Of the 53 protected wreck sites off the coast of England there are currently five (and more to come) that you can access via a protected wreck dive trail. For those who prefer to stay dry, there are now also virtual tours of some of these fascinating historic wrecks. The very nature of maritime archaeology, lying at the bottom of the seabed in an area only accessible by those with the right training and equipment, has meant that protected wreck sites have only engaged with a very small number of people.
Over recent years, Historic England has commissioned the development of 13 virtual dive trails on a number of these sites so that everyone can tour a historic shipwreck without getting wet. These virtual trails use new technologies such as multi-image photogrammetric recording, 3D printing of geophysical survey data and virtual reality and augmented reality techniques. These techniques allow viewers to see a clear 3D image of a site. Not only do they bring maritime archaeology to life for the non-diver, they’re a lot easier to interpret than more traditional geophysical survey techniques or photographs taken in poor visibility.
The Norman’s Bay Wreck Virtual Dive
The Norman’s Bay Wreck, off the Sussex coast, was designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) in 2006. The site was discovered by local divers Martin Wiltshire, Steve Pace and Paul Stratford whilst trying to free a lobster pot in Pevensey Bay. Today the wreck site contains a cluster of at least fifty-one iron guns, timber hull structure and various other artefacts including a large anchor on top of a ballast mound. A copper alloy cauldron that was recovered by an anonymous local diver in the 1990s is now on display in The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings.
The exact identify of the wreck is still being researched but the archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the Norman’s Bay Wreck is actually that of a 17th century 64-gun Dutch Warship, the Wapen Van Utrecht which sank during the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690.
A recent paper published in the International Journal for Nautical Archaeology argued that of the ten Dutch ships lost in the Battle of Beachy Head, the Wapen Van Utrecht is the only plausible candidate for the Norman’s Bay Wreck. The Nautical Archaeology Society will continue to work on the site in 2018.
“We have been diving on the Norman’s Bay Wreck since 2010 and have spent a lot of time trying to understand the extent of the site” advises Mark Beattie-Edwards, NAS Chief Executive Officer and a current licensee of the Norman’s Bay Wreck. Mark continues, “This year we are excited to be able to show the world what the site looks like on the Sussex seabed, through the development of the virtual dive. The project team hopes this new work can raise awareness and interest in this amazing piece of underwater cultural heritage.”
Alison James, a maritime archaeologist at Historic England said: “We are really pleased to be able to open up another one of our protected wreck sites to a wider audience regardless of their age or abilities. We hope the virtual trails will inspire more people to take up diving and visit the sites themselves.”
Check out the Norman’s Bay Wreck Diver Trail here.