Installing the Gun Rocks dive trail

Finally the wrath of the Beast from the East has abated. The trail laying day dawned hazy, but with no wind and no swell. By the time we launched at Seahouses, the sun had even come out.

The day was to entail one dive, two groups (Nic, Darren and Peta; followed by Si and Michael). The first group had the job of cleaning the cannon, the second laying the trail.

We shot the pile of three cannon then headed down. It seems that the easterly storms have taken a bit of a toll on Gun Rocks, with large areas denuded of Kelp, while some of the gullies have piles of dead kelp just floating in them. The trail area has fared better, with most of the mature kelps still remaining. On the cannons, only low growth was present, which was easy to remove. A few red seaweeds but mostly just juvenile furbelows kelp with its knobbly hold fast!

It took just over an hour for the three of us to clean the cannon, to make them all pink and shiny, for we only removed the seaweed and have left the pink encrusting algae in situ as it protects the metal of the cannon underneath. We also found a lost weigh pouch while down… We lost one 2 years ago on Gun Rocks, so good to find it again. During the clearance, a short video of the work was taken:

For the second dive Michael and Si went down with the rope to install the trail. This took a further hour, with lots of knot tying and rope shortening with very cold hands. The water was only 8oC and Si was wearing only 3mm gloves so that he still had dexterity. Brr. But eventually they manged to route the rope under, around and over all of the cannon.

The pile of three form the central point of the trail. Then there are three branches out from this. Subject to feedback this was considered to be the best configuration for joining all of the cannon together in a trail. The rope even goes over a pile of well encrusted cannon balls, so it will be interesting to see if anyone notices them!

After a long dive each, we decided to return to Seahouses, happy I the knowledge that we have finally installed the Gun Rocks dive trail, ready for divers to try on Monday.

When will the easterly winds stop?

We had planned to install the Gun Rocks dive trail this weekend. The RHIB had been checked last weekend, places organised and the trail equipment bought. But sadly we had to cancel due to a 2 metre swell on the Saturday and a forecast for a 1 metre swell and a force 5-6 wind on the Sunday.  The hard boats which sail out of Eyemouth were cancelled, but the hard boats from the Farnes still ventured out. From the people we have spoken too, it was quite rough on the Saturday, but with poor underwater visibility on both days. So in the end we felt, for safety sake, justified in cancelling the installation of the trail. 

We are now looking at installing it over the May Bank Holiday Weekend. Clearing kelp and getting the ropes in on the Friday (the tides work this way). Then updating the maps on the Saturday, getting them laminated ready for use, then having the first group to dive the trail arrive on the Monday afternoon (7th May). We are going to look into getting a hard boat for the Monday afternoon, so we can dive in comfort and fit more than 5 people on. As soon as the details are organised, information will be sent out/posted. 

Out and About in Seahouses

Today we took a big bundle of leaflets up to Seahouses, so that they are available for divers and non-divers to pick up on their travels. Everyone we spoke to was either aware of the project, or very interested in finding out more. So my tasks in the next few weeks are to get in touch with the AONB and to arrange giving some talks on the Gun Rocks Project. 

We did find out, while chatting to people, that Seahouses Pier has a couple of cracks in it, so these are being repaired over the next few months. This is going to mean no access or parking on the pier, and possible times when the slip may be rather busy with works traffic. As we like launching from Seahouses, and the situation with works is subject to change, we will keep in touch with the Harbour Master, to find out if we need to divert to Beadnell for launching or not. 

On Friday, the first of two funding reports were sent to our two main funding sources. The British Sub-aqua Jubilee Trust, who kindly donated £1000, were due the first report on our activities over the last 12 months. The second report is due at the end of April and is for the Heritage Lottery Fund. For all of the people who kindly donated through CrowdFunder, hopefully you are keeping up to date through this blog. In addition to this, we will also upload the funding report, so you can see what we have achieved so far….. all we need to do now is install the dive trail and work out the true origin of the wreck which deposited the cannon. 

The aim is/was to install the dive trail on the weekend of the 14-15 of April. However at the moment the weather gods are playing games. More large swells and easterly winds. It may be that we have to put off installing the trail until early May bank holiday. 🙁  

Gun Rocks Marine Life Leaflets.

The Gun Rocks Marine Life Leaflet has now been printed and folded. All 500 arrived at my office today, so let’s hope there are no spelling mistakes! Links to download can be found on the Downloads page.

