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Monday, 11 December 2017
 
 
The Baychatton dive - 1970: An epic from the archives - Guildford's first visit to a 200ft wreck of Print

The S. S. Baychatton began her life in Glasgow during January 1906, being of steel hull consisting of 1 steel deck surmounted by a spar deck amidships with a forward mounted square bridge. Her net tonnage being 2,418 and gross tonnage, 3,758. Her hull construction being of simple straight stem design with counter stern and deep framing along the most of her length and divided by 6 steel bulkheads which were cemented for strength. The vessel also had a straight keelson.

The S. S. Baychatton was torpedoed and sank and settled upright, off Prawle Point, near Salcombe, Devon in approximately 200 feet of water. Her Captain, by the name of Captain S.A. Cornwall, and most of her crew perished. On the 53rd anniversary of the sinking, members of the Guildford BS-AC made a visit.

The following are accounts taken from the Four Seasons Journal, an early club magazine, compiled by John Hassell in 11. Oct., 1970.

Clive Cotton:

We were the first pair to reach the "Baychatton". I felt slightly tense, as I did not know if we were anchored to the wreck or the depth at which we would hit deck. The light penetration was very bad, we could only read a depth gauge with a torch.

Comments:

  • For deep diving (i.e. over 120 ft.) a Fenzy would be compulsory.
  • For a very deep dive (150 ft. it should be a very clear day (i.e. for light penetration).
  • It would be a good idea if people were compelled to wear brightly coloured hoods and fins. (i.e. yellow - orange)

Bob Wanstall:

The dive differed from normal shallow dives in 2 ways:

  • The mental processes appeared to be slightly slower than normal in that the time elapsed very quickly.
  • The gloom presented problems in distinguishing one's companion from other divers. No other symptoms were noticeable nor any other problems or difficulties met.

The dive was looked upon in the same way as any dive over 100 feet and the problems of narcosis and bends were realised.  No feeling of apprehension or nervousness was felt before or during the dive, but at no time was it thought light of.

Andy Smith:

Weather overcast with Force 2 wind. I was last to dive with John Wright, as we had been instructed to unhook the anchor. We reached the deck of the ship in a normal manner without having any mishap. There were several divers decompressing on the rope with others ascending.

When we reached the deck of the wreck, we examined our torches which were causing trouble. I pointed out to John how my cheap, flooded, Woolworth's torch was working, whereas John's expensive diving torch was not. Our depth was 50 meters (165 ft). We then examined how the anchor lay and John swam towards the side of the ship, whilst I swam to the centre of the ship. I then dropped to about 4 ft below deck level and returned, remembering that John wished to go down the side of the ship. I signalled that I did not wish to go down the side, I was just beginning to feel slightly fuzzy - not to the extent that it impaired my faculties if I concentrated hard. I signalled that I was starting to suffer slightly from nitrogen narcosis. We returned to the anchor and started to disentangle it. I realised after a few moments that I was being more a hindrance than a help. The rope was entangled and the last thing I remember was starting to swim up the anchor which did, in fact, pull me down deeper because I remember having to clear my ears. The other thing I remember is increasing the buoyancy of my Fenzy, which I am told, I immediately vented. I next remembered about a quarter of the way up the ascent which combined normally with decompression.

D. De Voy:

Preliminary points:

Having had some "sinus" trouble the previous day, I took a Mucron tablet with breakfast, which was a light one.

On the boat I told John Hassell that I might take a couple of minutes to get to 50 ft because of my sinus problem. Because J. Ashbee and V. Mulcaster consumed so much air during their first descent to find the boat, I resolved to swim down as steadily as possible

John Hassell and Bob Wanstall went in while I was still fitting my weight belt and mask and Pat Dean made another cycle dropping me in about 5 - 6 yards from the buoy

