Wednesday, 22 July 2009

"Rock Paper Scissors" - Final Dives!!!

Today we bid adieu to the John Preston. We have spent 10 dives combing its remains, mapping what is left on the seabed and comparing our record to the survey from 10 years ago that Phillip Robertson published. Each buddy team felt like we had adequate time to take our measurements and drawings in order to write and submit our NAS Part II Paper. The paper is completely optional for the field course, but it seems like a good idea after all the work we put into the project.

Quite by accident, the team took a Roshambo approach to surveying the wreck; Greg and Steve were “rock” (mapping the remaining slates), Duncan, Jordyan, Eddie, and Mary were “paper” (everything wood – remaining timbers, keel, and artefacts), and Lee and Jens were “scissors” (all iron, all the time – anchor, pump pipes, a knee that braced the decks, and an unidentified-sinking-metal-object). We mapped, measured, drew, triangulated, photographed, cuddled, retrieved, and returned the remnants of the ships’ sinking. Highlights included the complete shoe sole made of leather, with the dozens of holes pounded in it by the cobbler’s nails. In addition to antique footwear, Duncan found 4 intact wooden sheaves, and a neoprene dive glove. If you don’t know, sheaves are the circular bits inside a pulley that a rope loops over to spin around. As you likely know, neoprene dive gloves are diving accessories that often get blown overboard. Pics are pasted into this blog.

Tonight we are gathered around the table, typing data into Site Survey software and watching the John Preston take shape on the screen before us. We are taking a copy of everyone’s pictures with us and the Site Survey data file to write our Part II papers once we return to “reality”. “Reality” meaning that place in our lives where 85% of our conversations are not taken up with diving, ideal wreck dives, dive gear, dive trivia, blagging about diving, innuendo and, of course, archaeology that requires diving.

For readers of this blog, I imagine it’s difficult to imagine yourself in this beautifully remote part of Scotland, surrounded by people who feel as passionately about diving and historical wrecks as you do (if not more so!), with nautical archaeology legends who are thrilled to come and teach you. So my advice is this – if you want to do something more with your diving than just look at fish, if you want to be taught to assess a shipwreck for its historical value and be appreciated by professional archaeologists for your time in the field gathering and analyzing information to contribute to the historical record, do the next NAS field course. Or just do it because scallops taste so much better when you gather them yourself off a ship’s timbers. It’s well worth it.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

There is something about (Princess) Mary!

Today we had two dives on the john preston. All the teams beavered away trying to get as much done before the last two dives tomorrow.

My team (anchor and metal) continues our effort, although it cost Jens his camera - yet another thing he's forgotten!!!!

photo: Me(+ shiny suit) and Jens taking measurements

Our supervisor mary, now expects all her minions to undress her as soon as she comes onto the boat after a dive (only joking Mary).

photo:Mary/princess/she who must be obeyed giving out orders

After the dives we again tried out the side sonar equipment , looking at the shuna wreck.

Tomorrow is the last day diving, with another Part 3 course in the evening.


Monday, 20 July 2009


It looks like we've all been so busy that we've not managed to do a blog entry for today. I'll add it to the growing list of tasks we have to complete tomorrow!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Work hard, play hard - the life of an underwater archaeologist

Last night, at the end of the first week of the fieldschool, we finally had a chance to relax and let our hair down at a traditional Scottish ceilidh ("kay-lee") in the local social club. Expecting an evening of culture and folk music, we were somewhat surprised when an ageing rock band took to the stage and turned the volume up to 'very loud indeed'. Nevertheless, it proved to be a great night and everyone had a good time.

Fieldschool participants demonstrating the spirit of international cooperation.

This morning saw us once again onboard Sound Diver for a morning of instruction in geophysics and the equipment used. We learnt about proton magnetometers and side-scan sonar, before putting our knowledge into use and deploying them from the boat.

Steve setting up the side-scan sonar.

The magnetometer detects ferrous objects nearby, which generally means metal from a ship, but can also be from pottery or volcanic rock, so it's frequently used in conjunction with the sonar to detect larger solid objects.

Despite assurances that all the equipment was working, it took several tries before we saw what looked like a lump on the seabed. Apparently this was the wreck, and we would have to calibrate the equipment to view it in greater detail.

Greg checking results from the magnetometer. Still no wreck in sight!

Lee looking at the output from the side-scan sonar. It shows detail of solid features on the seabed.

With everyone well versed in these techniques, we headed back in for lunch. The plan for the afternoon was to dive the Rondo, a wreck from 1935. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated on the way out, so the plan was changed to dive a more sheltered bay. This was a nice relaxing dive and was enjoyed by all.

So another busy day, with a lot of new information and techniques learnt. Hopefully we'll get a chance to put it all into practice later during the fieldschool.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

three times under

Simply a very exciting, and very productive day under and above the still cold and here and there more wavy waters of the Sound of Mull. 3 dives today!!!

