Sunday, November 6, 2011

NAS Conference - 5th November 2011

This weekend was the turn of the NAS annual conference, time for NAS members and others to get together, have a few drinks, congratulate associates on some excellent work over the past year and listen to some absorbing presentations from a whole range of speakers.

Friday night was a chance to meet up with the tutors and fellow trainees from the courses I've been on this year and introduce myself to other members whose path I'd yet to cross. Friday was also the start of an ongoing campaign from Pip, newly elected to to the NAS Sub-Aqua club (NAS SAC) committee, to try and recruit me to the club; unfortunately the commute from Cambridge to Portsmouth is a bit much for the average dive.

The Saturday was packed full of speakers covering everything from recently launched diver trails on the protected wreck of the Coronation to some deep water survey work in the Baltic prior to laying of a gas pipeline, closing with a peek at the new Mary Rose Museum to whet the appetite for next year when it opens and everything that can be imagined in between.

The presentation of a number of awards also took place and congratulations go to Adopt a Wreck award winners Weymouth Lunar Society for their work on the Lost Torpedoes of Weymouth and to all the nominees and eventual winner of the Keith Muckelroy award, David Strachan, for the publication on the Carpow logboat.

The range of conference speakers certainly gave me a lot to think about as well as giving me and some friends from the East of the country some thoughts on what to do over the next year as well as longer term inspiration.

The new NAS SAC rib outside the front door gave Pip a chance to try out his sales job on a number of other occasions, but I held him off for now!

After the conference was out for the day it was back to the Royal Maritime Club for a few games of skittles, I was paired with Ken Pavitt of Big Anchor Project fame, and despite a few too many beers we made it to the Grand final, only losing out to the 2009 winner, Mike Williams, and his partner Ash Black.

Friday gave me a chance to take a look round the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, something I haven't done in over 15 years, unfortunately I wasn't quick enough off the mark to have got on the Mary Rose mid construction tour but those who did were deeply impressed.

Overall a fun and informative weekend and one I'm already planning on doing again next year.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

17th-18th September 2011 - Underwater Photography Part III

I've always been a bit sceptical about putting diving and photography together, possibly as a result of buddying keen photographers who seem to forget everything but the picture they are taking, maybe just because I like to take in the dive with my own two eyes or it could just be down to an expectation that my lack of photographic ability above the surface would be mirrored below the water.

Having said all that when it comes to nautical archeology I can see the obvious benefits of having an record of the survey sites and artifacts for examination on the surface so last weekend saw me headed down to Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth for an introduction to the dark art of underwater photography.

Run by Kester Keighley and Matt Cass, both experienced and dedicated photographers with assistance from Rachel Quirk the course had eleven trainees eager to learn about and practice the principles of applying photographic skills in the wet.

My fellow attendees were a mixed group from those with little theoretical knowledge or practical experience like myself to others with huge amounts of knowledge and far more understanding of the subject than I ever expect to have.

We started with the basics; exposure and depth of field and what adjustments were needed to aperture, shutter speed and ISO level to compensate for the hostile underwater environment.

All this was new to me and started to explain why dedicated photographers need to carry so much paraphernalia in their search for the desired image.

Equipment selection was covered next which gave us a chance to see what we were all using and for our tutors give us some history and their views on the subject.

This was closely followed by a session on lighting, a vital, but often overlooked factor underwater.

After a quick lunch break it was time to put some of the learning into practice and it was off to the pool to see if we could get it to work for real.

With several planned sequences from scaled artifact photos, archaeological skills, macro shots and diver images there was a lot to cover.

Despite some less than perfect efforts we all managed to take some credible efforts ready for examination the next day.

The Sunday morning gave the tutors a chance to review our pictures, identify areas for improvement and and suggest possible techniques for combating our biggest issues - focus and lighting for me.

The next session moved us on to some of the more archaeologically specific areas of photography such as photomosaics, artifacts and correct logging procedure.

