The Search for the Lost Ferry -
Project Timeline (Burntisland Heritage Trust)

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Where is the ferry boat that vanished off Burntisland in the Firth of Forth on a summer storm on Wednesday the 10th of July 1633? And what happened to its royal cargo, alleged to have contained half a ton of silver and gold, the riches of a king?

A search for the wreck of the 'Blessing' and her potentially priceless cargo began in 1991. Following the withdrawal of an American exploration company in 1996, the search was taken over in 1997 by Burntisland Heritage Group (which became Burntisland Heritage Trust the following year). Progress has been slow because the search is being carried out largely by volunteers, and also because of the very difficult underwater working conditions in the target area. At the time of writing, the search is continuing with the help of some innovative and experimental technologies. It is one of the longest running and most tantalising of treasure hunts.

The table below provides full details of the search for the ferry in the period (1997 to date) when it has been led by Burntisland Heritage Trust. Please click here for information about the search in the period from the late 1970s to 1997.



(BHT = Burntisland Heritage Trust)



Images and notes
(All images © BHT and/or other named organisations)






Various – including Global Explorers Group.



Searches to identify wreck using geophysics and diving to ground-truth targets.



Please visit 'The Early Years' page.





HMS Roebuck with BHT.


Searches in the area of the charted de-gaussing range using echosounder, magnetometry and side-scan sonar.


Anomaly identifiable on all devices.
















Location provided by HMS Roebuck is the same as position provided on a chart by Lancashire map dowser Jim Longton.


Ian Archibald with Commander

Bob Stewart, pre-survey planning

on board HMS Roebuck.


The late Jim Longton.


Photo right: Burntisland Heritage Group divers Carl Galfskiy (left) and George Penn (right) who were both members of Kirkcaldy Sub Aqua Club were the first to dive the site in December 1997.

From 1998 to 2003 Carl and George investigated and set out the site with dive control grid.

Between them they carried out more than 200 dives.






Photo right: The diving is demanding with frequent poor visibility.

The added problem of tidal currents limits the diving opportunities.






Dr Colin Stove,

Radar World.


Processing and ‘cleaning up’ of Royal Navy analogue side-scan image.


The ‘cleaned up’ image appears to show a vague outline of a ‘boat like shape’.


Viewed with scepticism by the establishment.









Tritech International.


Kirkcaldy Sub Aqua Club.


Tritech sector scanning sonar; inspection dive to position sonar tripod and carry out circular searches.


Divers carry out circular search. Search line lodged ‘on something else under mud level’. Timber fragment 100mm across later reported by Archaeology Diving Unit (ADU) to have been recovered (December 1998).


Anomaly identified on sonar <26m in length and c0.4m high.


This was subsequently identified as a natural feature in 2001.






Dr Colin Stove,

Radar World Ltd.





A more detailed account of the survey carried out on 22 November 1998 can be seen here (PDF file, opens in a new tab or window).


Survey using experimental sensors developed by Dr Colin Stove. These were fixed to a small static remote operated vehicle (ROV) and suspended from the vessel ‘Maid of the Forth’.



On 22 November 1998, a scan produced an image of a structure buried beneath the seabed.


Type casting interpreted the anomaly to comprise saturated wood.


Original interpretation re-confirmed in later surveys in 2002 and 2014.


A small ROV built by Carl Galfskiy was used as a static platform for Dr Colin Stove’s ground penetrating radar sensors. These were suspended below the ‘Maid of the Forth’ which made several passes over the area identified by HMS Roebuck.

This was elementary in construction and method but the experiment was successful and delivered a positive result.


Carl with his ROV platform.



The late Bob Brydon, Colin Stove, Ian Archibald and George Penn are all delighted with the result.









Designation under section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 comes into force on 22 February 1999.




Archaeological Diving Unit, University of St Andrews (ADU).







bathymetry survey; ADU vessel.


Anomalies checked by divers.






Bathymetry/side-scan by ADU identified a ‘boat shape mound’. Magnetometer survey did not pick up any magnetic anomalies (in contradiction to earlier Royal Naval survey). Team to focus in on ‘boat shaped mound'.




Photos below: The Archaeological Diving Unit from St Andrews University provided the group with assistance from 1999 to 2001.






BHT and Radar World.


Experimental use of Radar World sensors towed behind ADU vessel ‘Scimitar’.


Survey scan shows buried structure correlating with November 1998. An offset positional difference of 12m was noted.





Circular searches

(2000 sq m), setting up of seabed platform and basic survey grid, development of sub-bottom diver controlled survey.



The search area covered to date has shown no evidence of archaeological remains;








Pre-disturbance Survey Report.


Seabed layout for sub bottom survey, comprising a roped grid measuring 20m x 40m at 5m intervals.






RAF Dive Team.



