A dive beats a walk on the beach, but when you can't go splash.....

Not so much as what did you find on your dive as what did I find after the latest storm, what was its name….Babet?

First a did you know question, did you know that the pet rabbit owned by Radar O’Reilly in the 70’s hit series M.A.S.H. was called Babet? Well you do now, don’t say I never learn you nothing!

The sea conditions have remained impossible to dive following the recent succession of storms, with Arwen causing all sorts of structural damage and the others following in short order, not allowing conditions to settle and although things are ‘settled ’today on 20th November we are due to have waves up to 10 feet for the weekend, again just as things were settling along comes another storm.

We have been walking along our coastline around the mouth of the River Tees, on beaches to the north and south and whilst some of the finds will surprise no-one we have seen some odd-balls.

First mention is the uncovered ‘bones’ of a wooden sailing ship seen just above the low tide mark on Seaton Carew beach, of course it is well known and protected, although it has been scavenged somewhat around the time it sank with timbers cut down to an even level. Looking at the dimensions and build it appears to be a nineteenth century collier, a very common boat and as such no one has yet managed to pin a name on the wreck, although Granite does appear in some sources.


Another short digression, whilst wandering our beaches you oft find lumps of flint, now this has always perplexed me as we don’t have the geology for flint and the condition of the flint would tend to preclude long-shore drift from the south of England. I had a bit of a lightbulb moment when I was reading though some old papers where there was an obvious answer, colliers took coal from Northern Ports down to London and the surrounding areas and came back up the coast ‘under ballast’ to ensure that the vessel wasn’t top heavy. And the ballast was, well obvious really, chalky conglomerate, including flint, which was subsequently dumped river or portside when the collier next filled with coal.

Other things blown ashore from boats were much more welcome, anyone who uses a mooring should be aware that shackles need to be moused, that’s to say when everything is tightened down you wire the eye of the pin to the body of the shackle to prevent it turning and loosening over time, the forces involved are very small and I use thin stainless steel wire to make sure my moorings at Fluke Hole near Seahouses are secure. However,  someone whose moorings were made of chain and thick, two inch diameter rope, obviously thought that they didn’t need to carry out this simple task, and for that I thank them! The chains are hanging to dry out in my shed and the rope is coiled and will be used to help launch my boats in due course. 

Over and above these relatively large bits I have also found a few items of lost boat and tackle, probably the most interesting is an old sounding lead.


I found one of these a good few years ago whilst diving on the north side of Beadnell Point and simply weighed it in at the scrap-yard, this one I will keep! The giveaway with these sounding leads is the presence of a quite large hole in the base, which would have been filled with tallow or thick grease to bring up a sample of the bottom to whoever was sounding. I have some ‘old’ DECCA navigation charts and they all show the consistency of the bottom which was a good indicator as to your more exact location should you have lost your way a little. Remember that this was all pre-chart plotters, with most boats using a chart, compass and sextant where relevant. A line and sounding lead were pre-requisites of safe navigation in the era.

More oddball were a handful of net weighs that I found, these would weight down the bottom edge of a drift net which would have been deployed to catch ‘surface travelling’ fish such as salmon an sea trout near our rivers. Again I have found a few over the years and now keep them as curios rather than consign them to the scrap bucket.


And finally on the ‘nice’ finds, wooden equipment, I found what I originally took to be a deadeye, but on closer examination appears to have supported the end of a rotating shaft, not a novel application for a lump of lignum vitae! My evidence for the shaft theory is the wear pattern on the central hole where there is a distinct ‘lip’ on the wood, which I guess would have been either the end of a shaft or a point where then shaft was stepped down.

Lets move onto finds that are not so nice. A dubious pleasure of walking beaches near the River Tees is that you do find all sorts of things that really shouldn’t be there and post storm was no exception, with the unpleasant things this time being taprogge balls, specifically S160 balls as used by EDF to ensure that the brackish water section of the heat exchangers used at Hartlepool nuclear power plant are kept clean and free from any build up of aquatic life.

Whilst it isn’t unusual to pick up maybe half a dozen we picked up just over 1,000 on a couple of walks, both as a family and with Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, of course EDF are baffled about how they ended up in the sea, my comment about the river being in flood combined with a storm making it a good day to bury bad waste was met with incredulity, although they had the good grace to look embarrassed when I mentioned that my first degree was in Chemical Engineering!


There you go a useful few days bimble with some nice odds and sods to go into the shed, some, like the chain and rope to be re-used, with others like the wooden bits and lead weights to be kept until I can think of what to do with them. One final thing also appeared on the beaches, coal and loads of it in both lumps and dust, with the dust colloquially known as ‘dolly muck’. I have picked up quite a bit which will be burned as we go through the winter. Now I know that people will talk about sea-coal being poor quality and containing significant amounts of shale, this sea-coal is mainly from the broken bunkers of long sunk ships and it tends to be very low ash and burns ‘hot’ ideal for your stove on those cold winter nights!

I finally learned how to effectively burn ‘dolly-muck’ earlier this year, you wrap it in newspaper like your fish and chips and it burns itself into a solid lump, my extra tips are to dampen the dust to slow the burn and make it easier to solidify.

All in all a very pleasant few days beach combing or walking, if you are unable to go diving I would certainly recommend walking our beaches, you can pick rubbish and trinkets. Oh and I even found a finger spool, the 'string' was ruined but the spool is serviceable, no doubt I shall give to someone who is bound to warmer climes to dive as I find these absolutely unsuitable to UK diving!

Dive safe




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