Red Mary, our by now quite reddish NAS course tutor, well nose-kissed by the Scottish sun at sea), yesterday managed to motivate a tired bunch of people at the end of the day to indicate preferences for specific areas and research projects within the John Preston wreck site. So four determined teams of two divers, mentally and materially well prepared, started their concrete underwater research projects today. Jens still sticks to semi-dry and survives with an additional wet suit jacket, while certain dry-suit divers still face temperature-problems...

Teams are 1. "Anchor & Metal" ; 2. "Unknown Round Objects" ; 3. "Keel and 4. "Slate Cargo".

The members of the designated four project teams are getting accustomed and matching in their skills, so the research starts to get controlled and to show initial results; more and more happy faces surface after the dives!

The "Anchor and Metal" team still manages to get lost when trying to hit the wreck site off the shot line, but once on site, teams get pretty productive.

Between the two research dives on the JP wreck, a fun-dive on the thesis in 20-30m depth eases the course work pressure with stunning views of cold water corals inhabiting a stunning wreck with divable cargo holds. Great!

In the evening the JP data got collected and motivation for further work on the site is high. However tomorrow is a body battery recharging no-dive-day, we'll learn about marine geophysics. Let's go for it, after some pints tonight a good sleep!

Jens Affeld, on NAS fieldschool day 6

Friday, 17 July 2009

And the adventure really begins...

"And now the adventure really begins" The hardy band set out in good spirits to the John Preston again, although Scotland presented its usual face with wind and rain. The wreck begins to look familiar, although the word "inviting" does not come easily to the lips. Successful orientation has allowed "she who must be obeyed" to form THE PLAN, followed almost immediatley by the highlight of the day - THE SOUP!
The second wave of dives proved to be surpisingly successful......its always a source of concern when all the measurements agree. When "she who must be obeyed" emerged from the water she was surrounded by eager gentlemen anxious to take her kit off. This produced the response "I'd rather have a cup of tea". This sadly this is the story of my life.
Tomorrow is a 7 o'clock start. Where did it all go wrong?

Steve Hadfield

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Swanning about the Duart Castle

Thursday 16'th
Having failed to remember my password I asked Mary to hack me into the blog!

Having had a comprehensive evening lecture on the wreck of the Swan given by Colin Martin it was time to Dive the Wreck! We were told to report to the quay at the 'back of nine', so at 09:15 four of us had assembled and were debating exactly what is meant by 'back of nine'- where does May pick these phrases from?

The boat arrived and we cross-decked with the additional gear for the day - an additional 3 divers joining the rest of the course (Myself being one of them). A journey of 30 minutes in splendid morning sun, took us to Duart Point, overlooked by the small, but perfectly formed Duart Castle.

The plan (yes there is a plan!) was to dive the site - rummage about the kelp see if we could find the cannon and anchor, see if we could identify the ballast mounds and return.

(Its a cannon I promise!)

On the bottom the kelp forest made for an interesting interpretation. Where's the wreck? We rummaged around the end of a marker buoy that we were assured was attached to a cannon. After pushing the kelp to one side it was possible to see an encrusted cannon, now to find the one close by that featured temptingly on our site plan.

Buddy Steve and myself swam about 10 fin-kicks and rummaging in the kelp found the anchor, which was at the far end of the wreck site - this was a much smaller site than we had anticipated!

Some finger-walking took us to another cannon and after a bit more rummaging we decided to ascend.

The next bit of the plan was to get ashore and have a group photo by a new plaque that had been placed by Historic Scotland and was being commissioned by this event. So a short swim was needed to get ashore. After some disrobing and making oneself as presentable you can be in an undersuit we posed for the photos. Now we can hit the cafe!

After sticky buns we toured the castle. As a wreck-bunny I'm not really best placed comment on the buildings - it wasn't wet (what more can I say?).

A swim back to the boat, and someone asked the silly question 'do you want a second dive?' Does a fish like water? So the second dive was to be an orientation dive on the John Preston.

With a bit of current flowing we all jumped in and droped down the shot. The end of the shot was tied in to the keelson, but when we surfaced we have about 6 different locations for where along the keelson the shot was tied in! Guess what the first task tomorrow will be!

Steve and myself swam away fron the main group to get better viz and followed the slope & debris down to the drop-off - and well it would be rude not to have a little look, but this dropped off to well beyond what the grown-ups would be happy with so just down to 23 m. We returned back to the keelson and found the shotline, so time to ascend.

So tomorrow looks like we have to be behaved and do some proper archaeology (may be!).

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Archaeological lasagne

"You can't have any dinner until you've written today's blog!" I didn't quite manage it, but I tried!

Day 3 draws to a close, and the 3 newest holders of the NAS Part 1 Certificate in Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology are feeling rather pleased. It's been a long day, with a lot of new information to take in, but the sense of achievement is well-deserved.

Following on from our previous classroom and underwater work we moved onto a 3D mapping task just off a local beach.

Jordyan setting up a control point near the target - a small plastic boat.

We spent the morning collecting our data, and later we'll enter the data into a computer program which will produce a 3D diagram of the site and any points of interest.

