©  Copyright of Anthony (Tony) Green, Donald G Shomette, Peter Pritchard and John Adams who assert all their rights.  No reproduction of any part of this document in any form is allowed without the express permission of the authors.


The Report of investigations into the wooden wreck in Filey Bay

July 2008

Beneath the Waters of Time

The Search for Bonhomme Richard

By Tony Green, Donald G Shomette, Peter Pritchard and John Adams


Report Cover 

Tony Green, Donald G Shomette  and John  Adams

 Filey Bay Initiative

C/O Filey Town Council, Council Offices, 52a Queen Street, Filey,

North Yorkshire, YO14 9HE

Tel 01723 513960

PDS logo 



 1.  John Paul Jones………………………………………………………………....

2.   Introduction…………………………………………………………………….

3.   Archaeological Evaluation………………………………………………………

   4.   History of the Investigation………………………………………………….......

   5.  Bonhomme Richard Matrix of Probability………………………………………

   6. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………….....

  7.  Site Plan of section ‘A’...………………………………………………………...

  8.  Bibliography……………………………………………………………………..



 John Paul Jones

 No discussion about the famed American warship Bonhomme Richard, her career, final disposition, or place in history can be complete without first giving consideration to her celebrated commander, Commodore John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy.

John Paul Jones was born in July 1747 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbright, Scotland as John Paul, the son of a simple gardener. He first went to sea at the age of thirteen as a ship’s boy in the brig Friendship and by 1767 he was first mate of the slave ship Two Friends, of Kingston, Jamaica. Despising the “abominable trade,” he shipped aboard the Liverpool brig John, and was soon appointed master. In October 1773, while serving as master of the London merchantmen Betsey in Tobago, he slew the leader of a mutinous crew and was forced to flee to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where his brother owned an estate on the Rappahannock River. It was during this period that he added the surname Jones.

At Fredericksburg Jones entered into local society and embraced the growing opposition to what many deemed Parliament’s oppressive acts against its colonies in America. With the subsequent onset of the American Revolution he joined the newly formed Continental Navy and was attached as lieutenant to the first American flagship, Alfred. This was followed by the command of the sloop Providence, during which he devastated the British fisheries in Nova Scotia.

In 1778, as commander of the 18-gun sloop of war Ranger, he first sailed against Britain itself, sinking many vessels in home waters, and engaging and defeating HM Sloop of War Drake off Carrickfergus. He raided the port of Whitehaven, and conducted a bizarre foray against the Earl of Selkirk. The Earl was not at home when the captain's subordinates landed and made off with a few items of the earl’s silverware. Jones was so incensed that he purchased the prize items himself and returned them to their owner.

Jones was well acquainted with the fathers of the American Revolution and with the support of the American Minister to France, the famed polymath Benjamin Franklin, and others he undertook a second expedition in the late summer of 1779 as commodore of a small squadron of ships. His flagship, a thirteen-year-old, 900-ton burthen rebuilt square-rigged wooden East Indiaman called Duc Duras, was on loan from the King Louis XVI of France. She measured 145 feet in length from stem to sternpost, with a keel length of 126 feet and a hold of 15 feet in depth. She was 36 feet 8 inches breadth to outside frame, 16 feet 6 inches draft forward and 17 feet 6 inches draft aft.* In honour of his sponsor Franklin, publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac, he renamed her Bonhomme Richard. Armed with forty-three 6-, 12-, and 18-pounders, and manned with a polyglot crew of 380 Americans, French, Portuguese, former English prisoners of war, and a mix of numerous other nationalities he prepared to conduct a major naval foray against Britain. In assuming command, Jones boldly stated his guiding philosophy: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” On 14 August 1779 he sailed from Groix Roadstead, L’Orient, France, bound on a most historic cruise—to bring the war to the very shores of Great Britain itself.

* The only plans of the vessel are those produced by Jean Boudriot (1987) however Boudriot’s plans are not drawings of Bonhomme Richard but are of the class of vessel that she represents

 During Bonhomme Richard’s epic circumnavigation of the British Isles, leading a small combined squadron of America and French warships and privateers, Jones captured or destroyed many British vessels, causing unending panic on the shores of England, Ireland, and Scotland. Then, on 25 September, while sailing down the East Coast of England and conducting a cutting out operation at the Port of Bridlington, he sighted a massive convoy escorted by the new British 50-gun frigate Serapis, Captain Richard Pearson, and her consort, Countess of Scarborough, Captain Thomas Piercy. The convoy, of forty-four ships, had sailed from Elsinor in the Baltic with naval supplies critical to the operations of the Royal Navy.

