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AUDIO: Isles of Scilly shipwreck site could be lost ship of Sir Walter Raleigh

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 14, 2013

  • A team member swimming over the Lizzy wreck site. Right, a small sounding lead found on the site

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A shipwreck uncovered off the Isles of Scilly last summer could have belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh and been lost when a storm scattered his vessels as they headed for the West Indies.

The wreck, which has been named the Lizzy by the divers who discovered it, is thought to have possibly sunk in 1617 and been one of two ships lost out of a fleet of 30 shortly after they left Plymouth.

The exciting possibility is one of two theories of the wreck's identity put forward by local shipwreck diver Todd Stevens who, along with Robin Burrows and their team, have slowly uncovered the remains since last summer.

If correct, the ship could have been the Flying Joan, one of the fleet on one of the last voyages led by Sir Walter Raleigh before he was executed at the Palace of Westminster in 1618.

Mr Stevens, 50, who also discovered the famous wreck of the HMS Colossus off the Isles of Scilly, labelled the idea of the discovery "amazing".

He is now awaiting a visit from English Heritage to hopefully help further identify the wreck site.

He said: "Since we first found the Lizzy, I have always said that the evidence we have on the seabed leads me to believe it to be the wreck of an armed pinnace.

"This would be a small, single-masted ship without a bowsprit and consequently a gun in the bow instead.

"The ship Sir Walter Raleigh lost here in a storm in 1617 was indeed an armed pinnace. The wreck fits in age and style."

The process of discovering the Lizzy, named for its guns dating to the late Tudor period, began in 2008 when Mr Stevens and his team conducted a magnetometer survey around the islands to detect anomalies, which they would later attempt to identify over the following years.

In the meantime, Mr Burrows had developed a side-scan sonar which in 2012 identified two 5ft-6ft objects laying in the middle of the St Mary's Roads. The items, which were in 14-metre-deep water, were later discovered to be guns and, along with other characteristics of the wreck, have pointed towards it possibly being the Flying Joan or, less likely, a privateer vessel lost in the Civil War.

"It's amazing that people don't know what's underneath them," added Mr Stevens. "It would have to be quite an old ship to have been involved in the Civil War, the guns would have had to have been about 60 years old, but at the time they would have been desperate for ships."

The wreck is a relatively small ship made of oak, about 40ft-50ft long and 15ft wide.

Mr Stevens explained there was much debris scattered on the seabed around it, but unfortunately very little can be linked definitively to the wreck. To the left of the site the team discovered a swivel gun and a red clay pipe dating to 1630 or earlier. Numerous English, French and Spanish pottery fragments were found, all dating to the Tudor period.

Also discovered was a bronze pulley sheave, similar to that on the famous Mary Rose wreck and a bigger version on later wreck sites, and a complete bung hole from the late-15th century.

The wreck is the seventh to be found in and around St Mary's in recent years and although some evidence points towards it being the wreck of the Flying Joan, Mr Stevens is keen to stress it is only a possibility. As he said, it is a "mystery waiting to be solved".

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