In the afternoon it was back into the classroom for a case study of an archaeology project from start to finish, which helped put everything into perspective whilst highlighting the eternal debate about the ethical factors in securing funding for archaeological projects.

We all jumped at the chance to dive one of the wrecks in the Sound of Mull during the afternoon. The Shuna lies upright in 30m of water, and we tried identifying the layout and some points of interest, whilst enjoying a slightly deeper dive than the beach at 2m!

Througout the day the 3 initial participants were joined by the remaining 4 divers for the duration of the fieldschool, which takes place over the next 10 days, watch this space for more updates!

After dinner we were treated to an excellent talk on the 'Duart Point Wreck' by Colin Martin, who has spent numerous years surveying and investigating the site. Sunk in 1653 and believed to be the wreck of the Swan, its identity has still not been conclusively established. Maybe, as newly qualified NAS Part 1 individuals, we may one day be able to play some role in this fascinating story! The 'archaeolological lasagne' in the title was Colin's way of describing layers of ship decks and sediment!

Tomorrow we will get to dive the wreck and visit Duart Castle, and learn more about the sequence of events which leads us back to the modern day. Keep reading this blog to see what we get up to tomorrow!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Famous Five (but timmy can't swim)

The day dawned bright with the promise of taking our newly found survey talents underwater. Mary, our tutoring guru, promised a terrific shore dive. We looked forward to dashing around to measure the distances between artefacts that she had cunningly planted the evening before at low tide. We heard talk around town last night that a horse had been spotted near the archaeology site. Luckily the rider realized the significance of the site and wisely left our training tools in place.

After bumping onto the beach with a van full of our kit, we were amazed when Duncan had everything and more needed to make a 20 minute shore dive in 2.1 meters of water. Twin 15L tanks of air? Check. A small square of carpet on which to stand to avoid sticking sandy feet into his impressive dry suit? Check. Lee cut a mean figure in his stunning new red trimmed drysuit, while Jordyan struggled valiantly through the neck hole of her suit. A few squirts of lubricant from Duncan's bag-o-tricks, and her head popped through with minimal hair loss.

While the pupils were having fun and games, Mark and Mary made sure we had a sound risk assessment form prepared. All potential safety concerns were mitigated and back up plans were in place (just in case the Coast Guard was called to evacuate us from our site, 50 meters offshore.)

Finally we were in with slates, measuring tapes, and cameras all around. Camera (singular), as it was Mary who hovered around us, waiting for just the right shot of us not dangling by our heels. We drew objects in our crosshatched planning frames and spooled out measuring tape from point to point. Guess who was at the "dumb end" of the tape?

We were a bit cocky on dry land about our surprisingly natural offset and trilateration measurement skills. (especially Lee on the left!) But once we were tasked to practice these skills underwater, we started to believe Mary's warning. It is a bit more difficult to be accurate in scribbling our notes while managing our buoyancy and smiling for the camera.

The swell! The vis! I couldn't find my pencil! You were right Mary, that was tough. What's that? We were in ideal conditions?? Oh no. (we thought we heard Duncan talking to himself)

2D underwater survey techniques were just the beginning. Before we were allowed to eat lunch, we had to run the ropes course on the front patio. We took measurements between control points and artefacts, as well as adding the element of depth to the equation.

And equations it was! After entering the data into Site Recorder, we were amazed as the software corrected most of our off measurements and create a map of the site instantly. It even used simple color coding to point out which data we might want to think about re-measuring - just in case we were interested in being accurate. (Lee to Jordyan: "weren't you 3 meters away, not 3 centimeters?!")

The afternoon found us in the driveway, bagging "artefacts" in the "loch". On with the gloves, squat down over the bin of muddy water and ("trust me! there really are three artefacts" laughed Mary)' on the bottom which we must avoid exposing to air by bagging and labelling before bringing to the surface.

We decided as a group that Lee's bit of slate did not have significant enough archaeological value to qualify to be bagged and tagged, so back in it went. Mary - Please don't follow through on your suggestion that we practice blindfolded!

Jordyan's undated "old bit of iron peg" pierced the plastic bag, so were treated to a lecture about the use of household items in archaeology, including old ice cream containers, cat litter trays, and tupperware.

Tomorrow morning will find us dancing across the sands of Lochaline Beach and dunking down 2 meters for our final practice survey, then a treat tomorrow afternoon! - a fun dive on the Shuna, wrecked in 1913. And now, off to the Club...

Monday, 13 July 2009

.....we'll work it out!

We've just finished day 1 of the field school and boy have we been taught alot!
The day started off with an introduction to NAS and the field school.
The day included talks on surveying and artifact handling, as well as information on the john preston - the schooner we will be surveying.

The dry practical put into practice what we have been taught, but whether it will be as easy under water will be another thing!

Tomorrow we will be doing two beach dives to practice in the sea what we've learned and also finish off the introduction and do more of the part 1.

Looking forward to the dives and the rest of the course.