Shining a light on west coast’s long forgotten shipwrecks

Probable wreck of the Monreith in Goat Well Bay, Kirkcudbright  recorded during Samphire fieldwork

Probable wreck of the Monreith in Goat Well Bay, Kirkcudbright  recorded during Samphire fieldwork

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A major project has seen dozens of wrecks of boats and planes discovered and recorded by professsional divers, writes Sam Shedden

Archaelogists have discovered dozens of shipwrecks during a three-year project working with communities along Scotland’s west coast.

More than 100 maritime archaeological sites were revealed, including metal and wooden shipwrecks, flying boats and other aircraft, cannons, cannonballs and ancient anchors.

A group of previously unreported Second World War flying boats in the Firth of Lorn in Argyll was also recorded.

The discoveries were all part of project ‘Samphire’ (Scottish Atlantic Maritime Past: Heritage, Investigation, Research & Education), which involved archaeologists from Scotland and Australia working with residents from Cape Wrath in the north to the Solway Firth in the south of Scotland.

The project, funded by the Crown Estate, worked by crowd-sourcing information about possible archaeological sites in the marine environment through meetings with harbour masters, scallop divers, recreational divers, fishermen and others. The locations identified were recorded before the most promising were visited by teams of volunteer and professional archaeological divers.

Wreck sites recorded include the Yemassee, an American cargo ship lost in 1859 on Loch Bharcasaig on Skye, HMY Hersilia, an armed iron naval yacht lost in January 1916 in Loch Torridon and the Sheila - a ferry sunk in 1927 and the salvage vessel lost in attempts to recover it, also in Loch Torridon.

The project began at the end of 2012 led by a team of maritime archaeologists based in Edinburgh at Wessex Archaeology Coastal & Marine and carried out in partnership with the Flinders University of South Australia.

John McCarthy, of WA Coastal & Marine, said: “This project reveals the wealth of knowledge of maritime archaeological sites held within local communities.
“The knowledge gained during the project will help to enrich our knowledge of Scotland’s maritime heritage and this will help us to manage and protect this resource for future generations.

“We could not have done this without the enthusiastic response from local people; everyone from divers to beach combers.

“The span of this project over three years has allowed us to build up a great momentum and to develop a network of contacts along the entire west coast mainland.

“Although the project is now coming to an end we are already looking for ways to apply the lessons we have learned through this project on a more permanent and national scale”.

The Crown Estate’s Asset Manager, Paul Bancks, added: “What has made the Samphire project special is the way it has harnessed local knowledge to inform how and where investigations took place.

“It’s been fascinating to see the discoveries the marine archaeologists have uncovered, with many finds reminding us that leisure, trade, and even conflict have all been played out on the waters around Scotland for many hundreds of years.

“As an active manager of around half of Scotlands coast, The Crown Estate funded this work to continue to build our understanding of the assets in our care and the communities who live and work on them.
Data gathered during the project will be archived with Historic Environment Scotland and also be made available through their Canmore website.

The newly discovered sites will join the 4,500 known wrecks stretching from the Shetland Islands to the Solway Firth that already litter Scotland’s coastline.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) has already charted and mapped nearly 18,000 maritime losses in Scottish waters from the 17th century to the present day.

In recent years telecommunications technology has been used for shipwreck exploration to great effect.

Devices such as fibre optic ropes, acoustic cameras and underwater robots that can travel thousands of miles are creating a renaissance in deep sea discovery in Scotland.

Last year underwater “Seagliders” were devised by the Oban-based Scottish Association for Marine Science, with the organisation claiming the kit signalled a “major change” in the way oceanographers collect information. The 6ft-long vessels can spend months at sea collecting data.

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