There was no sign of John Hassell and so I waited on the buoy line at about 15ft and another party came down the line and overtook me. I followed them down steadily letting the rope slide through my hand. I was holding my torch and hacksaw in my right hand and holding on with my left Due to the number of divers shaking the rope. This made it difficult to read my depth gauge, even at about 70ft. I continued descending amid a constant stream of small bubbles. I could see lights below and knew I must be very close. By now it was pretty dark. I suddenly realised I was feeling dizzy. There was no gradual dawning of this – I was suddenly aware of it. I carried on down a few more feet and came to the wreck, or rather within sight of it. I then decided I was alone and I would go up. I remembered the old story of "handing one's mouthpiece to the fish" – there was definitely no desire to emulate this. I kept a firm grip on the rope as I ascended to about 120 ft. The narcotic effects had worn off and I wondered about going and having another try but decided against it as I was alone. I went up and decompressed for about 2 minutes at 10 ft.

There was not feeling of "rapture" as Cousteau has described or any real elation, the main sensation of being one of disorientation as if I had had several pints too many. In retrospect, I wonder whether this could have due (in part) to the long and slow descent (head down) in low visibility where there were no reference points to up or down, surrounded by small bubbles in an otherwise uniformly dark environment.

John Hassell:

I start my report on Saturday evening, when I had a good meal and 1½ pints of cider and slept from 1200 'til 08.00 Sunday morning. After a good breakfast, we went down to the quay and boarded our dive boat (10.00 am) -Merlin II. Pat Dean said that we would be able to dive on the "Baychatton" today as he could see his sightings. On our way out to the diving location, the divers discussed decompression and our partners for diving. On reaching the site, there was a deathly silence over the boat. Pat Dean ordered, "Diving in 10 minutes".

Bob Wanstall and I were the third set in over the side. We went into clear water, gave the OK signal to each other and descended. We stopped at100 ft, checked to see that all was well and carried on. At about 150 ft, visibility darkened We met Brian Coope and Tony Elsom, who were on their ascent.

Seeing Brian had a torch, I asked for the use of it. As we carried on deeper with the torch it gave me a feeling of warmth and well being in the darkening sea. At 165 ft the "Baychatton" loomed up like a big grey ghost. It was in fantastic condition. Bob and I then swam over the superstructure and down over the side, towards the seabed. All was going well. On touching the seabed we checked our gauges, and viz.  Depth 205ft, air capacity 90 cu ft. My reflexes were noticeable very much slower.

On ascending from the seabed, I passed a diver who was ascending - I thought it was my partner Bob. He signalled me to re-descend as I had a torch and wished to check his gauge on the bottom. It was not until we were on the seabed and by the torch light did I realise that the diver was Lloyd Evans and not Bob as I thought. I returned to the deck of the wreck to find Bob. I stopped on the anchor line alone for a while surveying the scene. With the light from divers torches, at varying depths, the scene looked like a lighted Xmas tree. Now having been down for some time and my air was running low, I terminated my dive and started to ascend the anchor line. On reaching 20 ft, I at last found Bob, who was decompressing. We exchanged signals and continued decompression. 5 minutes at 20 ft and 5 minutes at 10 ft. I then finally terminated my dive.

Suggestions for deep dive:

  • Fenzy life jackets - a must
  • Buddy line - most essential (reactions much slower and in my case I would not have lost Bob and at over 150 ft, visibility is very poor.
  • Torches - essential

A. E. Elsom:

Activities prior to dive 11th October 1970

Two dives, 125 ft and 30 ft completed satisfactorily, although crack over left eye was received when entering water on first dive. During the evening good meal was eaten and the following drinks were consumed:

  • 1 pint Lager & lime
  • 1 glass white wine
  • ½ pint Bitter

Retired at 11.30 and slept soundly until 08.30.

Activities on day of dive, 11th October 1970

Good breakfast of egg, bacon, tea and grapefruit consumed.

The Dive:

Descended to 165 ft fairly quickly and confidently reached deck of wreck and suddenly began to feel very dizzy. Signalled to my companion that I was going to ascend and did not remember very much until I reached 80 ft when I realised that I was ascending too fast, and so began to slow down, at 60 ft. I was fully aware of my senses again, and surfaced with no apparent ill effects. Carried out further dive at 30 ft satisfactorily.