Dryside practice in some of the new skills and equipment followed giving me a chance to use a tripod for the first time as well as learn just how useful an inverted wastepaper basket can be for a photographer!

The afternoon was dedicated to post photo editing and enhancement to get the most from our raw product and make sure that we could get the most data possible from our digital files. I certainly never realised just how powerful a tool photoshop can be.

Although I'm not completely converted to the use of cameras underwater I can now certainly appreciate just what goes into a well composed and technically difficult photo and I now have the basic knowledge and skills to allow myself to experiment and practice and obtain the pictures I want for the future.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BSAC Wreck Appreciation Course

A couple more photos from this weekend's course courtesy of Mark Beatie-Edwards.

My dive buddy Simon and I practicing survey techniques...

...and putting it into practice underwater on our chosen wreck

Sunday, September 4, 2011

3rd-4th September - BSAC Wreck Appreciation

This weekend was another trip down to the south coast, this time Portland in Dorset for the a BSAC wreck appreciation course.

Run by Sara Hasan and Mark Beatie-Edwards the course was designed by the British Sub-Aqua Club in conjunction with the NAS to help give an introduction to wrecks to sports divers and expand the knowledge of those who have been diving for a while.

Saturday morning gave us a chance to learn some of the theory on what, as divers, we should be looking for on the sea bed. Some of the information was familiar such as boiler identification while other bits were new like what different hull plating fixing methods could mean for wreck identification and orientation (rivets and welds).

Sara also took the opportunity to give us the benefit of her wreck and cave diving experience in a discussion on diving equipment and techniques.

Then it was down the road to meet up with the boat, Sabre from the Scimitar diving fleet, for our first dive to acquaint ourselves with the chosen wreck and try and identify features from the mornings lessons.

After a quick bite to eat it was back in the classroom to review, compare and contrast the recollections and records of the ten students and see if we'd correctly identified the constituent parts.
This was also the moment to demonstrate our drawing skills (or lack of them).

Two more sessions on locating diveable wrecks and on kit configuration rounded out the first days lectures.

Those of us staying in and around Portland made good use of the local watering hole, the Cove House Inn, for a something to eat accompanied with some surreal conversations on Ken and Barbie dolls, eye sucking vegetables and the relative merits of Jellybabies against Jellyatrics! I leave it to you to decide what Mark was doing with his drink...

Next morning it was straight back into it with a dry practice on surveying techniques and then a quick workshop on laying distance lines. Sara gave us the benefit of her 'enthusiasm' and 'expertise' on marine life.

Our second dive followed with each buddy pair tasked to survey a specific portion of the targeted ship. Several dropped slates, a broken tape measure and a leaky drysuit later we'd all successfully managed to obtain the data needed to try drawing up a scale representation of our area of investigation after lunch.

Before pulling out the scale rules and set squares, there was a brief introduction to wreck laws and their impact. Although covered in the NAS introduction course it was a useful refresher for me.

Once the technical drawing was completed and our results compared (some having had more success than others) the day was done.

Overall a great course for new divers or divers just getting into wreck diving and a useful was of formalising and expanding the knowledge of even the most experienced divers on the course.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 20th & 21st - Anchor Recording Part III

This weekend saw me as one of twelve trainees headed down to Chatham Royal Dockyard for an Anchor recording course run by Mark Beatie-Edwards of NAS and Gordon Le Pard, Maritime Archaeologist for Dorset County Council.

The course was a first for the NAS and follows on from the launch of the Big Anchor Project a few years ago,

We started off with the most basic of anchors, the stone anchor, in its many different forms from a simple block of stone through the introduction of a hole for a rope, to development of additional wooden arms to increase gripping power and far more complicated and ingenious killicks.

We then covered the more familiar stocked anchors working through the medieval "long shank" anchors to the traditional Admiralty pattern type. The importance of types of stock were also explored, metal or wooden, and what they meant for the archaeologist.

Finally the development of the stockless anchor was discussed and the differences between the most common types - Halls and Byers.

