With the ocean and SCUBA diving in her blood, it was only natural that Sophie would choose to pursue a career that enabled her to spend as much time underwater as possible. After finishing a degree in archaeology at the University of Cape Town, Sophie attended a field school focused on maritime and underwater cultural heritage. This lit a spark and led to a job in South Africa’s heritage sector that allows Sophie to combine her passion for diving with her archaeological training. Spending a summer in Plymouth with ProMare as an intern has helped Sophie to further develop skills in maritime archaeology that, as well as being of great personal and professional benefit, are extremely useful to this field as it evolves in South Africa.
My “Summer” in Plymouth - by Sophie Winton
In June 2012, I was afforded the opportunity of joining ProMare UK as a summer volunteer. I was excited to leave the chilly winter weather of Cape Town and dive into Plymouth Sound to assist with researching and recording the underwater cultural heritage of the area as part of the Shipwrecks and History in Plymouth Sound Project.
I quickly realised that “summer” is more of a state of mind in Devon than an actual season, and that I would have to quickly make friends with a dry-suit. Although I’m used to diving in waters that hover around the 12°C mark, I’m usually able to thaw out in the sun between dives – not in Plymouth!
The weather gods gave our team a hard time, however, the diving we managed to do was spectacular, with a huge variety of sites including elusive cannons, wrecks old and new, and plenty of ‘mystery sites’ – targets that were detected using marine geophysical equipment that needed to be investigated. Those dives were always particularly exciting as you had no idea what you might find.
During our weather-forced downtime, the team spent time recording some of the hundreds of finds that divers have collected in the Sound – from stone anchors to pissdales, ceramics and ships fittings. We also spent many hours in the local library, researching some of the vessels that have sunk in and around the Sound. A special highlight for me was interviewing the men who have been diving the Sound for 50 years – their stories and memories made the shipwrecks all the more interesting.
The 8 weeks passed far by far too quickly, but I hope that ProMare may be able to make use of me again for future projects. The experience has greatly enhanced my archaeological abilities and broadened my perspectives on maritime archaeology. A huge thank you (again!) to Brett, Ayse, Pete, Lindsey, Stew and Richard, and all the others who joined in, for making it such a great summer.
Back in February 2012 I received an out of the blue request from my colleague Chris Waters to immediately send my CV to Peter Holt. He had been talking to Pete at the Plymouth Shipwreck Conference and had explained to him how there would be 3 positions open for the summer assisting him on the SHIP’s project. So much of this vital information was left out in the request, but I sent my CV to none the less.
A few months later I was helping to record on of the Purton Hulks for a voluntary group, called the Friends of Purton. Pete was with us giving a crash course in recording the boats using Site Recorder software. Over the course of this weekend I nonchalantly asked about the selection criteria for the Internship, Pete was quite evasive, but I think I got my point across that I wanted one of the spots.
The next thing I know it’s June and I’m meeting the other candidates Richard and Sophie at offices in Plymouth; otherwise known as the Holt household. What followed over the next 8 weeks of bad weather, what could loosely be called summer, was an eye opener. I’m a confident diver having worked as an instructor in Egypt, Australia, Malaysia and Europe. I’ve amassed thousands of dives, but; as I learnt, this has little to do with archaeology. The archaeological diver is not there for solely for fun, (s)he is there to perform a task and record the information diligently and it took me most of the 8 weeks to hone this skill.
As the initial 8 week period neared its conclusion I opted to spend another week working on the SHIP’s project, allowing me to gain more experience and take advantage of some good weather (finally). It has even gone so far, in that, I will be a permanent addition to the team in 2013.
The whole experience made me appreciate that Archaeology is a physical pursuit, and Maritime Archaeology even more so. All the time I spent in the library studying for my Masters in the subject gave me a background, but the SHIP’s project gave me the tools to work successfully.
I’m looking forward to see next year’s interns and how they cope.
Richard grew up determined to become a diver and joined his university BSAC branch at his earliest opportunity. Coincidentally, it was through University of London SAC that he first learned of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS). This offered Richard an ideal outlet to combine both his passion for the sea and his equally deep-rooted fascination with the past. Richard had always particularly enjoyed wreck diving and the NAS enabled him to begin to interpret as well as to experience team diving project work.
Through the NAS programme Richard became aware of ProMare and the opportunity to get involved with the SHIPS project via an internship. Richard was excited to have the opportunity to spend time as a ProMare intern, developing his skills as well as experiencing working within a project of considerable scope, all of which in an area where he had been regularly diving for several years.
My 8 Weeks In Plymouth by Richard Rowley
Having been involved in field schools and lots of training courses, I arrived in Plymouth looking forward to the opportunity to participate in a live research project. Being in Plymouth was a bonus for me because I’d been regularly coming here to dive and train: now I would get the chance to do something completely different and see another side to the city.
The weather really was unforgiving, reducing the amount of diving we could do. However, it provided us with an opportunity to research and prepare articles for a forthcoming publication. We also drew and photographed artefacts for the project records. We attended a regional heritage conference as well as a fascinating trip to the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre in Charlestown.
We also interviewed local contacts whose wealth of knowledge proved critical to the achievement of some of our objectives. Of particular interest to me was an introduction to the practical use of marine geophysics, both in the preparation and use of fish but also in then going diving to perform sea bed searches where anomalies had been identified.
Although the bad weather did prevent us from doing some of the diving we were all expecting, it afforded us the opportunity to get involved in some of the other elements of research project work which otherwise I would have only been aware of through courses.
On an aside from the specifics of the research project, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to learn a lot about small boat seamanship. As a BSAC member, it was such a coincidence that the RIB we repaired, modified and then took to sea for this project was one which had been lent to my BSAC branch when I was a newly qualified diver! It was quite an experience to pass my Diver Coxswain assessment in Plymouth Sound in the same RIB I’d dived from out of Marseille nearly a decade earlier… I’d like to thank everyone involved in the SHIPS project, and ProMare as a whole, for the opportunity and the experience; I hope to continue my involvement in the near future.