Paul and Chris Smith, a couple of OK signals and we move slowly towards the shot. I spot something bright and white sticking out of the mud, further investigation leads to a plate and cup, a quick lock to see if it has any markings which might help identify the wreck. No joy because covered in crud. So bagged and sent to surface.

In the distance I can clearly see the Narked at 90 strobe, flashing our way home and back to safety. I detach the strobe and Brent takes off the line. Computer check and first decompression stop at 35 meters. I have a Predator 3 cell monitoring system which is a back-up to my main rebreather controller. It gives me slightly deeper stops and then balances its self out at 6 meters.

After storing away the strobe and a quick check of our CCR monitoring computers, we slowly started to make our way back up the shot line to our first decompression stop. We reached our stop level and I gave Brent the signal to level off for 2 minutes. “Roger, Roger” he replied as we hang there in the slowly building current.
This stop is to help the exotic Trimix gases we have been breathing leave our saturated tissues and allow us to move to the next level up the line. Once the allocated time was up we started back up the line towards our next stop. At 18 meters we met the transfer line for the decompression station. Visibility at 18 meters is at least 10 meters!

Brent took off the tags and we waited out or next stop. The decompression station is fixed to the shot line by a quick release clip. This is used so when all the divers have safely returned to the decompression station, it can be released to drift in the ocean current with the divers. This means the divers are not struggling to hold onto the deco bar in a current but drifting effortlessly with it. This is the purpose of the tags, to ensure all the divers are safely on the bar before it is detached.

As we reach our 6 meter stop my Predator indicates we have one hour of decompression still remaining. We settle into our usual routine of discussing what we have seen and singing songs.
The air cavity in the breathing loop of a rebreather makes an excellent resonating chamber, combined with the silence of the no bubble diving, it makes rudimentary speech possible. A couple of O2 flushes to help the decompression do its thing and 40 minutes into the dive I plug in my Typhoon heated under suit and a nice warm feeling covers my body, umm heaven!!! I decide to tell everyone how warm I am and receive several different hand gestures in return! When doing long decompression hangs it gives you time to think and I wondered if the goodies we found had made it to the surface.

Decompression schedule cleared and as I slowly surface to the ever increasing sea swells, I inflate my wing and signal the boat. Alan steered Spellbinder skilfully in to the swell to help protect us and the lift was lowered. It was at this point I was glad of my helmet as a wave banged me against the boat and would have caused me some discomfort had I not been wearing it. Once on the lift a quick nod and up I go. The weight of all the equipment suddenly hits my legs and back.
I can see a lift bag under my seat, no doubt the one that brought the plate up. Brent’s compass is under his seat too, where’s the helm? I try to walk to my seat which is quite hard with the weight of all the equipment, Bob and Alan assist and soon I have all the equipment stored and strapped down. The relief when my suit zip is finally opened.

The helm is still floating in the middle of the North Sea, Alan put a big buoy on it until all of the divers were on board. Then we could all give him a hand to retrieve it.

Umm its seems rather heavy!!! Paul is still kitted up so he jumps in to tie a strap around the helm base and then we tie that to the boat cleat. This is so we dont drop it if we accidentally deflate one of the lift bags when trying to get the helm on the lift. Everyone was working as a team and we managed to get it on the lift and finally on the boat. I was so happy I even gave my buddy a big hug!!!

Job Done! Hopefully this will shed some light on identifing the wreck.
As we headed back to port the team starting to discuss what they had seen and found. Paul Smith from Durham City Scuba said he spotted a paddle wheel!!! We all started to laugh and said he was narked off his box. But later divers on the wreck proved him RIGHT!!!

Brent consulted his research and came across and interesting wreck of the general description which matched our unknown which was supposed to be in 40 meters of water. This mark was supposed to be a paddle steamer but when we spoke to our very knowledgeable skipper Alan Lopez he said he had divers on that mark and NO way was it that type of ship! This got us excited and we started to gather information about the mystery wreck, surprisingly there were lots of information to be found on the web!

Along with all the various artifacts, we beleive we have found a significant wreck but we still dont have conclusive proof so further dives will be required. We dived her several times that week to see if we could find the bell. But this is still down there waiting to be found.
We had a total of about 70 hours worth of diving over a period of 5 days, not bad for 1 dive a day. No issuses other than Ian Davisions AP classic hands sets packed in, 1 had no display the other said ‘Calibrate’ at 50 meters. He bailed out on to his side mounts but as the failure occurred on the decent, he didnt require any spare drop bottles from the boat and made it out on the two 11.1ltr stages he carried. Brent Hudson from Narked at 90 couldn’t let a team member drop out of such a great week and shipped him up a Deep Pursuit head the next morning!!! And Ian was back in the water the next day with a new buddy and a state of the art piece of kit.

Its now been a few weeks since we finished out 2010 Tek-week and we have all been busy. None more than Brent and Brian. Further research on the items recovered have indeed given us some clues that point to the identity of our new and interesting wreck. Brent contacted the MOD at Naval command and delved deep into the Glasgow archives and Lloyds register to find what we needed to know. The declassified National Archives discribe a ship lost on July 5th 1941.
The ship was built shortly after the 1900’s in Glasgow and its location narrow the choice of possibles down to only one. Silent Running have identified the wreck of HMS Snaefell. A beautiful paddlesteamer with an illustrious past.

The HMS Snaefell was built as the P.S. Barry and launched on 4th May 1907 by John Brown at Clydebank. Requisitioned in World War I, being stationed in Greece, based in Salonika and taking part in the Gallipoli landings.

P.S. Barry was renamed Waverley in 1926 and sent to the Brighton station replacing Ravenswood after the previous Waverley of 1885 had not been reconditioned after her service in World War One and scrapped in 1919. She saw war service in the Great - War, the Barry’s distinguished war service (1914-1918) has been described as outstanding.

After a period transporting German prisoners, the Barry achieved everlasting fame by sailing to the Mediterranean and carrying troops at the Gallipoli landings. She was used as a transport and store carrier in the Gallioplli campaign.

She was used as a transport and store carrier in the Gallioplli campaign. She was almost lost there when a mine twice struck her paddle wheels but fortunately did not damage her. The PS Barry was the last ship to leave Suvla Bay after the evacuation and later served at Salonika.

After further service in the Mediterranean she was reconditioned by the Ailsa yard in Troon in 1920. In 1926 she was renamed Waverley by Campbell’s and was transferred to the South Coast. Became HMS Snaefell in 1939 for World War II and sent to the Tyne, based at North Shields.

Attended Dunkirk where she was involved in the rescue of her grounded stablemate, Glen Gower, and evacuated 981 soldiers.

Her final voyage was on July 5th, 1941 in which three were killed and nine wounded during a bombing raid off Sunderland.
Team photo: Back row - Left to right.
Mike Jones, Dave Close, Paul Smith, Brian Matthewman, Ian Davison and Brent Hudson. Steven Richardson, Chris Smith and Jeff Darby - not in this photo.

The team where all mainly rebreather divers, Visions, Classic, Camelion and hybrids with Shearwater Predator back up electronics and 1 guy on open circuit twin 12’s.