I will never forget my week of work experience with Wessex Archaeology. It was the week that I got my GCSE results, so it was a very important time for me. When the opportunity arose to go out with the Wessex Archaeology dive team to the Swash Channel wreck, I was delighted. I had been to the exhibition of the wreck, which is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973), at Bournemouth University, so had an idea of what it was about. Six weeks later, I found myself standing on board the Wessex dive boat, steel-capped gum boots and a bag full of cake in hand, ready to go out with the team to this fascinating wreck.
I’ve seen TV programmes where the divers wear huge helmets and talk breathily into a microphone. However, in real life, it is even more impressive (and they don’t talk breathily). Throughout the dive, the diver is connected to the boat by an umbilical cord, which provides all the air and communications. This is controlled by a main ‘switchboard’ on the boat, where the diving supervisor can control everything that goes through the umbilical. Strangely, they didn’t let me touch that! The diver was tracked using an acoustic tracking system linked to powerful pieces of software, which can be, at times, a little temperamental. Using this software, I was able to direct the divers to the wreck and also log points of interest on a map. It was great.
When I saw the Swash Channel wreck exhibition, I felt it held an air of mystery. So watching the television images, whilst floating above the site, was fascinating for me. However, the Swash Channel is disappearing rapidly. This is part of the reason why English Heritage have designated it as a Protected Wreck and why Wessex Archaeology were carrying out work on the site.
I have to thank the dive team – Graham, Niall, Kevin, Jess, Stuart and Nic, and Chris and Jason (the boat’s skipper and first mate) who made me so welcome and explained everything so brilliantly. Also, I must thank Gemma, for her detailed e-mails explaining how early I should be there and what cake I should bring!
Alex Pope – October 2009