The Alex Project – Introduction

Our current club project is to investigate and map this often dived wreck in Weymouth Bay.

Alex van Opstal (afloat) - stern view

Largely overlooked by divers heading round the Bill to Lyme bay and the big intact wrecks there, this 6000 ton steamship is often relegated to the status of a backup dive. We are planning to map this wreck and produce a site plan as part of our investigations – watch this space for more information.

Coordinates: 50 32.48N; 02 16.03W

Slack water: 1 hour before HW Devonport

Max depth 30m (stands ~6m off the seabed).

As a ship some little is known about this vessel:

Alex van Opstal ship nameThis ship was almost brand new when she succumbed to the mines near the Shambles bank. She was a large passenger/cargo vessel, at 5,965 tons and was built in 1937 for Compagnie Maritime Belge by Nakskov Skibsvaerft A/S. The ship had oil burning engines and made 15knots from her single screw.

She has the honour of being recorded as one of the first casualties of the second world war, being sunk just two weeks after the start of hostilies on 15th September 1939. En route from New York to Antwerp, her captain had received orders to proceed to Weymouth to be inspected by the British Authorities before continuing her voyage. On board were her crew of 49, plus 8 passengers. On the 15th September 1939, she had arrived just south of Portland when at 5:55pm, there was an explosion near the number two hatch. She lifted 6-7 feet out of the water as a result, fell back and broke her back between the front of the bridge and the number three hold. It is thought that she hit a mine laid by the U boat U-26 commanded by Klaus Ewerth.

Alex van Opstal - Ons Volk coverNine crew were injured in the sinking but amazingly no crew or passengers lost their lives. The sinking was big news at the time and the Belgian magazine Ons Volk ran it as their front cover (right).

As a dive even less is known or recorded although the wreck is very often dived:

Her bow is intact and stands some 7 metres high as you travel along towards the stern she is more and more broken. As with several wrecks near to Portland she is only safely diveable at one particular state of the tide so again local knowledge is advisable. Max depth 30M. The wreck lies SW/NE with bows to the SW. Part of the wreck has broken away and lies a little away from the main wreckage. Slack water is 1 hour before high water DEVONPORT.

We plan to improve on this description and add a site plan as part of the 2012 dive seasons activities.

Lowrance scan