Comments:

The cause of illness felt at 165 ft was probably nitrogen narcosis, which could have been aggravated by:

  • hit on head received during Saturday dive
  • drinks consumed on Saturday
  • too fast a descent causing over - breathing

B.P. Coope:

After leaving the beat, my buddy, Tony Elsom, and I swam to the float and proceeded down the line. Tony went first and I was close behind. The water felt fairly warm, visibility about 40 ft. I was watching my depth gauge fairly frequently as the descent seemed to last a long time, I remember we were at 140 - 150 ft when the water darkened considerably and I found my torch a great help. The black water seemed to close about me. (definitely no for divers who don't like the dark) and eventually some grey shapes appeared below me which proved to be part of the deck. I was just about to give the OK signal to Tony when he pointed upwards and sped up the rope, and I followed as quickly as I could, catching up with him at about 70 ft. where we met some other divers descending. We then surfaced and Tony boarded the beat: after checking that he was all right. I decided to accompany another pair down and descended again to the deck which was 165 ft on my depth gauge. I went over the side but on checking my air, decided not to go to the bottom and so joined up with a group of divers at the rope.

We ascended the rope and stopped at 20 ft for the first decompression stop then on to 10 ft for the second, I must say it was a very pleasant experience to just hang there with the surface in view, after the oppressive blackness of nearly two hundred feet.

The maximum depth I descended to was 180 ft. and, apart from a general sluggishness I did not feel any symptoms of narcosis. I had on that day a very inexpensive watch, which was only tested to 160 ft. It did not leak but it seemed to slow down considerably, the second hand hardly moved in comparison to normal. Whether it was a symptom of depth on the watch or myself I don't really know, but after the dive the boatman told me that a diver on a previous trip had a touch of the "narks" and swore his watch was going backwards.

In my opinion, there are two "musts" for deep diving, as well as your standard equipment (which obviously must be in top condition).

  • A Fenzy type A.B.L.J. - the reasons for this are obvious, the quick lift at depth, the emergency breathing, and also I am sure when you are used to one, they must help you be a little bit more relaxed (these jackets must obviously only be used after training).
  • A powerful torch (not less than 3 cell). Again it is very much more relaxing in very dark water to be able to see; It is also very much safer, and your position can be seen from some distance.

Lloyd Evans:

D.O. John Hassell paired me with Clive Cotton. After John Ashbee and Vic Mulcaster had failed to locate the wreck on the first descent down the anchor line, the line was re-sited and Clive and I went first.

With Clive leading down the rope, we took six minutes to reach the deck of the vessel. Visibility about 10-15 ft, very dark and almost no sea life. The wreck was in a reasonable state of preservation but there was no question of an attempt to recover an alleged brass trunk in the wheelhouse, as it would have be most difficult to find the wheel house itself. Clive and I stayed within reach of each other and gave very frequent signals.  We covered much of the aft part of the wreck - that part severely damaged by torpedo. The deck depth was about 165 ft. We entered the main hold but without a torch found it rather uninteresting. On the deck I found a large piece of ceramic tile - Clive later said he thought this was scrap iron, so difficult was it to see clearly and form any set opinion.

Having covered the width of the wreck, I signalled Clive that it would be unwise to descend over the side of the wreck furthest from the anchor line and he agreed. Up to this point all was going well and everything was under control.  As time was fast running out and our agreed air limit of 60 atmospheres all but reached (both of us were consuming air at the same reasonable rate), I signalled to Clive that we would descend to the sea bed below the point the anchor line was attached to the wreck. He signalled agreement.

I saw at the point of descent a torch beam of another diver. This diver was with a buddy. Dropping over the side of the boat I led Clive to this torch beam and saw it was held by D.O. John Hassell. He and I exchanged signals. I requested he follow me with his torch beam to the sea bed - about 10 ft below the point I encountered him, so that I could use his light to check the depth. Laying my wrist on the sand I recorded 205ft. The beam then went away. At this point Clive, who was above me, apparently mistook John Hassell and his partner, for me and as they ascended he followed them.

