Deep into Dover Harbour

23rd July 2009, 22:43
Below is an artical I wrote, it might be of interest unfortunatly I don't know how to upload the photo's that i had included in the origional document if you can help me with this please say.


Deep into Dover Harbour

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get” often quoted seldom practiced along with “The worst that will happen is they will say no!”

Do you know there is a ship in Dover Harbour that was once the flag ship of a shipping line, survived head on collision with an iceberg before the Titanic tragedy, was sailing around the world during the Klondike Gold Rush and Mark Twain was exclaiming he was not dead, and ended it’s useful life above the waves the same day the first ever enemy plane was shot down by an allied plane? Well there is!

Side scan image of the wreck today

It’s called the Spanish Prince. Back in 1907 she was purchased by the Prince Line from Greenshields, Cowie & Co.

Previously known as the ‘Knight Bachelor’ and launched in 1894.

Three years later, April 1897, 15 years before the Titanic disaster, she suffered and survived a head on collision with an ice-berg off Nova-Scotia

Loosing a full 30 feet off her bow, taking another four days to reach port for repairs costing $30,000.00!

WW1 started in June 1914 and in October that year whilst in St. Nazaire Roads she went aground and ended her life above the waves but her ‘useful life’ was not yet over - this was to carry on right up to the present day!

The Admiralty acquired the Spanish Prince and put her to work in Dover Harbour as a blockship protecting the western entrance and the fleet anchorage from submarine attack throughout both WW1 & WW2. Thence on she has been in place ever since marked by a lonely buoy.

Ian Grout or ‘Grouty’ – is a member of a group of divers that dive from Dover. Having regularly passed the unseen wreck of the Spanish Prince to dive some of the many wrecks out in the channel he had often mused over what was down there so near to them but frustratingly out of bounds! – Or was it…
Grouty had wanted to dive the Spanish Prince for many years now, but was put off by the constant and consistent opinions from other divers, fishermen and people ‘in the know’ that it was out of bounds to recreational divers and DHB would never grant permission for a dive group to ‘get in the way’ besides the currents and visibility conditions dictate that it could not or should not be done.
In late 2007, Ian decided to ignore all the scepticism and approached Dover Harbour Board to ask, “The worst that will happen is they will say no!” he said to his ever sceptical diving buddies. To his and more so his friends astonishment, they said ‘Yes’ sort of, as long as any dive plan met the strict conditions that came with this permission!

While the Spanish Prince has been dived commercially in the past, it has never been dived recreationally due to its hazardous location.

Once provisional permission had been gained from DHB, much work had to be undertaken to ensure a safe dive. Dover is one of the busiest ports in the world it is no surprise that amateur diving is prohibited.
What with large ferries, super-sized catamarans and cruise liners navigating a relatively small enclosed area. Along with many yachts, RIB’s and the odd canoe adding to the mix, whilst sitting quietly unbeknown to most below the choppy surface of the harbour, lies the last remaining block ship, Spanish Prince, quietly guarding the westernmost of the two harbour entrances.

Blocks ships and Boom nets were first placed around both entrances in the First World War, protecting the key port of ‘Hellfire Corner’ from submarine attacks.
All but one were removed and cleared away, and little evidence of their existence now remains except for the scars of equipment once fitted onto the Piers near by but now long since gone. The Spanish Prince though remains quietly on station and virtually intact, lying unseen at a tangent inside the Western entrance.

Here she lays upright in 16m of water, with very little water between the top of the wreck and the surface it is still a major hazard to most vessels using the port, and often forces ferries to perform delicate pirouettes to avoid it.
In preparation for the dive, Grouty was given permission by the very helpful and encouraging DHB harbour master and his staff to conduct his own survey of the wreck site to ascertain if an optimum diving condition existed in which to attempt a dive on the wreck.

