Words and photos by Dave Barry
Two divers searching for the wreck of an 18th century warship in Filey Bay have spoken of their success in difficult conditions.
Tim Yarrow and John Hart are part of a team that has undertaken 22 dives in cold depths spread over a huge area, looking for the Bonhomme Richard.
A meeting in Filey heard that film shot by the divers shows the wooden figurehead of a lion and shield from the bow, the carving of a shepherdess from the stern and a seahorse artefact that links the vessel to its previous days as a cargo ship in the Orient.
The details were revealed to 100 invited guests at the White Lodge Hotel by Harrogate satellite company Merlin Burrows, which says extensive digital work has identified the resting place.
Mr Yarrow said: “It was very cold and at times the conditions were so cloudy with silt that you couldn't see more than inches. We were lucky that we were able to take video of the finds in the first few dives”.
Mr Hart added: "We have found timbers, some the size of sleepers”. He said a thick black bottle with ridges indicates the ship’s French origin. “The wreck is at varying levels from three to eight metres, spread over 50 to 200 metres”.
Merlin Burrows chief executive Bruce Blackburn said: “We have to prove on a lot of issues and establish facts as true. In the meantime, we are custodians of the vessel”.
He said Filey Town Council was “very supportive of the opportunity to the local community that the discovery of the Bonhomme Richard represents. And whilst full official confirmation of the wreck is pending, they are taking a very proactive approach in the meantime and giving serious consideration to how this could deliver significant benefit to the Filey community”.
The team said the public should be on alert for looters.
The Bonhomme Richard, formerly Le Duc de Duras, was given by the French to the Americans, who used it in their fight for independence to disrupt British supplies.
Commander John Paul Jones lost the ship as its guns blew up but won the battle off Flamborough Head and took over the British frigate Serapis with great loss of life on both sides.
Merlin Burrows head of research Tim Akers said: “The figurehead we have identified is a rampant lion with shield. The ear and nose bear marks of cannonballs which hit the ship before it sank.
“The seahorse image connects the vessel to its French colonial days”. He added that the shepherdess from the stern indicates the carving has burned legs, consistent with explosions that sank the Bonhomme. “There is also the capstan with hemp wrapped round it”.
Mr Akers said the team had discovered the anchors and sections of the mast, both in keeping with French admiralty drawings.
James Hodgson of the White Lodge Hotel said: “This is very exciting for Filey. My wife Kim, who is American, says that every young student in the US is taught about the deeds of John Paul Jones. It is amazing that his historic words, ‘Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight’, were uttered out there in Filey Bay”.
The find has been registered with the receiver of wreck, who administers the law dealing with salvage. Historic England has yet to confirm that the wreck is that of the Bonhomme.