Sunday was a chance to put our knowledge onto practice with tour around the docks to identify the many different anchors on display (over 50) and start the recording process, making sure we gained as much experience as possible.

With so many anchors on display it was a busy morning and we looked at everything from a five metre tall long shank to a metal stocked bower from the Cutty Sark.

Of course recording information is of no use unless people can access it and this is what the Big Anchor Project is all about - an online database of anchors from around the world, on ships, in museums, underwater or just as a garden decoration!

We managed to add about another 20 records to the database over the weekend bringing its total to nearly 500.

The weekend gave me some valuable insights into anchor construction and use and I can't help but see anchors everywhere now!

The course certainly enthused me about the Big Anchor Project and I and a number of other participants are already planning some work so see what we can add to the database over the next few months.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Norfolk Survey Weekend - 14th August

Sunday saw us back on the North Norfolk coast on another sunny day with two new wrecks (well new to me anyway) to take a look at.

First was a quick trip to Hunstanton to review the situation with the Sheraton. The Sheraton has been the site of some significant survey work over the least few years and the subject of a number of NAS Part II's as well. We weren't planning on any additional survey work but for those of us who'd not had a chance to see her before it was a great opportunity to see how all the hard work of previous years translated when confronted by the real thing.

The months of weather since last seasons survey had certainly had their impact and a number of new objects had clearly been uncovered and will need future survey work.

Unfortunately time constraints meant we had no more than time for a quick look around before headed off to Holme Next The Sea about 4 miles to the west.

This was the site of our proper survey work for the day, the Vina. The Vina was a barque strandard in the intertidal zone around 1883 and a surprisping amount is still to be found. as can be seen in the picture of the substantial boiler

Having left the total station survey equipment behind due to our limited sucess on the Saturday (and the long treck and waist deep wade required to reach the site), we were on manual measurments for this survey...

Having lost Chris and Ben from the Saturday we'd also gained Jezz and having worked with him in the past we'd soon set out a baseline and Gary marked up the detail points for measurement. While Jezz, Nicola and I started recording transects, Mark started on the sketches and Simon and Pat were on photo recording duty as well as fielding the many questions for interested beach goers who had swam the channel to see what we were up to.

Unfortantly the tidal situation meant we couldn't spend as long on the wreck as it deservered but we still obtained a wealth of information to enable us to comence drafting the inital survey.

After what seemed like a much longer treck back to the car park than it had been out and a quick debriefing and plans for the next steps for each of us it was back home for a much earned beer.

There is now more information on the NAS East Anglia site following the survey weekend - feel free to take a look at

Keep an eye for future updates next weekend as 20th/21st August is the Anchor recording course.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Norfolk Survey Weekend - August 13th 2011

My first time back doing any NAS work for a while saw me up near my own neck of the woods for a weekend surveying some intertidal wrecks on the North Norfolk beaches.

It was also my first real piece of survey work since commencing the scholarship - this is what all the courses to date have been about

Organised by Simon Draper, the Saturday saw us off Holme-next-the-Sea with two wrecks to look at; the Vicuna and an unknown ship just a few hundred metres away.

To take account of the tides seven of us; Gary, Chris, Nicola, Ben, Mark, Pat and myself; met in the Norfolk Wildlife Trust car park at a very civilised 10:30 (to make best advantage of low tide) for briefing and role allocation. Then it was off to the beach to locate the survey targets and start the field work.

We started on the unknown wreck as it's position on the beach meant it was uncovered first, however it still required a little help to assist in draining of the scour around the hull.

Then it was on to the process of laying out a baseline and marking and measuring detail points and sketching and photographing their positions and taking small wood samples for identification - all familiar tasks from my Intro and Part 1 courses.

We also made use of "Total Station" to obtain detailed measurements with mixed success.

Because of tide restrictions and to make sure we covered as much ground as possible half the group headed over to the Vicuna and a potential fish trap set up alongside to repeat the process and cover, in more detail, some of the points of interest that had been noted during last years survey but which there had been insufficient time to record.

