St Dunstan (Weymouth / Lyme Regis)

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Location 50 38.291N, 002 42.062W
Description: Bucket-dredger, 200ft long. In service as mine sweeper.
Cargo: n/a
Voyage: Out of Portsmouth, heading down channel.
Depth: 31 m to sand & shale seabed.
Sunk: Lost on 23 September, 1917. She was sunk by a mine laid by UC21. Two escort trawlers, Fort Albert and Horatio were with her at the time. Two lives lost as she turned turtle and sank within four minutes of the explosion.

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The ‘Dunstan’ was almost certainly built 1894 by Lobnitz Coulborn and Co, Renfrew at around the turn of the century, only to be sunk by a mine on 23rd Sep 1917 with the loss of two lives. This vessel was originally built as a dockyard bucket dredger but was operating as a minesweeper when she went down.

The wreck lies in 30m of water, with a very heavy list to port. The stern and midships section of this vessel has collapsed onto the port rail, leaving a tangle of dredging buckets, gulleys, lifting equipment and tunnels. The bow section of the vessel is intact but upside-down, allowing easy access to the twin engines and boilers, which are situated immediately behind the chain locker.

An unusual feature of this vessel is that the boilers and engines are in the bow, leading many to believe that this is only half of a ship – the bow ‘half’ being located elsewhere. This machinery layout allowed the bucket assembly to be lowered through the middle of the hull and a hopper to be included amidships.

From the bow, the diver swims over the chain locker (complete with chain) and comes across the two main boilers. Behind these lie the two steam engines, which are now totally upside-down. Access is easy to the engine and boiler area, and the diver can swim around both engines (watch out for the circulating pump on the inside of the port hull!) and emerge behind the remains of the bucket gantry.

Immediately behind the engine room is the collapsed remains of the ‘gantry’, which now lies spread out on the seabed to the East side of the wreck. At the end of this, you can still see the giant cog wheel, which would have driven the top of the bucket chain via cogs directly from the engine room.

Continuing aft, the divers swims over lengths of copper steam pipe and the top edge of the bucket chain, which now fringes the wreck on the seabed to the East side. Towards the stern, the winding engine and drum now stick up out of the wreckage, with various brass valves and scrap littering the area. This would have been used to lower and raise the end of the bucket chain through the massive doors in the bottom of the hull.

In the stern of this vessel, two iron propellers can be seen sticking out of the jumble, and it’s possible to enter the port prop shaft tunnel and swim through a large section of the wreck, past the spare propeller and large anchor, emerging through a hole in ships bottom amidships. The upturned bottom of the Dunstan has signs of huge hinges, which housed the doors to the hoppers. Access is possible although progress is restricted due to large cogs and machinery.

Best launch site is Westbay (5 miles), although the harbour dries 2 hours either side of Low Water (LW Devonport). Lunch can be obtained at the cafe in West Bexington, which is the small village directly inshore from the wreck. The wreck can be dived at any state of the tide, although a strong current can flow over it on springs. Best times to dive are HW Dover -1 hour and HW Dover + 5hrs. These slack periods DO NOT coincide with high or low water at Westbay. Vis in this area is usually very good, even when the vis on wrecks further offshore is poor.

Research into “Lobnitz’s” records reveals that a vessel of this name was never built by them, but they did build a number of dockyard bucket dredgers around that period. It is possible that the vessel was renamed after launching. Lloyds Register of shipping has no details of this vessel in its 1916 or 1917 listings, leading me to believe that the vessel was renamed shortly before she was sunk. A steam regulator recently recovered from the wreck confirms the builders as ‘Lobnitz’ but no evidence yet dates or names this vessel.

Added January 2001 – Further research has revealed a breakthrough! The St Dunstan was built by Lobnitz Coulborn & Co, Renfrew in 1894. She was built as a dredger with yard number 420. A similar vessel, the St Martin (Yard No. 421) was built in the same year for Tilbury Docks, probably to the same, or similar design. I’m now hopeful of finding a photo of either of these vessels.

Diving: A difficult wreck to shot. The only bit that really sticks up is the keel under the bow, rising a good 5m from the seabed at 29-31m. Lots of interesting machinery to examine, once you get used to everything being upside down.

Pros: A different kind of wreck, and one of the less-dived in Lyme Bay.

Cons: The St. Dunstan is only a small wreck and it doesn’t take many divers to make it feel crowded, but there’s lots of interesting fitments to see and if you like going inside, there’s loads to see.

This wreck is an old bucket dredger which was being used as a mine sweeper when she hit a mine on 23rd Sept 1917 and sank in about 30m not far off the coast in Lyme Bay. She is a 200ft long iron vessel which now lies upside down on a gravel sea bed. Both props and rudders lie on the sea bed at the stern and the prop shafts are clearly visible. Along the length of the upturned hull you can see the doors where the dredging buckets would have been deployed. I have always enjoyed entering the wreck at the stern and following a prop-shaft forwards to emerge on the port side about amidships. It is then possible to re-enter the wreck through the dredging hatch and swim forwards to the engine. You can actually follow the prop-shafts all the way to to the engine although it’s a bit of a squeeze through some mangled girders to actually get into the engine room. On the way you pass a number of the dredging buckets and can see the fittings where they would have been attached to the chains driving them.

The engine room itself is spectacular with many control wheels still in place. The mechanism of the huge engine is clearly visible. Dive Dorset reports that the wreck may be twisted with the engine the right way up as indicated by the gauges. I don’t think that this is the case and the gauges have now been removed anyway so it’s much harder to tell. From the engine room, it is possible to squeeze between the two huge boilers and emerge in the bow section which is very pretty with light filtering everywhere and hundreds of fish. There’s piles of chain but no sign of the anchors. Outside and on the starboard side there is a huge collection of machinery including one gear wheel which is about 8ft in diameter which I guess used to drive the dredging buckets.