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Mark Milburn’s Cornish Wreck Ramblings, Part 9: ‘Thar be gold!

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There are always stories of lost gold, ships or planes carrying gold, lost at sea and never found. Some are just stories, some are not. Around Cornwall we have hundreds of stories, ranging from buried pirate treasure, to planes laden with gold heading off to foreign ports.

One such story is the tale of the Ballarat. The Ballarat was an 11,120 ton P&O liner, on it’s way from Melbourne to London with Australian troops. It also had a cargo of copper, lead/silver alloy, antimony ore, gold bullion and general cargo. On the 25th April 1917, she was torpedoed by UB-32. It did not sink until the following day, allowing all the 1752 on board to be saved.

Over the years it has been subject to salvage, mainly for it’s copper and lead. Commercial salvors, Risdon Beazley located the wreck in 1954 but no salvage was recorded until 1985, although it had been buoyed for salvage in 1960, which was lead and copper ingots. The 1985 salvage operation reported that the Ballarat had been previously heavily salvaged. There have been many technical dives on the Ballarat, with dozens of reports of port holes and crockery being sent in to the Receiver of Wreck.

The original inventory stated the ship was carrying 500 tons of copper, 250 tons of lead/silver alloy and 2 tons of gold. What happened to the gold? Is it still there? Has it been removed secretly? Lying in 90m of water, we may never know for sure.

Another story is of a plane, leaving the St Eval airfield during the hours of darkness. It was supposedly carrying gold to buy fuel for our ships in foreign parts, crashing not long after taking off. Divers have continuously looked for aircraft wrecks in the area, hoping to find the two tons of gold said to have been on board. That would have been a lot of fuel. Official records only list small training planes working from St Eval, nothing big enough to take two tons of gold.

Eventually we tracked down someone who was stationed at St Eval during WWII. He worked on the small training aircraft, servicing and maintaining them. He recalled a hanger that was kept closed during the daytime. He said he once caught a glance inside the hanger, through a small door and there was a larger plane inside. He couldn’t recall what is was, may be a Dakota or something of a similar size. A Dakota would have been big enough to carry two tons of gold. Is there any truth to this story? Hard to say unless someone finds the gold. We can’t find any official records though…


Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba at www.atlanticscuba.co.uk

Mark Milburn is the owner of Atlantic Scuba in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, and is an SDI/TDI/NAS/RYA Instructor and a Commercial Boat Skipper. Although often referred to as a maritime archaeologist, he prefers to call himself a wreck hunter. Find out more about Mark and Atlantic Scuba by visiting www.atlanticscuba.co.uk.

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TRAVEL BLOG: Jeff Goodman Dives SOMABAY, Part 3

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somabay

Today we are diving one of the outer reefs from an inflatable. As we reach the bottom, a reef octopus eases its way into the cover of a small crack in the coral while displaying it’s incredible ability to change colour. They are arguably one of the most charismatic of reef dwellers and it is always exciting for me to simply hover and watch. I would have spent longer and waited for it to come and investigate me, but as dive time is limited we wanted to move on and find a turtle.

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The waters around Somabay are well protected and hold a rich variety of marine life. The reef edges are thriving colonies of coral and shoaling fish, while nearer the sea bed plenty of wildlife is still to be found.

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Then we located the turtles. They are very used to divers and so show little concern when slowly approached. In fact occasionally one will come over to see what you are doing. There is always huge excitement when diving with a turtle. The shear thrill of sharing a moment with another species.

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What a fantastic way to finish a wonderful few days diving and I would like to thank SOMABAY, ORCA DIVING and THE BREAKERS for making my stay such a good one.

I had a great time, with diving everyday either on the house reef or on one of the offshore reefs by inflatable or larger day boat. Orca diving provided high quality equipment and facilities while the staff were all very friendly and welcoming. The Breakers was right on the coast with nice rooms, good food and once again friendly staff making the whole trip a real pleasure.

somabay

Soma Bay covers an entire peninsula and is home to several resorts as well as residential  compounds.

As well as scuba diving, Somabay caters for many other sports and activities, and so is perfect for families as well as individuals and/or groups. And of course there is always time to lay peacefully on the beach under the Egyptian sun.

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Book your next Red Sea dive adventure with SOMABAY! For more information, visit www.somabay.com.

Stay at the Breakers Diving & Surfing Lodge when you visit! For more information, visit  www.thebreakers-somabay.com.

Find out more about ORCA Dive Clubs at SOMABAY at www.orca-diveclubs.com/en/soma-bay-en.

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TRAVEL BLOG: Jeff Goodman Dives SOMABAY, Part 2

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Day three of my trip to Somabay and we were spending the day on the Lady Christina and diving on the wreck of the Salem Express.

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Diving wrecks for me is always one of mixed emotions. The excitement of diving a wreck is more than often tempered by the thought of loss of life when she sank. The Salem Express was a passenger ship and a roll-on/roll-off ferry travelling from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Safaga, Egypt. Most passengers were of poor class travelling home from their holidays while around 150 people were returning home from their pilgrimage to Mecca.

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The ship struck a reef and sank within 20 minutes. Passengers were trapped below deck and the ship was filled with fear and panic.

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The wreck area is strewn with personal belongings from the crew and passengers such as a transistor radio and a flat iron for clothes. A diver at sometime has put them in a prominent place to be seen.

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Tragically only one life boat was launched while the others went down with the ship. More than 600 men, women and children lost their lives here.

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It’s a stark reminder that the sea can be unforgiving and so when we dive on such wrecks we should do so with humble regard.

Returning to the surface, shoals of fish are gathered under our boat and seem to be welcoming us back into the light.

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Back at the Breakers I sat in the dining area with a beer and a very good meal while my thoughts still remained with the day’s dive on the Salem Express.

Check in for part 3 tomorrow for Jeff’s last day of diving with Somabay on the off-shore reefs looking for turtles.

Book your next Red Sea dive adventure with SOMABAY! For more information, visit www.somabay.com.

Stay at the Breakers Diving & Surfing Lodge when you visit! For more information, visit  www.thebreakers-somabay.com.

Find out more about ORCA Dive Clubs at SOMABAY at www.orca-diveclubs.com/en/soma-bay-en.

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