So now I've lots of data to write up and ensure we have a proper consolidated record. but before that we have tomorrow with the Sheraton and the Vina.

If you are interested in learning more about previous surveys of these vessels take a look at the NAS Eastern Region site at for more details

More updates tomorrow...

Monday, May 23, 2011

21st - 22nd May - Coracle Construction Part III

This weekend saw another trip down South for me, this time to the Ancient Technology Centre (ATC) in Cranborne, Dorset which provided the visitors from NAS a great setting to learn the skills and techniques used in Coracle construction. The site is a wonderful location with a number of replica historic buildings including a Viking longhouse, an Iron age round house and a Saxon workshop.

Our tutors for the weekend were Reg and Anthony, both brought vast expertise and knowledge to the subject though for Anthony it'd be the first time he'd actually built a coracle though the skills were familiar.

For those like me, who prior to a bit of pre-course research, had never head of a coracle it's a lightweight fishing boat built of natural materials and not a bit of metal in sight.

Our aim for the weekend was for the 14 course trainees to build three of these boats and test them out!

Our boats were to be made of hazel with a calico skin and covered with a waterproof sealant.

The first lesson was in the safe and effective use of the bill hook, a seemingly simple tool that we would have a great deal of impact on how sea worthy our vessels were. Selection and smoothing of the hazel ribs were reliant on making sure there were no sharp points that could puncture the thin skin we'd be applying later on.

After that began the process of planting the structural ribs into the ground and weaving and interweaving the side with more willow - a deceptively simple sounding task that took far longer for us unskilled trainees than I'm sure it ever took an for one of the original users of such craft.

While doing this other members of each building team got started on the paddle making, splitting chestnut for the blade and shaping the shaft. We also got a crash course in rope making, it'd be difficult to build without any cordage.

We also needed to make sure that once afloat (hopefully!) we didn't step through the hull so willow woven mats were required as feet rests.

To ensure we'd be ready to float on Sunday our last task of the day was to bend and tie the ribs over to gain our desired shape and weigh it down overnight to help it set in position.

For the hardy among us it was then a trip down the local pub for dinner before bedding down in the Viking Longhouse for the night.

The next morning we uprooted the coracle frames and prepared our calico skin, my group's vessel being slightly larger then the others was helped along with a little mechanical aid by stitching two sheets of calico together using a sewing machine to save time.

Seats were prepared and carved while the skin was sewn on and then covered in sealant.

Once dry of course we had to take the down to the pond and try them out.

Success was had by all in that each group's coracle floated, although the seamanship of a few (along with the inherent instability of a flat bottomed craft) cause more than one dunking!

Dreadnought as our coracle was dubbed was certainly the largest and most stable, indeed it fitted two crew without problem and would have probabaly been too large for everyday use but the Black Pig was certainly the most entertaining.

As well as learning some great new skills and gaining a much greater understanding of how such boats were built the weekend was terrific occasion to meet with up with fellow trainees from other courses. One thing that has been very apparent from my training so far is how many people keep coming back for more.

Friday, May 20, 2011

14th-15th May 2011 - Dendrochronology Part III

Dendro.....what? Lets face it, it's not a word in most peoples everyday vocabulary but it was one of the Part III courses being run this year so I thought, lets give it a try....

Looking into the subject matter further it still sounds a little unusual. The dating of artifacts by counting the number of tree rings on particular types of wood and matching the patterns with some painstakingly constructed databases.

How could we possibly take a weekend to learn about this? But I have to say this was probably the best of all the great courses I've done so far under the scholarship.

Located in Plymouth - it was back to the scene of my first course and again with Peter Holt hosting but with Nigel Nayling of the University of Wales taking on the role of tutor for the weekend.

We opened up with lecture on the underlying principles - as a concept it's easy enough but the details are what matter - the type of wood, the number of samples even the number of rings on the wood; all are vital if you want to get a good date match.

