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Dorset from the sea

Simon Brown on the sinking of the fishing vessel Rowella

Occasionally the English Channel claims a new wreck. At six in the morning of 20 May 2011, the fishing boat Rowella left Weymouth to go potting for whelks. Skipper Adam Gould was at the helm, with son Ross crewing. Around midday Adam noticed the boat was wallowing in the sea and, on lifting the hatch, was confronted with an engine room full of seawater. A mayday call alerted the search and rescue helicopter and Weymouth lifeboat. Adam and Ross took to a life raft and were picked up just ten minutes later by the helicopter, shaken but unharmed. The Weymouth lifeboat attempted to tow Rowella, but she rolled over and sank.

Although listing slightly to port, the Rowella otherwise appears completely undamaged from the outside

In September 2011, Grahame Knott, of the dive boat Wey Chieftain, did a sonar survey and found the resting place of the Rowella. It was time to take to the sea to see what lay beneath. Through the cool, green waters the stern of a fishing boat came into view, a rather ghostly outline wreck sitting on its keel on the seabed. The name ‘Rowella’ in bold letters confirmed the identification. Rope, drums and buoys were everywhere, snagged on the deck and wheelhouse. Working carefully forward along the port rail, it was remarkable to see an intact wreck. Everything was still fixed in place, and although there was a slight list to port the Rowella was in excellent condition. After drifting along the starboard side, I wondered what the inside of the wheelhouse was like. Wriggling through the door I couldn’t believe my eyes; the radio, navigation equipment, computer trackball and helm was as Adam left it. Later, as I processed the images, I looked closer and in one corner there was a baseball cap next to the computer keyboard. Adam confirmed that he left his baseball cap behind, along with his ‘fags, trainers and £20,000 worth of electronics’ – all now ruined by salt-water immersion. After seeing the images, Adam’s reaction was poignant: ‘I looked at the photos and realised we could have been in that. Had it rolled over, I would not have wanted to have been inside, in the dark up the wrong way and underwater.’

The wheelhouse of the Rowella, with thousands of pounds of electronics on board

Why the boat sank may never be known, but both Adam and the insurance company think that a coolant inlet/outlet pipe fractured; after such a fracture, it would not have taken too long to flood the engine room with seawater.
Today the Rowella has a Marie Celeste feel about her. Adam, the skipper on board that day in May gave the following reaction on seeing the pictures: ‘Sad. Gutted at losing her. To be honest, it was a bit weird [looking at the pictures]. She was a lovely boat.’

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