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Where were you in 82?

Tunnelling under the Mary Rose

Kester Keighley was a member of the Mary Rose dive team, who was in the water when the Mary Rose was lifted…

I joined the Mary Rose project in 1981 as a volunteer diver and that year we dived through until December carefully excavating the contents of the Mary Rose. I came back in 1982, from late April to mid-June, for the final push to empty the hull of all the remaining artefacts which just left the most important artefact of all, the remains of the hull. Most of the internal structure had been dismantled and removed in 1981, apart from the huge deck beams which remained in situ.

Early 1982 I did a commercial diving course to allow me to me work as a diver in the North Sea, but it also meant that I could join the salvage team when a vacancy became available in June.

In the salvage team we not only dived but carried out all the diving related tasks on deck like taking turns as the standby / rescue diver, running or supervising the dives, operating the decompression chamber on deck as we did our decompression in the chamber rather than in the water.

We dived using surface supplied diving equipment wearing a helmet supplied with air from the surface via an umbilical which also included a cable for hard wire communications back to the diving supervisor plus a method of monitoring our depth. We wore dry suits which kept us warm underwater. No lights but they would not have been much good when we were tunnelling under the hull of the Mary Rose.

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Alongside us was a team of Royal Engineer divers, also using surface supplied diving equipment, who dug three of the four holes for the four legs of the Underwater Lifting Frame (ULF) then installed that on June 16th. After that they helped us with the tunnelling under the hull.

As a diver in the salvage team I remember many hours spent tunnelling under the hull in the dark using a combination of a water jet, to break up the compacted seabed material, and

simultaneously a big flexible airlift between my legs to suck away the spoil. We were tunnelling to reach the bolt positions to install the backing plates and nuts to the bolts. As we progressed with this the lift wires could be attached between the ring bolts and the ULF above to support the hull. I did many other diving tasks as part of preparing the hull for the final lift and during the final lift but the tunnelling, bolt and backing plate installation and the lift wires from them to the ULF occupied me the most.

My last dive on the Mary Rose was with Christopher Dobbs on the Monday morning of  11th October and we were tasked with checking and inflating the airbags, which acted as a cushion between the underside of the hull and the cradle. Fifteen minutes after I came out of the water the heart-stopping crunch happened.

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