Utterly without warning, I suddenly saw the ship spinning away from me "as if someone had pulled the plug out of the basin". It spun wildly down a vortex taking with it, in my mind, several divers who were just in my sight near the anchor rope. I felt slightly bilious and sensed immediately a feeling of despair that I might not get back to the surface.

With my Aquastar depth gauge held immediately in front of my mask, I concentrated like nothing else mattered on the needle and began to swim. I remember clearly a feeling of incredibility rather than panic - in fact no panic at all really as there was nothing left to fear, the situation was complete - it could only get better. I realised that as I had a degree of narcosis what on earth had happened to Clive. Why had he not seen me fin quickly past him? (In fact Clive had inflated his jack and was very long gone!) I kept on concentrating on the unwinding depth gauge needle and wondered firstly what would have happened if I had no needle to concentrate on and, secondly, could I believe what I was seeing.

At 150ft exactly, I remember my head clearing and my depth of vision increasing. 20ft further up, I was quite all right and stayed there for a minute looking for Clive or hoping to see another diver to warn him that possibly Clive had not got off the bottom. I remember feeling deeply upset that I had had no ability to help a fellow diver upon the onset of narcosis had he needed me.

There was certainly no metallic air taste, no warning and no feeling of well being. Nor was it a question of self-inducement. It was a total, sudden chemical change - vaguely like a balance upset when cold water sometimes enters the ears. I had been down exactly 11 minutes, including about 15 secs, at 205ft. I found Clive on the anchor line at 20ft and we exchanged signals! Once back in the boat after a ten minute decompression, I felt sick for a few minutes and was shivering extensively.

Equipment:

  • Twin Draegers on polypack
  • Mistral demand valve
  • 5 piece suit Bosk equipment
  • Beaufort C02 life jacket
  • Rolex submarine watch
  • Aquastar depth gauge.

Conclusions:

  • The dive was exhaustively discussed and planned.
  • Divers chose their own buddies, which was good.
  • Diver/buddy identification absolutely critical at this depth. There must be a way of identifying ones partner. Clive mistook me for a diver who had, in fact, had a single cylinder.
  • Below 180ft divers with no experience at this depth must be at hand or roped to their buddy.
  • No diving should be undertaken below 150ft without one having a life jacket which will inflate at depth. Even if this is not made compulsory I would never again dive below 150ft without one.
  • I found my watch and depth gauge essential. That is to say, better than the non-needle type of depth gauge as I used the needle to concentrate on for my ascent. However, with a self-inflating jacket on the next dive the gauge as an escape measure may not be so essential.
  • Everyone must write a report and rules formulated from these reports.

It speaks incredibly well of my training at Guildford that, narcosed and abandoned at 205ft, I reached safety without undue trouble and in a logical manner.

John Ashbee:

A preliminary dive was made down anchor line by myself and Vic Mulcaster, to find if anchor was not on wreck It was lying on sand. The actual depth was not known as visibility to poor to read my gauge. The last reading I was able to take was at 150ft. The descent and ascent took 7 minutes and I consumed 30 ATS. The sensation after 150ft is that the circle of vision is decreasing and an awareness that extreme caution should be used and that the air is being used fast.

The anchor was raised and relocated. Lloyd Evans and Clive Cotton made a second check descent. When it was apparent that the wreck had been anchored on, I made a second dive.

The distance seemed to be rather less than the exploratory dive, when the deck was reached. The wreck first appears as white girders showing through the dark. Again a sensation that the circle of vision is decreasing and again the feeling for caution. There is a slowing of the "think" process but not marked. Movements are made slowly to conserve air. We dropped over the side to the seabed, but with no apparent change in stimuli. We stood on the seabed for about 1 mm, shook hands, observed that the white ghost look was caused by barnacle type encrustation. Also saw small sea urchin on the side of wreck. We returned to the deck. We found a rope loosely attached to railing and Vic Mulcaster started to investigate but someone on the buoy rope flashed a light and we abandoned the rope to make sure it was not an emergency. The torches that other divers used give a feeling of comfort. I definitely did not have a feeling of well being. The low visibility has more effect than the depth. I would have been happier had I started the dive with full bottles.