Then it was off to Hooe Lake to try it out in practice. This nice little intertidal site gave us a great opportunity to see how it would work in practice to identify, select and sample our site. It was also as a chance for Peter to dredge up his maritime law knowledge when the local neighbourhood watch came calling!

Following this it was back to the classroom to see about the applications for Dendrochronology specifically in nautical archaeology and a look at its limitations.

Sunday was looking at some of Nigel's many case studies and a chance for us to see how it was done. Although computers are used nowadays we got a chance to try out the paper based methodologies to make sure we really understood the principles underlying the discipline. After some careful measuring, recording and chart plotting we came up with a very good match - all based on a real life example.

Then Nigel got out his samples - everything from an 8,000 year old timber sample to sections of a rib from the Normans Bay wrecks to core samples from iron age boats it was a great chance to see what worked and what didn't as well as an example on how to organise, pack, transport and label samples.

Overall a great weekend where I learnt far more than I could ever have imagined helped along by a amazingly knowledgeable and enthusiastic tutor.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Check out the NAS training flickr site for more photos of the Part 1 at Vobster and other courses at:

7th - 8th May - Part 1 Certificate in Foreshore & Underwater Archaeology

After a couple of months without any courses the start of May was a chance to get back into the NAS training programme with a trip down to Vobster Quay in Somerset.

The weekend was for a select group of just six trainees which included several familiar faces from the Intro course in January as well as a opportunity for some of the trainee tutors we met at the same event event to try out their skills with support from some of the more experienced tutors. We were in Dave Johnston, Matt Cass and Richard Rowley's hands for the next two days. It was also a chance to meet the new NAS training officer, Rachel Quirk and renew acquaintances with Mary.

An early planned start had a us battling the queues to get in for 8:30am but at least the sun was out.

The Saturday morning gave us a chance to learn about project logistics and safety as well as search methods - you can't survey a site if you can't find it! We also got the chance to consider a case study.

The afternoon was back into survey methods, revising the techniques for 2 dimensional survey and seeing what would need to be changed for conversion into a 3D survey. Luckily the sun was still shining so we got to practice outside.

After the obligatory dive brief it was on with our scuba gear and into the water to get our first look at our wreck site to be surveyed. In order to help us prepare our detailed survey plan for the Sunday we all were tasked to sketch the site, no easy task underwater with neoprene gloves on, especially if your graphic skills are on a par with mine!

Then came the difficult bit, planning for the next day - fortunately we could do that down the pub in the congenial setting of the bar of George Hotel in Frome. After a lot of discussion and scaling back of our overly ambitious initial plans after input from the tutors we had what appeared to be a workable proposition to try out the next day.

The Sunday was equally sunny though a little colder and it was back in classroom for a session on what to do with archaeological finds and then a chance to refine our plans from the night before and present them to our tutors.

Following a few more amendments to take account of new observations we were ready to get wet.

With six trainees we went in three waves Dave and Phaz to set the control points, Denise and Terry to measure them and Brian and myself to determine the detail point measurements. Dave and Phaz were also our back up for any second dive that was needed.

Due to good planning, quick execution and luck we managed to get all the necessary data ready to plot it in the afternoon.

The afternoon saw us saw trying out Site Recorder the preferred computer based survey recording tool of the NAS and here we saw just how important accurate measurements were with just one incorrect distance throwing off our painstakingly constructed picture of the site. Once the problem was identified however it started to fit together.

The final session of the day was on post fieldwork activity and publishing our findings to the wider world. Then back home through the newly arrived driving rain.

Again a great course and highly recommended to all.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

29th January 2011 - Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology

The end of January was the first step of the NAS official training programme with the Introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology down at NAS Headquarters at Fort Cumberland in Portsmouth.

Hosted by Mary Harvey and Mark Beattie Edwards, we also had the advantage of a number of trainee tutors who had spent the last couple of days going through the NAS tutor programme. The gave us the benefit of a ratio of one to one in trainees and tutors.

I was struck by the range of backgrounds for the trainees on the course with backgrounds ranging from interested but archaeologically novice sports divers to Phd students looking to expand their experience and knowledge.

