IT AMAZES ME JUST HOW FAR diving equipment technology has evolved. Sometimes, as during long deco hangs, it makes me angry to think that in the “heyday” of technical-diving wreck exploration the kit that we all now take for granted was needed far more, but was simply not available.
How much more might we have discovered or seen, and how much wiser would we have been? Would some of my friends still have been here to tell the tales of adventures we once had?
Or am I just getting old and grumpy? I’m the biggest fan of the equipment I dive with today, and it’s a joy to use it to return to the wrecks we once were so excited to discover!
Heavily geared up and looking more technical than ever, I have revisited the little-known wreck of a steamship called Jeanne near the Channel Islands.
Returning to a deep wreck armed with a closed-circuit rebreather makes it a more exciting experience than when we first dived these wrecks on open circuit.
We arrive on the wreck at a depth of 68m. With buoyancy trimmed to avoid touching down and disturbing any silt, we double-check our electronics and make sure that it’s safe to proceed.
A setpoint of 1.2 has been programmed on my Evolution and has automatically changed itself on my descent.
My great friend Mark Bullen looks at me and gives the all-OK. We attach a powerful flashing strobe to the anchorline to mark our point of return to the dive-charter.
The water is dark, with little sunlight able to penetrate the midwater plankton fields above. The bottom, however, is gin-clear, and the sheer power of my new lithium Light Monkey torch opens up so much more of the wreck than did the various helmet-mounted Q-lights of a few candlepower back in the day.
Mark is intent on examining certain parts of the wreck that we missed when we first discovered it years ago. I’m happy to follow and document our progress photographically.
We move off across an obvious cargo hold full of what we know to be esparto grass. It now looks more like a heavy layer of mould on a discarded loaf of bread. Native to Spain and North Africa, this material was used to make ropes, wickerwork and good-quality paper.
There was a time when our first port of call would have been the bow to find the bell and identify the wreck. Today we are examining the midships area, and this makes for an interesting dive because of the variety of machinery on display. Some of this confuses us, if only because of the amount of marine growth that covers everything almost 100 years after the sinking.
Wrecks of WW1 vintage in exposed waters today can look skeletal, and the Jeanne is a classic example.
It has collapsed a little more than we remember from early dives but still lies sprawled out in an orderly fashion. From the holds we follow a fallen mast before seeing loose intact portholes, giving us an indication of the bridge area that once was.
A double-ended Scotch boiler is home to a wealth of small fish, and on the port side is what we believe is a donkey engine – a backup for emergencies, or perhaps to start other mechanical features of the ship.
Aft of the engine a large spherical object stands proud of the seabed. We think this is an evaporator, used to desalinate water to cool the triple-expansion engine.
The depth is still 68m and a gas-management and PO2 check indicates that all is well, so we continue.
From the engine we follow the propshaft to the stern, where we discover a large single propeller with two of its blades missing. We have been moving quite slowly to this point, and I have been towing a neat little X-Joy Suex, perfect for wreck-diving.
This scooter is another great piece of modern-day technology I could have done with years ago when I explored the big wrecks such as Britannic and Lusitania.
Mark waits at the prop while I quickly circumnavigate the entire seabed area to a set distance, looking for clues as to what happened to the missing prop-blades.
The seabed is reasonably soft with scatterings of small rock, so I reckon they broke off elsewhere – the prop was probably not rotating when Jeanne sank.

THERE ARE LOTS OF INTERESTING ARTEFACTS to see on steamships that sank during the Great War. In recent years a unique ashtray was found on this wreck. It is clearly a product of Denmark's Carlsberg beer company, but in its centre we can see a swastika emblem.
Jeanne sank in 1916 before the rise of the Nazis. A little detective work here soon illuminates this mystery.
The Nazi party emerged from the German nationalist, racist and populist Freikorps paramilitary culture, which fought against Communist uprisings in post-WW1 Germany.
Carlsberg was founded in 1847 and the company’s logos at the start of the 20th century include elephants (after which some of its beers were named) as well as the swastika, which is an old Indian emblem.
The company stopped using swastika designs in the 1930s because of their emerging association with fascism in neighbouring Germany.
Other artefacts discovered on the Jeanne include some interesting pottery and water-filters.
We return to the anchorline to make our decompression ascent. Surfacing to a lovely day, we make out the island of Alderney in the distance, and wait for our charter-boat to pick us up.
It’s been a fantastic day’s sport, and we have really enjoyed revisiting this old tramp-steamer.

