Kendall McDonald, a former Fleet Street editor, has been diving (and writing about it) for more than 45 years. He has been DIVERs wreck expert since 1960.
Our club, Orca Divers BSAC 1925, has dived the wreck of the Skaala, off Bolt Head, South Devon, and this has interested us in the history of her sinking and particularly her cargo of coal briquettes. Can you help
Tony Harriman

This schooner-rigged 1129 ton Norwegian steamer was 229ft long, with a beam of 35ft and was built in Bergen in 1906 for Adolf H Alvorsen. At the time of her sinking she was on voyage from Port Talbot to Rouen and had been chartered by the Hudson Bay Company.
At 2.45pm, on 26 December, 1917, there was a colossal explosion in her starboard side. She had been hit by a torpedo from one of the bow tubes of UB-35, commanded by Oberleutnant Stšter. The second engineer of the Skaala was killed immediately by the blast and fire broke out in the engine-room.
The rest of the 17 crew managed to get clear in the port boat. Four minutes later their ship rolled over and sank. The survivors, including her captain Sven Tronstadt, were picked up by a destroyer and landed at Dartmouth.
 The Skaala had loaded her cargo of 1515 tons of coal briquettes at Port Talbot. These were described on her manifest as patent fuel, but were in fact slabs of compressed coal dust and produced in Cardiff. It was a useful way of making use of the coal-dust from Welsh collieries, which was usually of little value and anyway difficult to handle for sale.
Having dived the wreck, you will know that the blocks are stamped with a big crown mark over the words PATENT and CARDIFF. This appears to be a trademark and I have been told that a Crown Company of Cardiff owned the patent and turned out these slabs from specially adapted steel mill presses.
You will know too that the Skaala is a deep dive - 43m to the seabed and 33m to her deck - and needs care. There have been at least two diving deaths on the wreck. One is directly attributable to those coal briquettes, which look like good souvenirs but are extraordinarily heavy in water and out.
One diver, who later died, was seen struggling up carrying a coal block. It is believed that he wouldnt let go of it even when running out of air, and was dragged back down by the weight.
My picture shows one of the patent fuel briquettes sitting on a wreck divers bookshelf. After he declared it, of course.
Likely from Littlehampton  
Ive been given a few names for wreck dives serviced by boats from Littlehampton - the Shirala, HMS Northcoates and War Helmet. What are they like to dive

 The Shirala is 5306 tons of cargo liner at 24m, not saved by her dazzle paint. She was torpedoed by UB-57 on 2 July, 1918 and heavily salvaged in 1978 for the elephants tusks and brass shellcases she carried.
Much flattened, she lies with her bows to the south. Coarse sand and silt can make her dark, and the holds are blown open. The highest point of the stern is at 8m.
Beware 200lb bombs scattered around. Only one big brass letter S of her name has been found and the bell is still there as are, they say, diamonds in the mail packet.
The War Helmet is an 8184 ton WW1 British standard ship now lying in 27m. She was sunk in ballast by torpedo from UC-75 on 19 April, 1918 - dazzle-paint didnt save her either.
The bow is complete to the north-west, but the wreck is much flattened amidships and the stern well broken. Three boilers are clear and the engine-room is open. Viz is usually good.
HMS Northcoates was a 277 ton Royal Navy trawler, sunk on 2 December, 1944 by weather on tow after engine failure. Upright, pretty intact, the wreck lies in 26m with its bow to the south, sanded up to the gunwhales.
There is a 12-pounder gun on the foredeck, and good viz and that gun make the Northcoates a prime target for photographers.
The overloaded warship  
We would like to know the name of the ship that sank when it was launched because there were too many cannon above the waterline
Annette Stewart

Mellons Bay School, New Zealand.

 What sort of school are you at You can check with your teachers, but a good guess at the one you have in mind is the Vasa, raised in 1961 and on display in Sweden.
She was launched on 10 August, 1628, into Stockholms inner harbour. She carried 64 guns, 48 of them huge bronze cannon, together with 400 sailors, soldiers and their families.
She had gone less than a few hundred metres when a puff of wind made her heel, and she sank. Thirty people were drowned. Is that the ship you had in mind
Two queries, two wrecks  
Two questioners about the same wreck:
I have dived the Oria wreck out of Holyhead. Its true theres not a lot left of her, but Id like to know what she was and how she met her end

I would like to know more about the Oria, sometimes called the Toilet Seat Wreck.
Wilson Bostock

In fact a lot of records of Welsh wrecks miss the Oria out entirely, though they usually list the ship she sank in a collision on 7 January, 1905. The Oria was a 629 ton Spanish steamer heading for Bilbao from Liverpool with a general cargo, and she struck the small Glasgow steamer Stella Maris, which was heading for Liverpool from Holyhead.
They collided in strange conditions of fog combined with a Force 5 south-westerly, about two miles west of the Skerries.
The Stella Maris started to sink at once, but boats lowered from the Oria rescued all eight crew, including the captain, W O Kane. The Oria was, however, badly damaged.
The next day she too started sinking, only 500m from the end of Holyhead Breakwater. Captain Gaira ordered his crew of 18 to join the rescued Stella Maris crew in the boats.
All reached land safely.
  • More about the Crested Eagle (Wreck Q&A, April):

    On the morning of 1 June, 1940, I was a 19-year-old Sapper trying to get taken off the beaches near Dunkirk. On the sands of Malo-les-Bains, I saw a paddle-steamer. She was the Crested Eagle, which I knew because we used to see her when we went on holiday to Ramsgate and Margate with my mother. The Eagle was right up on the beach then and her big paddles were providing great cover for a Bren gunner.
    Arthur R Emmett.