We started off with a class room session to give us background on what exactly Nautical Archaeology is, the type of sites where it is undertaken and and and introduction to possible methods of investigation. In addition we also covered the myriad of law that applies to the sites nautical archaeologists visit - the basics were familiar to me, and I suspect to most UK recreational divers, but well worth covering again considering the number of rules that apply.

Then it was time to pair up outside for our first real try at surveying a simple site using the methodology we'd just learnt, offset and trilateral measurement with control and detail points.

It all seems straightforward enough and when it came to plotting our data back in the class room it worked out well except for one artifact that we managed to plot in two different locations!

The real challenge was up next with the location moving to the Pyramid pool in Southsea and a chance to put into practice the survey methods underwater. Some of the group were none divers so used to opportunity to refine their above water skills and try out planning frames.

Meanwhile my dive buddy Brian and I kitted up in our scuba gear and got wet. Going through the survey exercises underwater were, as expected , far more difficult, than on land with communication and good a plan being the key to a successful survey. We also discovered that drawing a planning frame underwater was actually easier for us the those on land as we had the option to hover over the grid to make our drawings allowing a good plan view and saving our backs.

Following a quick post dive de-brief we were finished and given our new, and very nifty, USB card course completion cards.

I can't recomened this day enough to anyone with an even peripheral interest in diving or archaeology as it has plenty of appeal to either.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

22nd & 23rd January - Ordnance and Gun Recording.

The end of January saw my first exposure to the NAS training programme with a trip down to Plymouth for a Part III organised by Peter Holt and Kevin Camidge. The course was tutored by Alex Hildred of the Mary Rose Trust and Nick Hall of the Royal Armouries two of the best in this subject matter and both of whom coincidentally I’d seen on television documentary just a few week prior building a replica gun from scratch!

Although it was a freezing weekend large volumes of tea kept us warm along with a fascinating series of presentations and lots of practical work out in the fresh air. As someone who has dived a number of cannon sites (including Kevin’s Colossus in the Isles of Scilly) I was keen to learn all I could about the guns I’d already seen and those I hope to see in the future.

The first day was made up of some detailed talks on guns of the different eras we would be likely to encounter along with basic identification, recognition underwater (not the easiest task for the more concreted samples) and the anatomy of the gun itself – it being essential to know the difference between a cast iron and a wrought iron gun and their constituent parts from the cascabel to the chase of a cannon. Accurate recording when they are identified and surveyed being vital.

Day two was field trip time with a visit out to a local Plymouth landmark to try our hand at recording two known guns in place. Obviously this was easier than any circumstances we’d encounter underwater but it gave a great idea of how much information could be gleaned from a gun as well as how much time it could take up on dive.

It was then back to the classroom and a chance to see a piece in less than stellar condition to compare the ease of recording. This was also a chance to see how accurate our recording was as the next step was to use our data to see what site recorder would make of it. Luckily it all worked out ok and our measurements fitted together.

The take home information included some brilliant sources of data for any enthusiasts out there of whom I include myself now.

All in all a great course and one I’d highly recommend to anyone involved in nautical archaeology whether it’s an obvious area of interest for you or not.


Sorry to those of you who have been awaiting updates, I've had a few IT issues I've had trouble overcoming. They appear to be sorted now so over the course of this week I'll be re-posting my updates for the year so far. You can look forward to updates from the Naval Ordnanace and Gun recording Part III, my NAS Into course, the Part I at Vobster Quay a fortnight ago and the Denrochronology Part III from the weekend just gone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Hi there and welcome to my Blog. As you may know I've been lucky enough to be awarded the Nautical Archaeology Society 25th Aniversary scholarship this year.

Through this blog I plan to keep you all up to date with my progress throughout 2011. If you're new to the NAS, or have never come across it before hopefully it will give you some insight into the aims and objectives of the NAS as well as encourage you to get involved.

If you're a NAS old hand then you can see the courses I attend and projects I contribute to and help guide me on my way.