Drone Footage Reveals South Devon’s Forgotten Shipwrecks



A team of scuba divers who took to the air with video drones to trace 60 shipwrecks lost off the South Devon coast have won a royal honour.

British Sub-Aqua Club diver Steve Clarkson and his team won second place in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Sub-Aqua Prize, after they turned wreck detective and also used magnetic imaging to trace the exact positions of wrecks.

Brixham marine archaeologist Steve and fellow divers from other BSAC clubs including Totnes have been working on the Start Point project to trace wrecks between Start Point and Prawle Point in South Devon.

As much of the South Devon coast is inaccessible, they used drones flown at low level to photograph potential shipwreck sites, creating stunning footage of the coastline.

Among the wrecks they photographed was the tea clipper The Gossamer, which sank in 1868 with the loss of 13 crew and passengers, including her captain and his wife, who he had married just a month earlier.

The team used magnetic imaging to pinpoint the exact location of sites, before sending scuba divers down to verify the facts first hand.

Using this method the team re-discovered the wreck of The Dragon, a British West Indiaman ship that sank in 1757 along with its cannons.

When the wreck was discovered, lying beneath two metres of sand, the team had to wait for a big enough storm to shift the sand and expose the wreck and what turned out to be 13 big cannons.

However, as the Dragon should have only had 10 canons, Steve and his team believe there might be a second wreck in the same location.

They also found the wreck of the HMS Crown Prize lost in February 1692 and De Boot, a Dutch East Indiaman sailing ship that went down off Prawle Point in November 1738.

The project also mapped for the first time the wreck of The Meirion, which smashed into Gara Rock near Prawle Point on its way from Sunderland to Bombay carrying a cargo of coal, in 1879.

Mr Clarkson, 69, began diving in 1966 and launched the Start Point project with friend and fellow marine biologist Neville Oldham.

Neville sadly passed away, and Steve has carried on his work to discover the rest of the wrecks along the coast where they loved to dive.

Steve said: “The drones meant we could locate potential sites from the air and photograph them underwater using a polaroid lens.”

“However, they are only of limited use.  I have found many more potential wreck sites by using a magnetometer.”

“Sometimes it can be an old discarded boat engine or other debris we find but, as in the past, it could also be a cannon or other important discovery.”

Steve got hooked on water thanks to his regular swims in the Zambesi River just above the Victoria Falls, says it’s those human stories behind a shipwreck that drives him on.

“We have discovered various cannon from the Dart entrance to Hope Cove and are still trying to tie them to specific shipwrecks,” he said.

“Having taken readings using the magnetometer I then download the information onto a computer and spend hours and hours laboriously going over the data to decipher what we have, and identify any potential wreck sites.”

“I can then decide on which sites to put divers down to have a look and see if we have discovered another wreck site.”

BSAC chief executive Mary Tetley said: “Steve’s appetite for knowledge about the ship wrecks he discovers and in particular the human side of the inevitable stories his research uncovers is amazing.”

“He has added a great deal to our understanding of our amazing underwater heritage.”

Did you subscribe for our daily newsletter?

It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe!

Source: Torquay Herald Express