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Technical Divers Explore WW1 Wreck

Technical divers have for the first time explored the wreck of a British warship, which sank after being accidentally rammed by its own side during the First World War.

HMS Nessus sank off the Orkney Islands in 1918, and has rested at a depth of 68m for the past 90 years.

Research of naval records by wreck expert Kevin Heath and Andy Cuthbertson, skipper of Orkney dive charter boat MV Jean Elaine, pinpointed a location for the warship off the coast of Wick in Caithness.

A team of technical divers led by Leigh Grubb, from North Wales, dived the wreck, which has three distinctive 4in guns. The team, made up mostly of rebreather divers, said it was quick to identify the HMS Nessus in visibility of around 15m.

‘Andy shotted the wreck, and as we went down, everything was quite dark and gloomy,’ Grubb told DIVE. ‘I couldn’t find the wreck, then looked up to see it right in front of us. It is upright and 90m long. It has collapsed in on itself every 10m or so – really quite regular intervals. It was like a sweet shop – there was so much stuff on it, we didn’t know where to look. There were lots of interesting portholes and crates of jars.’

The divers recovered various items from the wreck, including Royal-Navy-stamped crockery, the ship’s wheel, navigation light and compass, and shell cases dated 1901, 1902 and 1912. A jar was even found containing pickled cauliflower.

Grubb, who has taken part in a number of wreck-finding expeditions and was part of the team that found the HMS Duke of Albany off Orkney, said sea and wind conditions allowed two dives on the wreck in November.

‘We have done quite a few wreck-finding projects with Kevin and Andy,’ she added. ‘We had been really lucky with the conditions all week. We weren’t completely sure about the state of the tides because it was so far out, but when we got in it was pretty much slack.’

The Nessus was returning to Rosyth naval base with another destroyer, HMS Maenad, when both ships hit a fog bank while zigzagging to avoid enemy U-boats. The Maenad accidentally holed the engine room of the Nessus, leaving it unable to steam.

While on tow to Scapa Flow, the weather deteriorated and the Nessus sank. All of the ship’s crew survived.

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