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Secrets of the Great Storm

by PETER BARNETT

An underwater survey of shipwrecks on the infamous Goodwin Sands off the Thanet coast is under way this week.

Thirty archaeological research divers, including a group from North America, are investigating the men-o-war wrecks dating from the 17th century.

The Seadive Organisation is co-ordinating the project, which runs until Sunday July 11, from a temporary base at Ramsgate Harbour.

Divers plan to probe a number of the early warships lost in the Great Storm of 1703 which destroyed part of the Royal Navy fleet.

In a matter of hours during a fierce nighttime storm, four ships - Mary, Northumberland, Restoration and Stirling Castle - were blown from shelter off Deal onto the Goodwins.

All were lost together with 1,190 crew.

It was not until 1978 when a local fisherman snagged his nets on the wreckage that divers located the deep sea burial site of the lost fleet. It had lain undiscovered for centuries.

Heritage Site

It was declared an important maritime heritage site and guarded by the Protection of Wrecks Act.

The wrecks have been researched under licence when recourses and the weather has permitted in the last 20 years.

Some artifacts have been raised, restored and put on display - many at the East Kent Maritime Museum in Ramsgate.

Cllr. Sid Farmer, Thanet council cabinet member with maritime responsibility, said "Project Man-O-War" was a unique opportunity for specialist divers to examine an important part of Britain's's heritage.

He said: "These wrecks are of great maritime and archaeological significance. The council is pleased to support this venture which is attracting international interest."

Recent shifting movements on the Goodwin Sands have exposed some of the wrecks and experts say that while this aids survey work, it also increases the risk of deterioration to the fragile structure of the craft.

Results from the survey will form part of an international maritime heritage conference to be held next year as part of the East Kent Maritime Trust's Millennium celebrations.

Thanet Extra - Friday July 2, 1999

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