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The Smalls Shipwreck

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Part of the Smalls reef is designated under the Protections of Wrecks Act 1973 (Designation Order No 1 1995, No 2654). The protected area for the location of an 11th century sword hilt guard find is a radius of 100m from the co-ordinate 51 46.18N 05 40.13W. Diving or any interference including filming, survey and excavation within the protected area of a designated wreck is a criminal offence unless a license has first been obtained from the Welsh Government. Cadw should be contacted in the first instance. Http://

The sword hilt find was made in one of the channels between isolated rocks to the south of the Smalls lighthouse at a depth of less than 11m. The shallowing on the western side exaggerates the ground seas so that they break over the rocks even on calm days. The ground seas funnel through the channels causing disturbance on the surface and strong surges underwater. The bare igneous rock of the seabed is formed of parallel gullies and fissures up to 2m deep. Coarse sand, gravel and stones have collected in the base of some of the fissures, but there are small pockets of silty sand and shell. There are large amounts of wreck debris from numerous 19th and 20th century wrecks wedged into cracks and lying scattered around. One of the gullies, in particular, contains the coherent lower hull of a large metal wreck with anchors, propeller shaft, propeller, boiler, winch and capstan still visible on the seabed. This remains are believed to be that of the CAMBRO lost on 24 May 1913 (see NPRN 272682).

Event and Historical Information:
In August 1991, a sports diver from Milton Keynes Sub Aqua Club noted an object protruding from beneath scattered steel plating from more modern wrecks. The object proved to be a Viking sword hilt guard, measuring 118mm long, with silver wire and niello decoration of stylised animals interwoven with a snake-like beast. The quality of the decoration and materials used suggests an 11th century date for the sword and that it once belonged to an individual with high status, such as a travelling chieftain. Whether the sword was lost overboard or was lost when a Viking ship came to grief on the Smalls is still unknown. The National Museum of Wales have acquired the guard and investigated the site but have found no further trace of the ship itself. The site was designated on 20 November 1995 with a 300m radius, which was reduced to 100m to allow sports divers to continue exploring the popular Smalls diving area.

Sources include:
Fenwick, V. and Gale A., 1999, Historic Shipwrecks: Discovered, Protected, and Investigated, pg32-33
Receiver of Wreck Droits Database 2007, RCIM6/2/5
Redknap, M. 1992. A Remarkable Viking find in a remote site, Ameguedffa, 14, pg19
Statutory Instrument 1995 No. 2654, Protection of Wrecks Wales, The Protection of Wrecks (Designation No. 1) Order 1995

Maritime Officer, 3 September 2007