Realizing the importance of the convoy, Jones signaled to engage the guardships. The momentous fight that ensued between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis, conducted along the edge of Filey Bay, on the Yorkshire coast of England, is known to history as the Battle of Flamborough Head and is considered to be one of the classic sea engagements in naval history. Within minutes of the beginning of the fight, just as the moon was rising over Filey Bay, Richard’s main battery was disabled and shut down when several antiquated “old style” French 18-pounders blew up. Nevertheless, with little help from his timorous squadron, Jones maneuvered Richard alongside Serapis, and the two ships locked together, side to side, in an epic death struggle, firing point blank into and through each other’s sides. Within a short time sharpshooters in Richard’s fighting tops had cleared Serapis’s decks of seamen. But below decks, the British broadsides had destroyed what was left of the American batteries and began to literally cut the ship apart longitudinally. Both ships were ablaze and the scuppers reportedly literally ran red with blood.

During the peak of combat, as Pearson’s massive guns continued to thunder unimpeded, he shouted to Jones: “Do you wish to strike?”

Jones retorted: “No sir, I haven’t as yet thought of it, but I’m determined to make you strike.” The more popular, abbreviated version of his response, “I have not yet begun to fight,” was soon immortalized in American naval tradition.

Then, in a move of daring audacity, when all seemed lost, with more than half his crew dead and the majority of those left having been wounded, Jones captured Serapis. After boarding his prize, he watched as his beloved Bonhomme Richard sank in the frigid North Sea. Because of his actions, he was branded a pirate by the British but celebrated as a naval hero in his own adopted country and throughout Europe.

Although pursued by myriad Royal Navy warships, Jones made good his escape to the Texel in Holland in the captured Serapis. He later returned to America where Congress awarded him a gold medal, the only Continental Navy officer to be so honored. Yet, Captain Pearson of Serapis, who had fought an action in the highest traditions of the Royal Navy to save the critical Baltic convoy, which had escaped north to the safety of the guns of Scarborough Castle, had lost his ship but won the praise of his nation and a knighthood.

In 1788 Jones accepted an offer by Catherine the Great of Russia to enter her infant navy as a rear admiral, and won for her country at the Second Battle of Liman against the Turks an outlet to the Black Sea. In 1792 he was appointed U.S. Consul to Algeria but died on July 18th of that year before he could take up the appointment. In 1905 his remains were brought to the United States from their long forgotten grave in Paris and in 1913 were placed in a monumental tomb of honor beneath the historic U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland.

John Paul Jones, whose naval skills, fighting philosophy, and organizational expertise earned for him the sobriquet “Father of the U.S. Navy,” became one of the most revered and iconic figures in American naval history. Commander Michael Brady of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis once observed of Jones: “A measure of the man’s importance and reputation is extremely important, as he is the father of the U.S. Navy. His attributes of tenacity under fire are qualities that we try to instill in each and every one of our Midshipmen. His writings on the qualification of a naval officer are as true today as the day he wrote them and in fact each and every one of our Midshipmen memorizes those qualifications of a naval officer.”

John Paul Jones’s contribution toward American independence and his place in history must not be underestimated. He fought a courageous and daring battle that is a classic in its own right and gave the fledgling United States of America great prestige and recognition at a time when it was sorely needed. With little more than a sixth-grade education, Jones progressed from an apprentice British merchant seaman, to Continental Navy captain, and finally ended as a Russian rear admiral. His stirring maxim “I intend to go in harm’s way” is today the core adage the Unites States Navy uses to signify its courage and determination.   


Over the past three decades, an ongoing investigation has been underway to record and identify a hitherto unknown but significant underwater archaeological site in Filey Bay, on the rugged coast of Yorkshire, England. The survey is being conducted by the Filey Underwater Research Unit (FURU), in partnership with the Filey Bay Initiative (FBI), and the community of the Township of Filey, and an international array of partners. The purpose of the research effort is to study and evaluate a wooden shipwreck conjectured to be the possible remains of the famed United States frigate Bonhomme Richard.

Lying in an extremely hostile deepwater environment, the wrecksite is swept by strong and currents, except for twice daily periods fifty minutes on either side of high and low water. With the highly mobile particulates of bottom sediments providing eternally turbid visibility, which normally ranges from zero to less than two feet, precise recordation of the site’s disposition during the early days of the project, proved difficult. The migratory nature of large sections of the bottom served to compound the difficulties of investigation during that period. Yet, in recent work, enhancement of data gathering using sonar, magnetometry, and video imagery have measurably facilitated and understanding of the site, its condition, and environment. As these latter resources being beyond the financial and technical capabilities of the research team until 2000, reliance for data gathering was initially placed upon hands-on site assessment, in a process that one commentator called “archaeology by Braille.” Later, as funding allowed, moderate capacity video analysis and, to a lesser degree, limited asymmetric magnetometry, combined with systematic archaeological field measurements of surficially exposed ship fabric, permitted the construction of the most composite plan of the wreck to date, and preliminary parameters of the date of loss, vessel typology, size, possible service, nationality, and site condition.