THE WRECK WAS discovered in late 1998 by Weymouth skipper Graham Knott, but it wasn’t until September the following year on a return to the site that we actually identified it. I remember that dive as if it was yesterday.
We eventually reached the bow section, which my good friend Jamie Powell had already circumnavigated several times in search of the bell. Some would say that if Jamie can’t find a bell others have little hope, but to this day no bell has been recovered from Jeanne. However, on that visit an equally brilliant discovery was made in the form of the builder's plate with the name Jeanne clearly engraved into the brass. Identification POSITIVE!
For 18 men of mixed nationalities, 5 September 1916 had seemed as normal as any wartime day can be.
The Kaiser's “unrestricted” campaign of destruction wouldn’t begin for another five months, so in theory Jeanne was safe – or she was until a little after midday.
Jeanne was an 1171-ton steamship commanded by Captain G Olsen. She had been built in 1904 by Wood Skinner & Co of Newcastle, but was now owned by a Martin Carl of Copenhagen.

WITH A CARGO OF 925 TONS of esparto grass Jeanne had made her way from Algiers in the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar and around the Bay of Biscay before making passage eastbound through the English Channel bound for Edinburgh. She was some 19 miles north of Alderney when an unknown U-boat intercepted her.
Olsen’s crew were given 10 minutes to gather their belongings while the Germans U-boat crew planted bombs around the ship. The crew abandoned their vessel in one of their own lifeboats and could only watch as their ship exploded and quickly sank from sight.
Land was barely visible but luck was on the crew’s side, because they were later picked up by a passing patrol boat and landed safely in Weymouth.
Jeanne was one of the thousands of vessels that played their own part in the eventual outcome of WW1. She was after all one of the all-important merchant vessels that kept the Allied nations supplied with what they needed in the fight against the enemy.
The Jeanne wreck lies SW/NE with her bows to the north-east just off the tide some 29 nautical miles north-west of Cherbourg and almost 40 miles south of Weymouth.
The bow lies on its port side with the starboard side still very much intact and an Admiralty-pattern anchor still housed and standing some 3m off the seabed.
This classic turn-of-the-century steamship makes a fine dive for advanced technical divers with experience in offshore tidal moving waters.

Divers wishing to dive the Jeanne or find more information can contact Graham Knott at the Shipwreck Project via

The Merchant Fleet at war
IN FEBRUARY 1915 Germany declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone, with merchant ships – Allied and neutral alike – subject to attack.
Alongside publicised sinkings of vessels such as the Lusitania, within six months U-boats had sunk almost 480 merchant vessels in home waters.
At the outset of war Britain relied on shipping for much of its food. Its supply backbone consisted of “tramp steamers”, small merchant vessels engaged in worldwide trading, bringing in essential raw materials for industry and exporting coal.
It made sense for the German Navy to try to cut these lifelines using its unterwasserbooten.
The campaign fought by German U-boats against Allied trade routes took place largely around the British Isles and in the Mediterranean. At one point Britain was said to have only three weeks of food remaining.
By the end of the first year of war, losses of merchant ships had become critical.

For two years Britain had no answer to the millions of tons of shipping being lost. The German Empire also relied on imports for food and domestic food production (especially fertiliser) so Britain could only retaliate by eventually imposing its own blockade.
The Royal Navy was superior in numbers and could operate on most of the world's oceans because of the British Empire, whereas the Imperial German Navy surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight, and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere.
As the British naval blockade imposed starvation conditions on German citizens, the Kaiser launched his “unrestricted” campaign in February 1917.
The Allies in turn introduced the convoy system, and built dedicated escort vessels to supplement fleet destroyers.

Of the Wartime losses to British registered merchant and fishing vessels, more than 80% were due to enemy action. A total of 3781 known such vessels were sunk by the Germans, with 21,886 passengers and crew lost.
Among all nations the U-boats sank almost 5000 ships, a gross tonnage of nearly 13 million.
Many of the victims were never recorded as sunk shipping but simply as captured, damaged, molested or destroyed by the enemy.
Their name, gross tonnage, date, position and method of attack, cause of loss or escape and number of lives were only roughly documented, but much of this information still exists and makes for invaluable reference sources for researching divers.
In August 1919, HM Stationery Office issued two important House of Commons papers – Navy Losses and Merchant Shipping Losses.
Original editions of both reports are extremely scarce today but are still there for those who need them. One of those records, albeit a short one, is that of the little Danish vessel Jeanne.