It led a quiet life, but Britain's newest wreck could soon become its most dived - John Liddiard reports from Stoney Cove
Illustration by Max Ellis
The Stanegarth represents a number of firsts for the Wreck Tour series: our first freshwater wreck; the first wreck I have been able to explore before it was sunk; the first tugboat; the smallest wreck featured and the most recent wreck.
The Stanegarth's propeller
looking out over the port bow
emerging from the forward storeroom onto the bow deck
how often do you see a shiny blue anchor winch under water?
inside the wheelhouse,with trapped air above
With the Stanegarth being scuttled on the evening of 6 June, and it being declared safe for diving early the next morning, only 11 hours elapsed between the Stanegarth disappearing beneath the surface of Stoney Cove and my diving it.
I wasn't quite the first on the wreck. Stoney Cove staff dived first to check that it had settled safely. There had been some concern about whether it would settle upright, and whether it would raise clouds of silt from the bottom of the quarry. We were delighted when reports came back that it was dead upright and visibility was not too bad.
The wreck was declared safe, and Steve Weinman, John Bantin and I got to go in next - one of the privileges of Diver working with Stoney Cove to create this new wreck site.
At only 18.7m long and 71 tons, it is hardly worth describing a specific route round and through the Stanegarth, so this Wreck Tour is more of a guide to particular features.
The Stanegarth lies in 20m. Its buoyline is attached amidships to the towing hooks (1), a pair of heavy black steel hooks firmly mounted above the engine room. Towing cables would be attached to these hooks and pass along the back of the tug over a curved beam (2) to prevent the cables fouling other equipment on deck. This beam is now freshly painted black, but I suspect that in the Stanegarth's working life it would have been rubbed bare and smeared with grease. Pillars (3) either side of the tug would prevent the cables pulling further forward than amidships.
Towards the front on the port side of the wheelhouse is a commemorative plaque (4), unveiled just before the Stanegarth was scuttled. It reads "Stanegarth project by Stoney Cove and Diver Magazine, 6th June, 2000".
The wheelhouse is easily accessible through the open windows, or through doorways to the chartroom just behind it and turning forward (5). Inside the wheelhouse, a bubble of air was trapped beneath the ceiling from the sinking and will no doubt be replenished from divers' exhaust bubbles.
The wheel has been removed and will eventually be on display in the Stoney Cove pub. At the front of the wheelhouse, a loop of chain disappears into two tubes set in the floor. This would originally have been looped over a gear at the back of the ship's wheel. If you don't want to go inside, you can easily see this by looking in through the wheelhouse windows.
This chain is routed along either side of the tug to the steering mechanism at the stern. It loops round a large cam attached to the top of the rudder post, protected by a latticed shelf above the main deck (6).
The rudder post pierces the deck and hull to the rudder below (7). In action, the chain would be pulled by the ship's wheel as it was turned. The chain would pull the cam at the rear of the tug and consequently turn the rudder. In front of the rudder, the propeller is also still in place (8).
Returning above deck and entering the wreck through an open hatch to the aft cabin (9) or hole in the engine room roof (10) enables you to follow the route of the propshaft through to the engine room. There are no obstructions inside. The original 250bhp four-cylinder Rushton-Hornby engine has been removed to make plenty of room for divers to swim through safely.
As with the ship's wheel, one of the cylinders will be cleaned up and displayed in the pub.
While inside the engine room, towards the rear bulkhead are the sea cocks opened to scuttle the Stanegarth; there are two on the port side and one on the starboard side.
Plenty of light enters through empty portholes on both sides of the engine room and ventilator hatches in the roof. If you are new to wreck diving, it's worth having a good look at the ventilator hatches (11). On the Stanegarth they are too small to fit through, but on a larger wreck, keeping an eye out for hatches in this greenhouse shape can reveal an easy way into the engine room.