Grouty studied and pored over tidal flows and with the kind assistance of his friends, making good use of the winter layoff. They had to develop ways to monitor the specific tidal effects during a variety of weather conditions over the wreck site, taking soundings and noting first hand the effects of the ever present currents (up to three knots) over the wreck with weighted floats and buoys to find the optimum diving conditions in which to conduct a safe dive.

Block ships
Dover Harbour

Visibility was always a major concern. With a sand and silt sea bed, the multiple currents, shipping traffic and a dredger constantly working the harbour, any visibility would be a bonus!

The Sea-Cat timetable had also to be taken into consideration, as neither divers nor dive boats could be allowed to tangle up with the super-sized catamaran without disastrous results. This was just one more hazard to be calculated into any possible dive plan let alone a risk assessment! Never let it be said Grouty likes it easy!

This brought up yet another issue; with the busy harbour entrance just a few meters away, tricky currents and visibility that was going to be low at best and a port authority that, necessarily, would be keeping a big eye on the proceedings, Ian needed a diving team that was experienced and reliable.
Two dives were planned on consecutive days and the first attempt was scheduled for 1 and 2 March 2008, but despite the glorious weather, the night before there were force 8 gales and the water looked like a particularly solid mass of sludge. After much consideration, and a large dose of disappointment, Ian was forced to make the decision to call it off.
The post-bin mutual consolation breakfast occurred at a marina-side cafe, but the group left with the anticipation of setting another date in the future.
The dive was rescheduled for Thursday 12 and Friday 13 June, as usual subject to weather. With the sheltered location, winds would not be an issue so long as they were not south, south westerly, as that would blow straight through the Western entrance and over the wreck. The week before was variable, but the team remained optimistic, not only do the harbour walls shelter the site, but the famous white cliffs also shelter the harbour.

Thursday arrived far too early in the morning, and after battling the traffic the group arrived at Dover Marina to find the day just a little breezy and with leaden grey skies over head. The port authorities confirmed that if we thought it safe to dive, then they were ready for us to do so.
The six divers and a suitable surface support team were present and accounted for, making up three buddy pairs. All of whom had done many dives in the channel out of Dover and wanted to see this wreck that so often appeared on their depth finders on the way in and out of the harbour. Additionally, for the wildlife enthusiasts – Lynne - there was the distinct possibility of an ecosystem that should, theoretically, be blooming on this undisturbed wreck.

With the dredger nearby, and the Sea Cat scheduled to enter the harbour during the dive, coming off the wreck was the absolute last thing that could be permitted. The dive boat on the day was Dave Bachelors roomy cat ‘Neptune’ – nice and practical but best of all VISABLE to the local shipping! Also present and suitably crewed was the over-sized dive RIB, ‘Inflated Ego’ providing additional surface cover as dive safety boat – just in case the worst should happen and a diver drift off.

On board Neptune before ropes off Grouty held a final briefing and checked all the paperwork was in hand and finally the dive was underway. Dave placed the shot in as amidships as it was possible to get, Grouty was tasked with tying in the shot in order that the divers could use their lines to explore the wreck AND get safely to the shot without getting lost or drifting off the wreck.

Going down the shot line, visibility was measured in inches but surprisingly there was some visibility – about a meter! Even so there was still a lot to see.

The phrase ‘Starfish City’ was used by all the divers. With undisturbed mussel beds carpeting the wreck, starfish were everywhere thousands of them. Occasionally the odd white anemone could be seen, big and fat among the mussels, as well as lobsters lurking in the many holes.

The wreck itself was a maze of girders and structures to explore. As Ian explained during the briefing, “Due to the limited time first dive down skimp on the detail and see as much of the wreck as we can compare notes and second dive perhaps a more concentrated look at the more significant areas”.

From what we saw we think we had all found our way aft, from what was the bridge area into and across the aft hold, then back up onto the stern quarters.

Much of the decking was missing leaving a skeletal frame work of beams and oversized girders to clamber over and glide through with the unseen innards of the wreck remaining beyond sight in the gloom.

