The Search for the Lost Ferry -
The Early Years (late 1970s to 1997)

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Bob Brydon's research and his discovery of the events of 1633

In the late 1970s, Robert (Bob) Brydon (pictured right), a professional researcher and writer based in Edinburgh, began researching King Charles I's Scottish Coronation of 1633 and related events in Scotland.

During his research, and while going over the little known and sparse records, he uncovered a calamity which had occurred and which was to prove politically embarrassing in the extreme - the loss of a ferry boat off Burntisland in that summer of 1633. Two Burntisland ferries had been chartered to carry the King and his baggage across the Forth, and his baggage ferry had foundered in a storm. The King himself had witnessed the accident and the loss of lives. (More information on the sinking can be seen here.)

As the drama of the ferry’s short voyage from its point of departure unfolded and the nature of the accident was revealed, it was obvious to Bob that this tragedy concealed a story of Royal lost treasure as yet untold. He also believed that, owing to strong political and state motives, any publicity regarding the affair had been vigorously discouraged by the King - in essence, a cover-up.

From what Bob had been able to ascertain and from the fragments of the story that came to light, it was also apparent that no recovery attempt had been made on the ferry and its cargo.

In 1993, he and his wife Lindsay published their booklet, "The Scottish Coronation Journey of King Charles I" - an account of what he had discovered in the preceding 15 or so years.

Bob Brydon died in Edinburgh in May 2014. His final words in a Discovery Channel documentary regarding the search for the lost vessel that he had helped get underway were “Oh, they’ll find it all right … they’ll find it … there’s no question about that … they’ll find it … when, is another matter” - and how prophetic he was!

The first searches for the ferry

The first search for the wreck of the lost ferry and her potentially priceless cargo began in 1991. The project team was led by Kirkcaldy businessman Alex Kilgour, and his colleagues were Bob Brydon (see above), Howard Murray and Martin Rhydderch. They spent most of 1991 searching archives and libraries around the country until they had confirmed the general truth of the story and had developed a detailed picture of the circumstances surrounding the King’s Scottish Coronation and his time in Scotland.

(Pictured right - the first project team. Left to right - Alex Kilgour, Howard Murray, Bob Brydon, Martin Rhydderch.)

The team believed that the vessel had sunk within a mile of Burntisland harbour and, having established that no significant dredging had taken place in the area over the years, it seemed possible the wreck might be lying buried and fairly intact as the ferry had capsized rather than been broken up. As well as further research, the team carried out seabed surveys and narrowed down the search area to two square miles. By the end of the summer of 1992, over 200 targets had been identified.

In 1993 Burntisland Community Council established the Burntisland Heritage Support Group to assist and promote the project. From 1994, the support group compiled and presented summer exhibitions which featured the ongoing search for the missing ferry. They also maintained close liaison with Alex Kilgour and the American search team (see below). Later, in 1998, the Group assumed formal status as a trust (Burntisland Heritage Trust) and registered charity.

Pictured right - the leaflet for the first Burntisland Heritage exhibition in 1994.

In 1994 Alex Kilgour and his colleagues engaged the help of an American team, the Global Explorers Group, generating extensive media interest. However, resourcing the project was difficult and very expensive. The Group’s American divers carried out numerous dives and surveys. By 1996 they had exhausted both their funds and their patience. They simply went home, never to return. With the Americans gone, it looked as though the search for King Charles' lost treasure was slowly grinding to a halt.

Pictured right - the front and rear covers of the Global Explorers Group's investment brochure, published to attract funding for the project.

Overall, from 1992 into 1996, the Kilgour team had organised a series of surveying operations, initially from the harbour eastwards into Pettycur Bay. Surveying to the west of the harbour had been more problematic, as that area was close to a Naval degaussing range which served the minehunters squadron at Rosyth.

The team had been able to carry out remote surveys of the eastern side using magnetometers, side-scan sonar, sub-bottom profiler and limited diving operations to verify the survey data. Results from this work included an assessment of working conditions (zero visibility and fierce tides), a detailed bathymetric chart, and over one hundred anomalies. One of these had turned out to be an armed naval tug boat from World War I, and another one was a Hurricane fighter plane from World War II - interesting discoveries in their own right, but not what the team had been looking for.

In addition, over the years, useful relationships had been developed with academic institutions, offshore companies, and the Royal Navy.

In general in 1996 there was very little activity, but early in 1997 Ian Archibald of Burntisland Heritage Group (later Trust) injected new life into the search.

A timeline of activities from 1997 can be seen here.


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