Project Design prepared for licence to excavate and carry out probe surveys within gridded area.


Diver-controlled Ground Imaging Radar survey of entire gridded area comprising 7 x 20m lines.



Probing of survey grid.

Regular contact of probe along line 2 of 8 survey lines. Analysis of core samples by British Geological Survey gave no indication of timbers at these depths and led to conclusion that contacts were natural.


Survey with ‘hand held units’ shows individual deep buried targets on lines 5 and 6.


Conclusion was that no remains of a wooden structure lay within the survey grid.



Photos below: In 2000 the RAF Dive Team provided group support with seabed scanning of the original site.









Fathoms Ltd and BHT.


Side-scan survey.


A comparison between the Fathoms survey and Royal Navy survey concludes that the anomaly located in the original RN survey does not lie within the diver grid but immediately adjacent to the east.


As a result it is agreed to extend the search area and grid a further 30m to the east and ‘box in’ the target area.


Interim reports to Historic Scotland in October 2001 and 2002.






Sweep searches of the newly extended grid; side-scan sonar survey.



No evidence of any features, but a detectable rise in the seabed within the new grid.




Archaeological Diving Unit.


Side-scan and magnetometer survey.


No indications of man-made material in the designated area except modern survey debris.








Extension of survey grid into new target area and careful probing.


On 7 May 2002, three points of contact established at SW corner of new grid at depth of 1.5m.



Carl Galfskiy with probing grid.




Carl with his dive boat and probes.



Dive Report.


On 21 May 2002, divers' visibility at 4-5 metres and they report curve on seabed. Disturbances noted on seabed. Object uncovered heavily encrusted in black oxidisation. Position is fixed.



The divers were Carl Galfskiy and George Penn.


Dive Report.


On 24 September 2002, two additional points of contact at 1.5m. Positions fixed.







Probing of new target area.


Limited progress due to logistical difficulties (previous grid disappeared, presumably during winter storms).









Continuation of probe survey and coring.



Limited work undertaken.








More information on the Wessex Archaeology report and the BHT reaction to it can be seen here (PDF file, opens in a new tab or window).


Side-scan sonar sub-bottom profile geophysics survey of protected area.



A designated site investigation was commissioned by Historic Scotland in relation to the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973). This was undertaken by Wessex Archaeology in 2004 and a report was produced in June 2005. This concluded that: ‘”The designated Blessing of Burntisland site appears not to contain the remains of the shipwreck based on the evidence available to date.” Ian Archibald, the licensee on behalf of Burntisland Heritage Trust did not receive a sighting of the report until 2007. (Also see below.)












In a letter to Historic Scotland dated 5th December 2007, Ian Archibald expressed several concerns regarding the accuracy and the conclusion of the Wessex Archaeology account. In his interim reports to Historic Scotland in 2001 and 2002 he had already stated that the anomaly identified by HMS Roebuck lay further to the east and the grid had already been extended to accommodate this.












No diving.






BHT and

Adrok Ltd.


ADR seabed survey.



GPS controlled survey directed over target area.


A series of scanned lines over the target area show consistent results of a buried structure lying beneath the seabed. A scanned line running from west to east records a structure length of 16.89m.


The target lies in fluid silt and is embedded in hard saturated sand. The results from spectral frequency analysis indicate the presence of wet wood and correlate with previous surveys in the same vicinity in 1998/99.



Ian Archibald on board the Conserver with Dr Colin Stove for sub bottom survey.


Sensors suspended over the stern.



Scottish Marine Bill.


Designation under section 1 of Protection of  Wrecks Act 1973 is revoked.









RAF Dive Team.


Dive plan prepared for seabed probing at specific coordinate to locate and confirm physical presence of wood connected to main structure.


Familiarisation dives by RAF dive team confirm control line in situ directly over target.










Royal Navy Dive Team.


Adrok Ltd.


Dive plan prepared for probing and coring.


If sample is retrieved this will be submitted for Carbon 14 dating of the timber.


Dives undertaken but coring was unsuccessful due to loss of auger.


DSC_0298 - Copy


Data analysis by Dr Colin Stove.


Images produced showing outline of buried wooden wreck using highresolution imaging spectrometry.









'The Search for the Lost Treasure of King Charles I' (Heritage Trust Lecture at the Museum of Communication in Burntisland).



A PowerPoint presentation telling the full story of the quest to find the King’s missing baggage ferry. The highly illustrated talk by Ian Archibald includes images showing evidence of the unidentified 17.0m long wooden wreck of indeterminate age buried 1.5m below seabed.





Stirling Sub Aqua Club.





Information on the dives from July 2019 onwards can be seen here.


Several dive attempts made to obtain wood sample for Carbon 14 dating of the timber.





Poor weather and visibility once again made coring difficult.



We’ll be back! … to be continued.




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