Bronze Bell Wreck Dive
CHERISH have commissioned MSDS Marine to undertake inspection, survey, investigation, recording and monitoring of the Bronze Bell wreck, a previously monitored and designated wreck site in Welsh waters. This project is taking the work of CHERISH under the water to the Bronze Bell protected wreck site. The work is building on previous survey undertake by recreational divers and other archaeological contractors with a five-day diving project taking place in September 2021.
The survey will seek to uncover any evidence of change to the wreck, with a particular focus on change caused by climatic changes such as increased storminess. Daily dive video diaries from the team will update the public on the work as it takes place. During the project there will be opportunities to visit the teams outreach trailer based in Pwllheli to find out more about the work and see what the team have found.
The team are producing daily dive diaries, scroll down for the daily blog and video diaries.
Day 0 – Sunday 12th September
On Sunday the MSDS Marine team, accompanied by a film crew, travelled to Barmouth to meet one of the original team who found the site in the late 1970’s. Geraint Jones was full of enthusiasm and knowledge about the site and was able to share his experiences with the team. He is very keen that his knowledge of the site is passed on to a new generation of divers ready to further understanding of the wreck. He shared his experiences on the site with us and was able to update the team with his observations of how the site changed over the twenty years he was diving the wreck site. He believes that the species seen on the site changed over time and he believes this is due to climate change and the ocean getting warmer.
We were shown around Barmouth Museum by two of the volunteers who open the Museum to visitors. The Museum is not opening in 2021 due to Covid-19 but the team hope to be back open at Easter 2022. The Museum houses a fabulous collection of material from the wreck including the Bronze Bell that gave the wreck its name and many fascinating items from swivel guns to a tiny fly that came out of a concretion. Many of the finds were conserved by Geraint and their current condition is testament to his skill.
We were also joined by Ian Cundy of the Malvern Archaeological Diving Unit (MADU) who has been involved with the site for many years. The team visited the beach at Tal-y-Bont and were able to look out to the site which is only a few hundred metres from the shore. Ian then joined the MSDS Marine team at their accommodation in Pwllheli and spent the evening sharing his site knowledge and enthusing the team with the wreck.
By the end of the day the team had gained a much better understanding of the wreck site, and its history, and were keen to get out to dive the next day. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Geraint, Ian, Alan and John for their time and willingness to share their knowledge and experience.
Day 1 – Monday 13th September
The team met the diving support vessel, SeeKat C, at Hafan Pwllheli. Skipper Jon Shaw had brought the boat round from Amlwch the previous evening. The equipment was loaded onboard, and the team set off to site. The wreck is located over an hours ride from Pwllheli which is made longer due to the Sarn Bardrig reef which requires a longer journey round it to avoid going aground.
The team have all managed to dive on the wreck to get an orientation and to start to understand the wreck as well as completing a number of tasks. The wreck is in 10m of water which is relatively shallow and allows the divers to spend up to 232 minutes on the bottom without the need for any decompression stops. The first dive team of Tom and Jess explored the whole site and started to take high quality video footage across the wreck that will be used in the outreach trailer this week as well as on school visits.
Jenny and Simon formed the second wave of divers and had been part of the team from Wessex Archaeology who surveyed the site in 2004. Their orientation dive enabled them to make observations about how the site has changed in the last seventeen years as well as to collect sea water samples for pH testing. The team will be taking many samples for testing this week as part of the work to collect baseline data to enable future researchers to monitor the effects of climate change. The final dive saw Tom heading back into the water with Felix. Felix is an underwater photogrammetry expert and on the dive managed to gather footage of the marble blocks that form the cargo mound. This evening he will be starting to process the footage and the team will be sharing this over the next few days.
Evenings are a busy time on a dive project; cylinders need filling, paperwork needs completing, videos need editing, photogrammetry needs processing and tomorrow’s jobs need planning. Stay posted for more from the team tomorrow as well as the first video diary.
Day 2 – Tuesday 14th September
Our second day diving the wreck saw glorious sunshine which was a nice change to the previous days rain and was a nice start for the team who had stayed up processing data into the early hours of the morning. The wind died down too from the previous day and three waves of divers achieved almost six hours underwater on the wreck. The shallow nature of the site allows divers to spend longer periods on the seabed than on deeper sites.
The first wave of divers saw Tom and Jess, a professional underwater camerawoman, start to take photographs at key points on the wreck, replicating those taken by Wessex Archaeology in 2004 as well as establishing new monitoring points. The second dive team of Simon and Felix continued the photogrammetry across the site. Having completed the cargo mound the previous day the team now focused on an area with multiple cannon and anchors present. The final dive team saw Tom and Jenny start to undertake a survey of marine flora and fauna that is present on the site, as well as collecting more pH samples. This baseline data will be important for monitoring the effects of climate change on the site in years to come.
As we prepared to lift our anchor the boat was surrounded by a swarm of barrel jellyfish ranging from tiny ones just a few centimetres across to huge ones over half a metre long.
