Blackwater Sub Aqua team Club dived to the wreck, which was discovered in the aftermath of the Whiddy Island tragedy
MEMBERS of the Fermoy-based Blackwater Sub Aqua Club have captured stunning close-up images of a French naval vessel that lay undiscovered at the bottom of Bantry Bayr for almost two-centuries.
The Fermoy team captured the stunning images of the wreck of La Surveillante, a 32-gun Iphigénie-class frigate that was deliberately sunk by her captain in 1796, during a recent dive expedition in the bay.
Launched in 1778, the 620-ton fully-rigged, three-mast frigate was one of only 12 ships in the French fleet at the time to be fitted with protective copper sheathing.
She was part of the French fleet that fought against the British in various engagements during the American War of Independence, enshrining her name in French naval folklore at the battle of Ushant in 1779 when she took the surrender of HMS Folkstone.
In 1797 La Surveillante was part of a 48-vessel fleet sent to invade Ireland to assist in the Irish rebellion against the British. She was badly damaged by ferocious storms, eventually limping into Bantry Bay having suffered catastrophic damage.
Such was the damage the ship was deemed unseaworthy and her crew and 600 cavalry and troops transferred to other vessels before she was scuttled by her captain.
She remained underwater and undiscovered for almost 200-years, only to be detected during the clean-up in the aftermath of 1979 Whiddy Island tragedy, when the oil tanker Betelgeuse exploded with the loss of fifty lives
Blackwater Sub Aqua Club member Timmy Carey said that he and his colleagues had wanted to dive the iconic wreck for more than 20-years.
“The wreck of La Surveillante sits in about 30-metres of water in an area that generally has very poor visibility. In addition to good weather, you also need an archaeological dive licence from Duchas as the site is a listed memorial,” said Timmy.
One final hurdle the dive team needed to overcome was that the wreck site lies close to the Whiddy Island and when a oil tanker is unloading it can be directly over the dive site.
“So, we had to get permission from the oil loading terminal and the harbour master to dive. Luckily, there was no offloading that particular weekend and the harbour master was really helpful giving us great advice on how to prepare for the dive,” said Timmy.
A small group took part in the dive, spending more than 30-minutes at the wreck site, capturing video footage of the iconic vessel.
“During the dive we saw numerous cannons, timber pulley blocks from the rigging, its anchors, cooking utensils, the high raised bow and even piles of small musket balls. We also saw the long sheets of copper plating that had been nailed to the outside of the timber hull for protection,” said Timmy.
“It is notoriously difficult to capture close-up images of the wreck due to the poor viability at that depth in the bay, so we were delighted with the results. The smiles on the faces of everyone in the dive boat afterwards was a sure sign of what a stunning dive it was and hopefully one to be repeated over the winter months,” he added.