Published: August 2008The Search for Diving's Greatest Prize
Filey Bay

The Ghost Ship of Filey Bay

Three teams are braving the North Atlantic for diving’s most historic prize: the legendary ship of John Paul Jones. Two come loaded with high-priced tech and talent. But the third—a ragtag group of English locals—may have already located the target. The race is on to prove it.

Text by Roff Smith
Photographs by Seamus Murphy
It was supposed to have been a straightforward salvage job,or at least as straightforward as these things are in the moody waters of the North Sea. A trawlerman known as “Killer” Cox had snagged his net on something in about 80 feet of water in North Yorkshire County’s Filey Bay, and with nets costing upwards of a thousand dollars a throw, he was anxious to get it back. Cox knew that his neighbor, a man named John Adams, then 28, worked as a commercial diver on the offshore oil platforms up in Scotland, so Cox phoned to see if he’d go down and free it up for him. Adams said sure.

This was Adams’s bread and butter. When he wasn’t tending to the oil rigs or manning the deck of a trawler himself, he ran a profitable sideline in salvage in the town of Filey, usually retrieving lost fishing gear or untangling ships’ propellers—but sometimes, more lucratively, going down to strip the old copper boilers and bronze fittings from the dozens of World War I–era wrecks that were strewn around the bottom of the bay, bringing them up to sell for scrap. The Kaiser’s U-boats had been particularly active along this stretch of the Yorkshire coast, and as Adams swam down into the silty gloom that day, following the lines of the tangled net, he assumed Cox must have caught it on some of their old handiwork. Instead, groping in the darkness, he felt the huge wooden beams of a much, much older ship and made out a long section of wooden hull, half buried in silt, stretching into the blackness.

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