For the marine life leaflet we have gone for a similar format to the archaeological leaflet, but have used a different livery, so it is east to distinguish. The idea of the marine life leaflet is to give divers and non-divers a snapshot of the life that is down there, rather than a comprehensive ID guide. As a result the leaflet contains no Latin names for the species, only common ones, and a range of coloured photos. The intention is also to raise awareness of Seasearch, so that if divers want to record what they see, they can do in a structured format. The records submitted through Seasearch are then uploaded on to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), where they  become accessible to everyone and can be used for conservation, or to further our understanding of the marine life in the UK.  

The Gun Rocks site is swept by a strong current on the ebb tide, the cannon are therefore covered in a range of marine life. This site isn’t just for the rust lovers, but also provides for fish and flower lovers too! 

The Gun Rocks Leaflets Have Arrived!

Today the Gun Rocks Leaflets arrived from the printers. They are A4 trifold leaflets containing lots of information about Gun Rocks. The front page has a picture of the all important F from one of the cannon trunnions, and a picture of one of the cleaned cannons, just showing off its cascabel. The inside flap gives a brief summary of the Gun Rocks history, which wasn’t easy to summarise in to so few words!

The inside of the leaflet is set out as an A4 spread, with a copy of the cannon map in the centre, surrounded by photographs and text. We couldn’t show the dive trail on the canon map because it hasn’t been installed yet; but what we hope is that the leaflet will direct people towards this website, where they can download the most up to date version of the map and find out more information about the project.

That’s the purpose of the back page of the leaflet. It is centred around Gun Rocks Further Information and what the reader can expect to find on the website. A QR code has even been added to aid in finding the website!
The next print run will be of the marine critter ID leaflet hopefully. Then we intend to install the dive trail in mid April. As soon as the dive trail is in, we can update the dive trail map and put a downloadable PDF on the website.

The Gallery Page now has photographs on it :-)

Today it was snowing, the wet snow that no one likes, so I took the day to sort out some of the photographs for Gun Rocks. This has resulted in me installing a new widget for photo albums to the website and learning how to use it. Followed by uploading about 100 photographs on to the Gallery Page. There are plenty more to upload, but for now, they give a good flavour of what the project has been about over the last year, and how Tyneside 114 (BSAC) has been involved. Two of the albums are dedicated to the original team from the 1970s. 

If anyone else has any photographs that they would like me to add, then do contact me through the contact form, or directly if you have my email address, and we can put them up in an album. 

Next task is setting up the templates for the leaflets, so that we can have them ready for the setting of the dive trail in the spring (as soon as the weather allows us). If anyone can make leaflets, or has experience of publisher, then do let me know. 

Bill Smith, ashes laid to rest on Gun Rocks

Bill Smith was the Branch Diving Officer of Tyneside 114 back in the late 1960s, and was the inspiration for the club’s subsequent involvement with Gun Rocks.  He lead the first project to investigate and map the cannon in 1970, was the author of the first report on the site, and was immensely proud of being the ‘Salvor in Possession’ of the Gun Rocks wreck.

Sadly, Bill died in 2016.  On a sunny July afternoon, and with Bill’s family watching, members of Tyneside 114 were honoured to take Bill on his final dive and scatter his ashes amongst his beloved cannon.

For more information about Bill, the inspiration behind Gun Rocks and a short video showing divers releasing his ashes on to Gun Rocks, please visit the Tyneside 114 website.

Finally we have the MMO Licence

Finally after much emailing and telephone conversations, the Marine Management Organisation have granted Gun Rocks a licence to put in the trail and marker buoy.

The initial application was submitted on 14th May 2017, after which I was advised that this application could not be evaluated under the fast track scheme and that it would have to go the general route and the cost would be £450 for the licence.

As part of the MMO licence we had to put up a message of intent to create a dive trail.

The MMO then told me that the process would take a maximum of 13 weeks, but as my application was so simple they thought that it would be much more rapid than that. Okay I thought, 13 weeks that’s three months and will take me to the middle of August, at the latest. We should then be able to install the trail in time for the final few weeks of the dive season.

The licence was granted on the 14th September 2017. So took a total of 18 weeks to be processed. Unfortunately the timing has meant that we have now decided to delay putting in the trail until the end of March, start of April 2018. The intention is that by this time, the winter storms will have passed and the leaflets and trail mapping will all be printed and available.

Maybe we should organise a grand opening in 2018? 🙂  In the mean time there are still lots of activities to do in the name of Gun Rocks, one task is for me to finish building this website…..

Wreck Appreciation Course

Part of the Gun Rocks funding was earmarked to increase the knowledge of archaeological survey techniques for club members.  Although some members already had some Nautical Archaeological Society training, many didn’t and we chose the BSAC Wreck Appreciation course as a good starting point.  While this course focusses on wrecks where there is a recognisable vessel and not just cannon, the basic techniques for mapping and recording the artefacts are the same.