Equipment used:

  • Twin Draegers pumped to only l50ATS (normal l80ATS)
  • Deep-star demand valve (no change in breathing facility due to depth)
  • Fenzy ABLJ recommend for this type of dive
  • Watch Sindace memo master (no leakage at this depth)
  • Depth gauge capillary tube type (small grads.  At end of scale, disadvantage for this depth)
  • Final Air after decompression. Nil!
  • Total Time Both descents to ascent 10 minutes.

The depth was taken on the gauge of Lloyd Evans (recently calibrated). With the aid of a torch and confirmed by John Hassell (Diving Officer).

John Wright:

Knowing we were limited with our air, we went straight down quickly to 40 metres, then rather more slowly through a darkening haze towards the deck that we reached at 50 metres. My torch was a little bit queer giving only a little glimmer of light and Andy Smith's cheap Woolworth's packed up at around 45 metres. Thus our visibility was mainly natural light giving about 5 metres maximum.

As we had to unravel the anchor, we could not then go far from the rope to explore in case of missing it on the way back. My reactions were definitely slowed down and I could observe myself being slow to reach a decision. I left Andy with the anchor (as he was reluctant to stray) and explored one of the nearest hatches. I could see the way in and another way out, so down I plunged. In the gloom I could just make out what appeared to be the boilers, though this seemed strange so near the deck I touched 54 metres then swam up through the other hatch. An interesting point was that I discovered that hatch much smaller than the other even thought they had both appeared the same on entering. As it was I just managed to get through and join Andy again.

After looking at air, we decided it was time to disentangle the anchor and this after much gesticulation and mental effort to work together we managed to do. I folded the anchor, Andy took the weight and we started to swim to the port side of the ship with the intention of dropping it clear of superstructure. Because I was heavy I blew a little air into my jacket to neutralise, then I noticed I still seemed to be sinking. I realised Andy had dropped the weight, was somewhat "glassy-eyed" holding on to the exhaust valve of his life-jack with one hand and the rope with the other. I was holding anchor, weight and Andy and we were all sinking down into another hold.

I couldn't be sure he was not aware so I took the rope out of his hands and let the anchor and weight sink. He still appeared "glassy" but he tried to turn the knob on his jacket and nothing happened. He then replaced his hand on the release. I grabbed him, blew my jacket, and following the rope went straight up to a decompression stop at 20ft where we met Brian Coope. Then Andy seemed to lose his blankness and surfaced normally.

In conclusion, experience from this dive shows that, regardless of possible narcosis, anyone using an A.B.L.J. (which is a must at depth) must be well practised in its use because reactions arc slower and (a) if you are slow in tuning off the air you will shoot up unnecessarily (causing danger to yourself and buddy), or which is possibly worse because you are heavy at depth (1,)you release too much air all at once and the jacket becomes useless and you sink when expecting to rise!

Victor Mulcaster:

We arrived at the dive site at approximately 11.45 a.m. on 10th October 1970. For 15 minutes there was a deadly silence while Pat Dean located the wreck. We have arrived at the dive site approximately 30 mins too early for slack water, so time was taken in kitting up and tea.

The first two divers over the side were John Ashbee and myself OK's were given and we descended down the 250ft of anchor rope at a fairly steady pace down to 200ft. The visibility on the seabed was such that a gauge could not be read without a torch.

Arriving at the seabed, no wreck could be seen.  I suggested a circular search around the anchor. John said no and indicated the surface. We then ascended back to the large buoy on the surface to be picked up.

On the second attempt, the wreck of the Baychatton was located and diving commenced. John Ashbee and myself being the last pair to dive. We again descended down the anchor rope and at approx. 165ft the ghost like shape of the Baychatton loomed up.

Air being short, we made straight for the main deck and then over the side onto the seabed. Once there I had a quick look around, shook hands with John Ashbee and proceeded straight back onto the main deck. Back on the main deck I saw a piece of rope and following it back found that it had a chain and anchor on the end. At this point I was signalled by John Ashbee to return to the buoy line, where a torch was being flashed by one of the divers, in case this should be a signal for assistance. As all was OK I had a last look around before ascending to begin decompression.

