Sandwich Flats – A Volunteer View

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Project participant, Nick Reed, has written this blog to share his experiences of working with MSDS Marine and the Nautical Archaeology Society at Sandwich Flats:

Sitting down at home, I thought I’d reflect on an absolutely fantastic week carrying out fieldwork on the wrecks in Sandwich Bay.  Perhaps the “Inter” week would be good to sum it up; intertidal, inter generational, international and inter-organisational.

All the wrecks lie in the intertidal zone in Sandwich Bay. Working on them really highlighted the need for planning and knowing what you had to do before going on site. Even with some fairly big spring tides we only had a limited amount of time to carry out our tasks.  Early mornings were the pattern for the week and we always had to keep an eye on the water coming in. The wrecks were a fascinating assemblage ranging from what are probably small coastal trading vessels through to a B-17 bomber from the Second World War. There was even a series of posts which prompted a lot of discussions. The suggested explanations ranged from fish traps to coastal defence remains through to boundaries. The archaeologist’s cover all; “ritual” even made an appearance! Despite the fact that the wrecks are well known, apart from the B-17, there seems to be little documentary evidence as to their history. I think this gave us all a sense that we were participating in a proper investigation rather than a skills learning course.

The ages of the participants (including staff!) ranged from nine to seventy. Mixing with people of different ages and experiences was one of the joys of the week. We had people with so many skills on the week that, perhaps, interdisciplinary would be another “inter” to add to the list. Some of the skills and knowledge were specific to archaeology while others enabled people to add pieces to what is a fascinating jigsaw.  It was fantastic to see our really young participants getting enthused about the week. They participated at the same level as everyone else and their enthusiasm was really refreshing. This ability to involve and enthuse the next generation of maritime archaeologists is one of the main benefits of running a project like this. With so many sites to explore, it was often confusing to remember which one we were working on; – was it SB0009 or SB0010 or was it SB0007? The only one we were really confident in referring to was the Emma /Aiden – nicknamed after our two youngest team members in honour of their first 2D survey. It almost sounds like the name of a boat!

The field school brought people together, literally, from all over the world. We had people from the UK, America, Australia, Spain, Italy, Holland and Egypt. Just as the intergenerational aspect of the field school brought a lot to the week, so did the international aspect. Walking between the different wrecks the conversation often revolved around what went on in different countries. We were even treated to an Egyptian meal cooked by Aytein, our Egyptian colleague, one evening.

Having the course run by the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) and MSDS had real benefits. The NAS involvement meant that we all came away with a tangible outcome; credit points towards the NAS education programme.  We were also able to benefit from the specialist skills of NAS members, namely Chris and John with their drone flying and surveying skills. Having MSDS there meant that we were able to tap in to specialist knowledge and equipment that would be beyond the interested amateur. Working alongside such enthusiastic and knowledgeable people whose day job and passion is maritime archaeology, was a real buzz. It would have been all too easy for the week to be a “teaching” experience where the professionals impart their knowledge and skills to the amateurs. However this couldn’t have been farther from what happened. The whole week had a feeling of being a proper project, where everyone was just another member of the team. A lot of this had to do with the personalities of the NAS and MSDS staff but I also think that the ethos of both organisations played a big part. If this is what MSDS and the NAS mean by community engagement and involvement then it is certainly the way forward and should serve as a model for other organisations.

I left Sandwich on Friday feeling really positive and enthused about getting more involved and learning more about maritime archaeology. I’m also feeling more confident about putting the skills we learnt into action.  I met some lovely people and had a lot of fun and can’t wait to book on to next year’s course.

Thanks to Peta, Mark, Sally, Kim and Nicole. It was great to work with you. I think I might even miss “Strictly” on telly tonight and build a Photoscan model instead!

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