Wreck Detectives Series 1

Series: Wreck Detectives

Wreck Detectives Series 1
Wreck Detectives Series 1

The premise is simple (if contrived): a land-based historian (Jeremy Seal) and an “intrepid diver” (Miranda Krestovnikoff) attempt to resolve mysteries (identity, manner of sinking, date and reason for wrecking, and so on) surrounding various shipwrecks in the British Isles. They only have one week to do it in (one is frequently reminded of this). There are eight episodes, each dealing with a particular wreck site.

To assist them, the hosts bring in experts in whatever field they are studying. This is actually the best part of the series: the array of experts is very impressive. In increasing order of specialisation, some examples are one who knows all about frigates, one who’s an expert on cannons, and another who specialises in a particular type of pottery jug that was popular on ships during a particular era. The one whose job I most envied was a Ministry of Defence damage assessor, who assisted the wreck detectives in figuring out what sort of device sank the HMS Lawford off Normandy, two days after D-Day in 1944.

During the week in which the wreck detectives do their work, Jeremy Seal follows up clues and interviews experts on dry land. Miranda Krestovnikoff and a Divemaster whose name did not stick (his contribution was limited to saying things like “descend on the shot line”) dive on the wrecks. The diving, about which much hoopla is made, seems similar to Cape Town diving at its worst. Visibility was generally poor (5 metres was exciting), and they often had to contend with strong currents. I suppose that poor or treacherous sea conditions are almost a given when you’re diving a ship that wrecked because of those very conditions! Tony and I did feel very proud of ourselves, though, as the diving team were being lauded as heroes for descending to a depth of 30 metres in slightly dodgy visibility. All in a weekend’s work, for us!

The Wreck Detectives vessel off the coast of Scotland
The Wreck Detectives vessel off the coast of Scotland

Unfortunately the BBC seems to have window-dressed somewhat with the selection of presenters for this series. Jeremy Seal is credible, knowledgeable, and can hold up a conversation. I can’t say as much for his co-presenter, whose contributions were restricted to repeating what someone else had just said, and getting it wrong about 60 percent of the time – like an inaccurate echo. I am annoyed by apparently ignorant female television presenters (or even loud, vacuous ones who are secretly knowledgeable), because I feel that it feeds into a stereotype about women that doesn’t need reinforcing. Feminist rant over.

I sound negative, but we actually really enjoyed this series. Once you tune out the inanity, the contributions of the archaeologists, maritime historians, shipbuilders, and other experts make this an extremely engaging and wide-ranging show. My favourite episode – which reduced me to tears more than once, to my chagrin – was the one about HMS Lawford. The wreck detectives marshall the only two surviving crewmen, who were 18 and 19 years old at the time – mere boys – and involve them in the search for answers as to why the navy’s official report of the sinking appears to contradict their memories of it (which, in turn, contradict each other). Seal visits a WWII graveyard in France with the two men. The waste of life is heartbreaking, as is the inscription on the gravestones of some of the men who perished when the HMS Lawford sank: something along the lines of “Here lies an unknown sailor from the 1939-1945 war. Known unto God.”

There’s another episode in which the great (perhaps two greats?) grandson of one of the survivors of the shipwreck, an elderly retired vicar, travels on the boat with the wreck detectives. In both this case and the one in the prior paragraph, these gentlemen were able to watch a live feed of the video footage while the divers explored the wreck. For the two navy men, it was the first time they were seeing their ship in 60 years. I loved seeing their wonder and amazement at seeing something so familiar – the vessel on which they spent all their time at one stage of their lives – and yet so unfamiliar, lying on the bottom of the ocean, revealed by technology that doesn’t exist in their life experience.

We learned a huge amount from this show and it gave us lots to discuss. We are both in awe of the British propensity for record keeping, and their faithful protection and preservation of their historical sites. It also made me want to spurn London for the coastline next time I am in the United Kingdom, and brought back fabulous memories of a solitary morning I spent in Portsmouth dockyard after arriving on the ferry from Jersey in the Channel Islands.

A second season was made but to my knowledge has not been released on DVD (yet). The DVD set is available here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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