Towards the stern We found a corridor going into the wreck Ian dropped into this for a few meters deciding this may be the place to explore further next dive, back on top of the wreck it was noticeable that the current was starting to build so best to make our way back towards the shot and complete our time there.

“No matter how many times I’ve reeled off” Grouty explained “it always seems further on the way back” he continued “Perhaps it’s the current ever building trying to pull you off course, or the closeness of the confining visibility the apprehensive veil that tries its best to keep the secrets of this forbidden world away from you or just the effect of your adrenalin rush having peaked I don’t know, but it’s always a relief to see the shot again!”

Back at the shot Grouty and his dive buddy Peter found they were the last pair still down, the current was now trying to drag them off of the wreck and out of the western entrance so for now they set the waster and surfaced!

Most dives have a sense of peace in terms of sound. The tick-ticking of shrimps, the gurgle from your exhaled breath, the distant noise from you own boats engine above accompany most dives.

This dive was far from peaceful. The constant drone of the ferries massive engines at the far end of the harbour drowned out any sound of ‘Inflated Ego’s engine almost making the water pulse with sound, and two very loud rumbles - what seemed to be far too close - were distinctly unnerving yet at the same time curiously comforting - exciting even.

Upon surfacing forty minutes after jumping in, the divers were informed that the loud rumbles were the dredger and the Sea Cat both tiptoeing carefully by as they made their way out through the western entrance.

All six divers were keen to return and explore in more detail with specific areas that needed attention. But with the visibility returning to sludge the following day, this was not to be.

The dive team encouraged by the pervious day’s efforts gave it their best but honestly you could not see out of your masks! Grouty and his dive buddie of the day Keith, persisted longest, but even they had to admit it was a lost cause after only ten minuets!

It is not likely that this wreck will be dived again. Soon it is due to be pulled up and scrapped to make way for the new ferry terminal development so will be lost forever. Both traffic tides and visibility do not make for the most spectacular or easiest of dives. But, sometimes, just sometimes, a dive is worth doing just for the sake of doing it.

So now our Dive team can claim to have dived one wreck most other divers can only wonder about!

Just shows if you ask – you might just get!

Be prepared to put the effort in to make it so - and never underestimate the amount of effort it will take - it will always be worth while in the end.

Remembering and reasserting why we dive in the first place. To explore and experience as different a world form ours as outer space must be is a privilege, so very different.

In among the many wrecks we visit you just never know what you’ll see or find down there – treasure is not just gold, experience and memories are more valuable than ever gold could be though some times just as difficult to attain!

My thanks to all that helped – Grouty.

5th August 2009, 21:38
Please find attached the complete article - possibly a lot more interesting with pictures?!

unfortunately I still cannot load the article direct for all to see.


5th August 2009, 23:05
makes you wonder how nothing has never hit it

6th August 2009, 01:35
There is a very prominent wreck buoy and any ferry or other vessel entering by the Western Entrance to go to Eastern doglegs around it.

The Spanish Prince blockship was left in situ as it helps to ameliorate the effects experienced in the Eastern Docks from the powerful jetstream flowing through the Western Entrance in the period leading up to high water.

DHB intend to remove the blockship should their plans for a new ferry terminal in the Western Docks come to fruition as it would present a serious obstruction to vessels manoeuvring for the new berths.

Very interesting article by Grouty and must say that diving on the blockship sounds pretty hairy!

There are photos of the wreck buoy plus the Western Entrance blockships and charts at:

6th August 2009, 20:04
Hi I'm glad you found my account of the dive of interest

I must say the planning for this dive was way beyond our normal dive planning as conditions, currents & tides are so very different to those we have to contend with out in the channel, quite overwhelming but a very interesting part of the dive process none the less.

It would be good to hear if there are any accounts of anyone running into the wreck - and the excuses they used to account for the accident!