At the front of the engine room, ladders reach up to an open doorway on the port side, leading to the chart room just behind the wheelhouse (5). On the starboard side of the engine room, a doorway leads forwards to the storeroom below the wheelhouse and extending below the bow deck.
Hung above this doorway, something to look out for is a painting of the Stanegarth during its working days.
The forward storeroom can be exited through an open hatchway upward to the bow deck. On the deck here is the anchor winch with the Stanegarth's small anchor attached to the deck alongside it (12). The hole for the anchor chain is on the starboard side of the bow. Below this a single Plimsoll mark, "VI", showing the draft of the tug in feet.
Look carefully at the bow and wheelhouse and you can see marks where the wheelhouse and tip of the bow have been cut off and subsequently reattached. This was necessary to reduce the height of the Stanegarth on the road trailer used to transport it to Stoney Cove, so that it would fit under motorway bridges.
Above the wheelhouse, the running lights are full of trapped air and have floated free of their mountings, held in place only by their cables (13), red on the left and green on the right. I suspect the air will eventually escape and the running lights will either hang downwards, be re-fitted to their mountings or be mutilated by some moron with a lumphammer and chisel.
The cynics among us will be wondering why such a fuss about a small shipwreck in a flooded quarry.
I have to tell you that I really enjoyed the time I spent on the Stanegarth and have no doubt that many other divers will also enjoy it.
By the time you read this Wreck Tour, hundreds if not thousands of divers will have dived the wreck of the Stanegarth, putting it well on the way to taking over the title of Britain's most dived wreck.
In years to come, many new divers will no doubt remember it fondly as their first wreck dive at the end of their entry-level diving course.
I usually end with a word of thanks to those who have helped me put together the sketches from which Max Ellis works, and helped with the diving side of things. In this case, the thanks must go to Martin Woodward of Stoney Cove, who managed the Stanegarth project.
The Stanegarth was a steam-powered tugboat, built by Lytham Ship Builders Co in 1910 for Rea Transport Co Ltd of Liverpool. She later went into service with British Waterways, so throughout much of the century would have been engaged in towing barges around the country's canals. Converted to diesel power with the addition of an enclosed wheelhouse in 1957, she was scuttled as an attraction for divers at Stoney Cove on 6 June, 2000.
TIDES: Just for fun, I checked with Victoria Jay, who has a PhD in Oceanography. She calculated that the height of a spring tide in Stoney Cove is 0.025mm.
GETTING THERE: From M69 J2, turn east on the B4069 to Sapcote. Just before you get there, turn north to Stoney Stanton, where you turn back towards Sapcote. The new entrance to the quarry is on a few hundred metres on the left. From M69 J1, take the A5 east for a couple of miles, then go north on the B4114 through Sharnford. Further along, turn west on the B4069 to Sapcote. Just through the village, turn north to Stoney Stanton.
HOW TO FIND IT: The Ordnance Survey National Grid co-ordinates for Stoney Cove are 449274, 294035. For the Stanegarth, swim out from the paved waterfront to the red buoy in the middle of the quarry. GPS co-ordinates (degrees, minutes and decimals) are: 52 32.510 N, 001 16.360 W.
DIVING AND AIR: Air and equipment hire are available on-site at Stoney Cove.
QUALIFICATIONS: All abilities.
ACCOMMODATION: Usually a day trip, but overnighters could try the Red Lion in Sapcote, £15 a head.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Stoney Cove, 01455 273089. Ordnance Survey Map 140, Leicester, Coventry & Rugby. Stoney Stanton website blaby.net/stanton. Tourist information, 0116 2998888.
PROS: An easy-to-dive wreck accessible whatever the weather. Closer than the sea for many central England divers.
CONS: It won't get plastered with marine life like a seawater wreck.
Would your club or dive centre like to see its favourite wreck featured here? If you would like to help John Liddiard put together the information for a particular wreck, why not invite him to come and dive it with you? Write to John c/o Wreck Tour at Diver.
Appeared in DIVER - August 2000.