Sheephaven SAC Recent activity and the story of The SS Laurentic

Jan 22 2015 Posted by Office Administraton


Sheephaven SAC club members dived the wreck at Cranford Pier, Mulroy Bay on Saturday morning, in chilly waters of less than 5 degrees Celsius, while air temperature was just at zero. The wreck of the 40 foot wooden trawler lies in 12 meters, some 100 meters from the pierand is great trainee wreck dive. Topside the weather had mended for a while with a winter sunshine that shone brightly of the surrounding snow covered mountains. In-water visibility was quite poor at no greater than 2 meters, which makes finding the wreck quite difficult as a shore dive. Such a dive involves a swim on the surface from the pier and then a hunt around until the wreck is located, making for a fairly decent dive effort for those in the water on Saturday morning.On Sunday morning they went back in the water at PortnaBlagh for the 10.00am snorkel, Once again there was a big sea rolling in, forced on by a fairly stiff and quite chilly northerly wind. Not to be deterred the snorkelers put in a brisk swim around theharbour,


This Sunday, the 25th January sees the 98th anniversary of the sinking of SS Laurentic at the mouth of Lough Swilly in 1917. The loss of the Laurentic was as a result of striking twoGerman mines, left there by U80 under the command of Hedrick Von Glassnapp the daybefore. The Laurentic had been built in Harland and Wolff shipyard, commencing on the 10th September 1908 and being launched on the 29th April 1909. While the 14,892 ton 550 foot ship appeared to have a standard design it benefited from radical technological change. This was the use of a low pressure steam turbine using the exhaust steam from the reciprocating engines to drive a central propeller, in addition to the traditional compound reciprocating stem engines driving starboard and port shafts. The steam turbine was in use in other fast passenger shipping, particularly French ships, but had not been adopted by British shipping lines and the increased speed and improved economy the turbine produced heralded the introduction of this technology into the British fleet.The Laurentic soon gained a reputation for speed and comfort across the Atlantic and became a centre piece in the capture of the notorious murderer Dr Crippen in 1910 when he fled toCanada on board the SS Montrose. But despite his pursuer, in the person of Inspector Drewof Scotland Yard, boarding the Laurentic after the departure of SS Montrose he arrivedarrived three days before Crippen and ensured his capture when he made landfall in Canada.With the outbreak of WWI The Laurentic was commissioned by the British Royal Navy, was fitted with four-inch deck guns and then assigned the task of escort duties on the North Atlantic. In January 1917 she was recalled to Liverpool and loaded with a secret cargo of 43tonnes of gold bullion in the form 3,211 gold bars and steamed out on the 23rd January 1917 for Canada and into maritime history. After the Laurentic sank, taking 354 of the 475 officers and ratings with her, the job ofrecovering the gold began when Commander Damant arrived and commenced divingoperations. Damant and the renowned Professor JS Haldane had developed decompressionschedules that ensured safer diving operations at the 40 meter depth the gold now rested at. Two of the divers tasked with entering the ships strong room were themselves legends indiving namely Petty Officer Augustus Dent, who had survived the sinking of the Laurenticand Dusty Miller who had a unique reputation for successfully entering sunken submarines.After blasting his way through the outer strong room doors Miller discovered the bullionstacked in their distinctive wooden boxes. Despite Miller been at the end of his one hour shift and risking decompression sickness he brought two boxes of gold to the surface to confirmhis find. However the Atlantic took charge of the proceedings as the winter storms rolled in and diving was cancelled until the weather settled. However on return to the site the divers found that the wreck had collapsed in on top of itself and a full 7 years of recovery where required before the it was accepted that all but 25 bars of gold had been recovered, making any furthers earching considered to be uneconomic. In later years 3 further bars were covered leaving 22 bars unaccounted for and an excuse for many a dive thereafter. By 1960’s the wreck was bought by Ray Cossum, who owns theLaurentic today, diving on the wreck is only with the kind permission of the owner. In recent years Sheephaven divers undertook the technically difficult task of recovering one of the ships four-inch guns, which they generously donated to the locality when they installed it on Downings Pier as a poignant reminder of the loss of the Laurentic crew on the 25th January 1917.

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