Whilst all eyes are focused on the Solent this week for Cowes Week 2018, for the first time the non-diving public can explore under the Solent and enjoy the fascinating protected historic wreck site that lies in Thorness Bay off the Isle of Wight.
As the sailing boats taking part in Cowes Week sail along the gleaming waters of the Solent, some 21m below lies a very different sailing vessel. The Thorness Bay wreck is the remains of a mid to late 19th century sailing ship. Historic England has commissioned a virtual wreck discovery trail which includes 3D models of the wreck site and diver videos and photos, bringing to life the remains of the entire wreck.
The archaeological evidence previously gathered by divers indicates that the site is the remains of a wooden merchant sailing vessel. Judging from the extent of the visible remains, the vessel was c. 27m long and had a breadth of 7-8m. The presence of a large iron windlass, and other iron deck equipment indicates that the vessel was at least in use during the mid-late 19th century. At present the site has not been identified although one of the current licence holders for the site has found either a letter ‘G’ or a number ‘6’ in the vicinity of the bow which may be part of the name.
Until now all of this was concealed beneath the waves, hidden to all but a small number of divers. However, Historic England commissioned Pascoe Archaeology Services and MSDS Marine to create a virtual trail of the wreck to allow divers and non-divers alike to explore this fascinating site.
Working with ArtasMedia and CyanSub, the trail was created using a combination of archival evidence, geophysical surveys and underwater photos and footage. This evidence has been pieced together to bring the site to life and give the public a glimpse of what it is like to dive the wreck.
Hefin Meara, marine archaeologist at Historic England, said:
“We are delighted to have been able to bring this fascinating mid to late 19th century wreck to life. The project has shown that underwater archaeology can be accessible to the wider public, allowing us to dive in to history from the comfort of our own home.”
Daniel Pascoe, Pascoe Archaeology Services, said:
“One doesn’t often get the chance to dive a mystery shipwreck, especially in the Solent, but the Thorness Bay wreck is exactly that. In a deepish, and dark, part of the Solent exposed features of this unknown wreck appear ghostlike in the divers torch beams. I hope this trail conveys the mysterious atmosphere of the wreck and ignites interest, which will encourage others to investigate its identity and finally put a name to this forgotten wreck”.
Mark James, MSDS Marine, adds:
‘I have been involved with this site since it was first surveyed by the New Forest National Park Authority after it was brought to our attention by local boat skipper Dave Wendes. I am delighted to now be able to help share this site in such a unique way with none divers”.
Thorness Bay is a Protected Wreck site and can only be visited with a licence, available from Historic England: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1402103
A physical dive trail on the seabed for visiting divers will be launching later this year.
Visit the virtual wreck tour at https://www.cloudtour.tv/Thorness.