19th June 2010, 22:20
The multipurpose barge Waasland has now arrived to reduce the hull of Spanish Prince to give a charted depth of 8.5 metres as follows:

From DHB: "Notice to Mariners No. 7/2010. WESTERN ENTRANCE - REMOVAL OF BLOCK SHIP. Works to remove the Western Entrance Block Ship are expected to commence on or after Wednesday 16th June and are currently programmed to last 10 weeks. During this period the block ship position is to be marked by various small buoys and two 60m crane barges with legs and marked anchors will remain on station, principally to the east side of the site. The recovered steel will transported to the Jet Foil Basin by a tug and barge. The Western Entrance will remain open for use but when manoeuvring in the vicinity all vessels are advised to exercise caution, proceed at slow speed and maintain a safe distance from the floating plant. The North Cardinal Buoy, (Wreck By.), will remain on station until such time as it becomes necessary to lift it clear of the area to progress work at the northern end. On completion of this work the charted depth will be increased to 8.5m over the entire area and the North Cardinal Buoy permanently removed."

From the salvage contractors: "Herbosch Kiere Marine Contractors Ltd has recently been awarded two contracts by Dover Harbour Board. The first contract to be undertaken in June, is the salvage and partial removal of the blockship “Spanish Prince”, an ex cargoship which was scuttled by the Admiralty during the first World War and lies to the east of the Western Entrance in the Outer Harbour of the Port . She was moved to her present position in the 1930's, the bow is close to the Southern Breakwater and a wreck buoy can be seen marking the stern. To improve access to the port for the new larger ferries and cruise ships, Dover Harbour Board decided the blockship needed to be removed. Herbosch Kiere will use our multi purpose barge Waasland and speciality lifting and cutting equipment for this contract, the ship will be cut up in situ before being raised from the sea bed."

12th August 2010, 23:09
I have been watching the massive machines you mention for the last few weeks as I pass them on my weekend forays out of Dover, These are huge and quite impressive in themselves as they devour the wreck.
This project has just had an airing on our local evening news programme, GM-TV's 'Meridian Tonight', they produced quite a nice piece about the ship and the project in hand.
They highlighted that they have just raised one of her anchors, apparently it may be put up as some kind of memorial to the ship - this would be nice to see and would conclude my brief association with this old ship brilliantly.


Hugh Ferguson
13th August 2010, 17:25
My wife, Joy (Ferguson), having herself been a diver in this harbour, noted the name Lynne Sensicle and wonders if she may be the daughter of Alan Sensicle.

Hugh Ferguson
13th August 2010, 17:53
I once knew an old Navy man who was a petty officer in a destroyer, H.M.S. Foresight in the Dover Patrol W.W.1..
He remembered the time when they landed casualties, dead and wounded, at the Admiralty Pier. Also the Montrose, if I remember correctly, broke adrift, went out through the Western Entrance and finished up on the Goodwin.
His name was Tom Ferris, a Cornishman, born 1887 in a cottage no further than a couple of cables from where I sit typing this.

19th September 2010, 23:01
Hi Hugh, you are right about the Montrose, this ship had a link with the infamous Dr Crippen, not sure if I count that as a claim to fame though.

I'll have a chat to Lynne and let you know...

19th September 2010, 23:47
My wifes Grandfather was on the WW1 Destroyer ' Lookout ' and told her this tale, she was entering Dover harbour in fog, at a very slow speed. As she approached she was hailed from the the jetty by a gun enplacement officer, ' What ship ? ' the OOW shouted ' Lookout ' again the hail, ' What Ship? again the shout 'Lookout' this was followed by the sound of running boots as the gun crew fled down the jetty fearing it was a German Destroyer entering and telling them to lookout !!!!

20th September 2010, 19:07
Very funny, there must many odd story's relating to ships/boats names including our dive rib 'Inflated Ego' which I must say seems very apt to both our boat and the motley crew that inhabit it most weekends!

20th September 2010, 19:29
My wife, Joy (Ferguson), having herself been a diver in this harbour, noted the name Lynne Sensicle and wonders if she may be the daughter of Alan Sensicle.

Why yes, I am! B\) Lynn.