Day 3 – Wednesday 15th September
The third day on the site started off very well with the chance to open up the MSDS Marine Heritage Hive trailer to the public to talk about our work on the wreck. The trailer has lots of activities for children to try as well as a TV showing our daily video diaries. It also acts as a shore based information hub to bring our work underwater to a wider audience and to give people the chance to meet the team and ask questions.
Out on the wreck it was another fantastic day for weather but we had slightly worse conditions underwater with decreased visibility which meant our divers could only see shorter distances. Despite this we still managed six hours in the water! The first team to enter the water, Tom and Jess, completed the monitoring photos that will enable the condition of the wreck to be compared to the visit by Wessex Archaeology in 2004 as well as acting as a future baseline for further monitoring work. Our divers have spotted a number of monitoring tags from the 2004 survey around the site. Tom also completed a number of measurements of cannon on the site to help update the site plan and to refine its accuracy. Towards the end of his dive Tom spotted a plastic bag on the seabed that is evidence of marine plastic pollution on the site.
The second dive team completed two tasks; Felix completed the photogrammetry and Simon took pH samples and helped the surface team calibrate and check the diver tracking system. All the divers on the team are tracked using the Sonardyne Micro Ranger system. Mark, our diving supervisor, was able to direct Simon from the surface to aid Phoebe in her work on the GIS and tracking. Simon was tasked with swimming to a number of locations around the cargo mound to calibrate the system and to check the systems accuracy. We were really pleased to be able to show the system was operating with excellent accuracy.
The final wave of divers saw Jenny and Jess diving on the site to further our knowledge of the marine flora and fauna that are present across the wreck. This is an important study that will allow us to start to understand how climate change might affect the site in future. Species spotted include numerous tom pot blennies, cuckoo wrasse, various types of seaweed and a possible cup coral.
Day 4 – Thursday 16th September
Our fourth day on the wreck saw us joined by a team from Channel 4 news. They are interested in the work of CHERISH in relation to climate change and were keen to find out more about our work on the Bronze Bell wreck site. They interviewed members of the team and found out more about our work. Watch Channel 4 news next week to see if you can spot the team!
Felix continued his photogrammetry modelling across the wreck , capturing thousands of images in an area to the east of the site that we needed to complete the model. He was accompanied by professional underwater camerawoman Jessica Mitchell. Jess was tasked with capturing high quality footage of the survey in progress as well as with photographing the wreck itself. Felix will be doing the initial processing of the photogrammetry this evening but the final models will take a number of weeks to process once the team are back in the office with dedicated processing computers.
Tom, Simon and Jenny undertook detailed recording of the cannon to the west of the cargo mound. Understanding the exact dimensions of the cannon will enable the team to find out more about them, including helping us to understand their date and where they were made. Our diving protocols mean that only two divers can be in the water at any one time. Tom and Simon did the first dive and then Jenny and Simon did the final dive of the day.
Yet again we achieved six hours bottom time today. This may not seem like a lot but the logistics of a diving project mean that this is actually a really good achievement by the team. The weather is looking very unsettled tomorrow and we are unsure if we will be able to get back out to the wreck for our final day. This is incredibly frustrating for the team but we are confident we have achieved a significant amount in the four days we have spent on the wreck so far.
Day 5 – Friday 17th September
Our final day on the wreck was defeated by the weather! High winds meant we were unable to get the boat out of Pwlhelli marina to get to the site. The team had anticipated this yesterday but it is always still frustrating when you are unable to dive. Despite this set back the team have achieved all our priorities for the week and more! Over the coming weeks we will be able to share a photogrammetry model with the public so that more people can see how the wreck looks underwater.
The day was not a wasted one though as we had a busy programme of school visits and outreach planned. Some of the team visited a local primary school, Ysgol Gynradd Abererch, to talk about underwater archaeology and the work of CHERISH on the Bronze Bell wreck. We were impressed by the enthusiasm of the children and the questions they asked the team. The children all had the chance to try on diving equipment and finished by making a Bronze Bell inspired badge to take home to remember the visit. The school are following the visit up this term with a programme of work looking at local shipwrecks.
Other team members opened the MSDS Marine Heritage Hive trailer. The trailer is named the Heritage Hive after a comment from a member of the public that the team look like busy bees in their distinctive yellow and black t-shirts. We were able to talk to passing members of the public about our work this week and the work of CHERISH on other sites. We were delighted to talk to a diving club from Southport who visit the area regularly and we have encouraged them to apply for a licence to visit the wreck. Visits to the site from groups like this could be a helpful tool for future site management.
The final team members continued editing video footage into the final dive diaries and processing the photogrammetry. The photogrammetry processing can take weeks to complete. This weeks dives have resulted in over 7,500 images that have been taken across the wreck. We have covered an area 46m x 30m – a substantial area of the site! Felix will be continuing the processing once he returns to his office next week.
Tomorrow we will be heading home to our MSDS Marine base in Derbyshire but there is still plenty more work to do for CHERISH on the site. Stay posted for further dive diary videos, models and reports!