Classroom based skills, day 1 of the Wreck Appreciation Course.

The course consists of a day of theory and dry practical lessons, followed by a day of diving and putting the techniques into practise on a suitable wreck.  We spent Saturday 19th August hidden away in the lecture room of the Diving Centre in Boldon; learning all about how to locate wrecks, what we should expect to find and how parts of the wreck should fit together, what law governs activity on wrecks, and how to conduct a practical survey.  After many hours discussing kit configurations, and practising how to use tape measures and distance lines in silence, we felt prepared enough to venture into the water the next day.

Too much to handle!

Sunday 20th turned out to be a good day for diving: a slight breeze and a bit of sun.  Boarding Spellbinder, we set off out of the Tyne, heading for our target wreck: the Lonclara. PLA Hopper No 20 was a Port of London Authority hopper barge, which was converted to a cargo steamer and renamed the Lonclara in 1916.  On 4th January 1917 it hit a mine laid by UC-31 and sank off Hendon Rock (Sunderland) with the loss of 4 lives.  It now lies in 2 parts in a minimum depth of 15 metres; and we chose to dive the stern section, where the boilers, engine block, propeller shaft, propeller and rudder are all still easily recognisable.

The 2 survey teams jumped in, and spent dive 1 working out how the wreck was lying, where each part was in relation to the next, sketching the sit, and considering how best to accurately map and measure a section of the site.  After a surface interval spent drawing plans for the measuring phase, and working out how best to carry the collection of tapes, lines, slates and weights; the 2 teams were ready for the real work.

Happy ladies on the practical skills day of the Wreck appreciation course.

A little after slack, there was a greater depth and a bit more current this time, but there followed 45 minutes of frantic line laying, measuring and recording; with each team taking a different part of the wreck.  Back on board Spellbinder, the usual Spellbinder lunch of chicken curry and rice disappeared quickly as we headed back to the Tyne and the 2 teams each compiled their plans; which conveniently overlapped.  Success!  With some adjustment to the scale, the 2 plans matched up where they were meant to, and we had the start of an accurate plan of the site; it takes more than 2 dives to map a whole site, but we had shown the techniques worked and would have produced a plan of the entire site over a series of dives.


Whilst we won’t be mapping a ‘normal’ wreck on Gun Rocks, the techniques learned will be ideal to assist in accurately mapping the locations of all the cannon on the site.

And another new cannon?

On July 30th 2017, we took the club rhib out for what we hopped would be a concerted weekend of diving on Gun Rocks to clear some of the cannon of seaweed, to photograph them and to work out how much rope we needed for the trail. Unfortunately the weather gods weren’t so obliging with us, nor was the moon god with her tide timings.

We did manage to get two dives on Gun Rocks on the Saturday, clearing a couple of cannon and looking at the best way to get the trail laid. This was Paul’s first dive on Gun Rocks, so he was given a full guided tour of all of the cannon, including the new find from last month by Simon.  It was all a bit swelly so it made taking photographs very difficult and the visibility wasn’t great.

Admiralty Pattern Anchor covered with life and one side broken.

On the Sunday, Si and his buddy did their first dive on the Gun Rocks cannon, clearing the way for the trail to be laid as soon as the MMO licence is granted and checking that the marker buoy was safely attached. (Something we can put in for 28 days without a licence).

After their dive, Nic and Paul caught slack in the sound. This dive is always a challenge, partly because you never quite know how long slack will last and secondly because the sea bed in the sound is quite featureless, making navigation quite difficult.  We located seven cannon in the sound, all remarkably deteriorated, on the flat sea bed. We then found an Admiralty pattern anchor, which appeared to have had one side snapped off. Took lots of photographs of this.

A new cannon found close to the slope up to Gun Rocks.

Then…. then…. on the way back towards the shallows of Gun Rocks we found an 7th cannon lying in the sound!! It is positioned at the bottom of the slope, just below the main cannon site. Due to the swell and wind I couldn’t mark it, but took photos and tried to fix in my mind where it is, so I can find it next time.

With Si’s find last month (the 14th cannon on the Gun Rocks site) and this find, that takes to number of cannon across the two sites (Gun Rocks and Staple Sound) to 14 +7 = 21 recorded cannon. The new finds also link the two sites more closely – there now is probably not more than 20 metres between the canon originally found in the sound and those on the shallow Gun Rocks.

It just seems that every time we dive this site we find something else. One day maybe we will solve the mystery of the ship which sank with such a range of cannon on board.