Subsequently, I took a fresh bottle and returned to release the anchor and again made appropriate decompression stops.  My reactions and thinking were slower than usual and a feeling of security was felt on seeing the torch lights of the divers. I would not do a dive of this depth(205ft) without an A.B.L.J., one dive with twin Draegers containing approx. 75cu.ft. Deepstar demand valve and "Fenzy" life jacket. All my equipment was satisfactory.

De-briefing:

The Group compared the manual deep diving rules with the procedure and events of the dive itself and concluded the following:

  • One watch per pair - preferably per diver
  • One torch per pair - preferably per diver
  • Each diver to wear and be experienced in the use of a "Fenzy" type life jacket. It was suggested the club purchase the £9.00 ascender kit for adaptation of an ordinary life jacket, thus enabling club training of divers in the use of such jackets.
  • Rule 11 of the manual suggested attaching a line to each diving group from the bottom of the anchor rope. This was rejected in the case of wreck diving though accepted on sand. For wrecks it was suggested that divers have "buddy-lines". After discussion, the following rules were agreed for submission to the committee:
    • No diver will dive to an expected 200ft maximum with a diver with whom he has never dived before
    • If possible those paired for a 200ft dive should have dived together the day before.
    • If both or one of a pair of divers is descending to 200ft or thereabouts for the first time, the pair MUST have a buddy-line.
  • Lines are recommended for all dives to 200ft.
  • A torch would be attached 20ft up the anchor line by the first pair. Suggested this be a club torch suitably adapted to give a horizontal "lighthouse" beam. It would remain on throughout the dive, could be detached in emergency and would be recovered by the last pair up.

Divers Qualifications:

  • BSAC 2nd Class - this requirement to be absolute, and
  • Good experience, in the S.O.'s estimation and at the D.O.s discretion at over 100ft in the diving season in which the deep dive is to be undertaken
  • Relate this section to 4 above in Equipment Rulings.

Diver Preparation: (Suggestions only)

  • A total abstinence from wine and spirits the night before. Limited beer intake;
  • A chest X-ray or other medical satisfactory report during the past 12 months.  Divers could take advantage of Mass X-ray units visiting companies or areas.
  • Progressive depth preparation rejected as impractical. Decided that this "Manual Ruling" was in any event no more than a guide. However, 20Oft dive not to be undertaken on the first day.

Diving system:

The discussion arose under Rule 12 of the manual, which required the formulation of a dive system. The golden rule is that there must be two stand-by divers fully kitted and ready to dive in an emergency. These divers will remain on the boat.  Ten only will dive.  The factor governing which system to use is the length of time of slack water. It was of course accepted that on either side of slack there is gradual improvement or deterioration only.

If a limited slack water period, there will be one dive, all divers will kit up and enter the water as close to each other as possible. Decompression will be on the anchor line.

There will remain in the boat two second class intermediate divers, who will not dive at all but will be stand-by divers.  These two will be preparing themselves for participation in the next deep dive and their place will be automatically reserved on this dive.

If there is sufficient time for two dives, the first group will consist of six divers, the second group four divers. During both dives there will remain on the boat two "intermediate" stand-by divers.

In all cases the two stand-by divers will be responsible for seeing there is available spare air and medical equipment.  One of the pair will be responsible to the boat skipper and will despatch the other diver in the event of trouble.

When using a boat hired for the first time, the D.O. will explain the system to the boat owner. If the boat owner rejects it the dive will not take place.

Lloyd Evans:                I would like to convey my thanks to Ann and Ian Morrison and the diving team for their kind assistance in helping me edit this magazine.

The Team

John HassellJohn Ashbee
Vic. MulcasterJohn Wright
Lloyd EvansClive Cotton
D. DevoyBob Wanstall
Andy SmithBrian Coope
Tony Elsom 

 

Pat Dean- - Skipper of the boat "Merlin II", used on this expedition

Deap Daving:

I am of the oponio that deap daving hos obsolutely no uff'ect on the blain. My thonking is mur dare thin bifur the dave. Only i cant remomber who i am

 
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