The wreck was originally discovered in 1975 by amateur archaeologist and historian John Adams, a resident of Filey. A veteran diver of the North Sea and as far afield as the Falklands Islands, Adams was immediately aware of the potentially historic importance of the unidentified wreck and its potential candidacy for the long sought after Bonhomme Richard, and for years conducted field research in sporadic episodes as sea conditions, personal, and periodic community and private organizational financial capacity allowed. In order to focus more professional archaeological, monetary, and technical resources onto the project to expand his researches, he formed the Filey Underwater Research Unit (FURU), which was formally chartered on 31 October 1996. The shipwreck research project itself and the trained expertise of its members rapidly evolved from FURU into the Filey Bay Initiative (FBI), a company limited by guarantee and a co-operative venture between the Filey Town Council and the parent organization.

When first examined in 1975, the wreck was discovered largely buried beneath bottom sediments; it was later found to be broken into at least three substantial, disarticulated sections, the largest of which was identified as part of the entire length of the ship’s port hull fabric. The main exposed sector of this hull component extended at least 45 meters in overall length and is about 8 meters in width. The investigation of this component, identified as Section A, forms the bulk of this report. The other two sections of wreckage, identified as B and C, are of undetermined size owing to their infrequent exposure and cyclical reburial.

The vessel is identified as a wooden sailing ship with at least two decks and probably ballasted with shingle. Radiocarbon analysis and preliminary examination of the few artifactual samples recovered indicate that the wreck dates from the period 1776-1800, and has suffered from severe fire trauma.

In 2000 FURU engaged the archaeological services of Cultural Resources Management (CRM), of Dunkirk, Maryland, U.S.A. With the aid of CRS, FURU was also able to secure financial, field, and technical support from the National Geographic Society (NGS), Washington, D.C., the Submerged Cultural Resources Center (SCRC) of the U.S. National Park Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico, the U. S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Pritchard Diving Services (PDS).

On 26 July 2002, owing to the imminent threat of unsympathetic salvage the Filey Bay wrecksite was designated, through the efforts of FBI, as an historic shipwreck by an emergency designation under the United Kingdoms Protection of Shipwrecks Act 1973 by Statutory Instrument number 2002/1858. The protected area extends in a 300 meter radius from a point centered on Latitude 54° 11.502' North, Longitude 0000 13.481' West. Management of the site is administered by English Heritage, which is the United Kingdom’s governing body for the protection, interpretation and preservation of national heritage assets. Licenses to survey and excavate such sites are issued by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport upon recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wrecks, which was established to advise on suitability of wrecks for official designation.

Although substantial historical and archaeological data acquired to date from exposed surficial features suggests that the wreck is a viable candidate to be Bonhomme Richard, no substantial excavation has been undertaken to assess defining architectural realities that may exist beneath the sediments, or to recover critical diagnostic materials believed to lie buried at the site. Thus, evidence is still considered by FURU as insufficient to conclusively verify the remains as those of the long-sought-after Bonhomme Richard. Whatever its identity may be, however, because such cultural resources are rare and non-renewable the wreck must be considered as a significant late 18th-century maritime archaeologically treasure.  

Archaeological Evaluation 

To date, only data assemblage of surficial exposed features of the site has been possible, owing to the hostile deepwater environmental conditions and regulatory national survey licensing limitations. The main piece of exposed wreckage being investigated and referred to in this report, Section A, consists of an area of articulated hull fabric measuring 45m by at least 8m. The structure lies with its outer hull lying buried in the seabed by sands in excess of 300mm deep in, but its exposed inner component faces upwards, normally largely free of sediments, and usually (but not always) accessible.

The fabric consists of 300mm sided and 210mm moulded frames spaced approximately 155mm apart. These were overlain with 150mm by 75mm thick outer planking; the width of these were difficult to determine due to their buried status. No copper sheathing or associated material has been observed.

The frames are fastened with iron bolts and the planking to the frames with cupreous fasteners. In some area nails project thought the planking without frames were frames had been torn away.

The main longitudinal feature consisted of a 26m long stringer (or clamp) 365mm wide and 165mm deep, and there are indications that this feature has been thickened as it progresses towards the stern of the vessel. This architectural feature lies inside the framing system and is fastened to it by 22mm diameter cupreous bolt fastenings, their inner face usually being hammered over a cupreous rove 30mm in total diameter. The cupreous fastenings, when expose to torchlight, appeared to be copper rather than an alloy such as “yellow metal.” Cut into this stringer are a number of “blind” sockets between 300mm and 400mm in longitudinal length and 150 mm in depth. These were observed to rest from 2.5m to 3.4m apart at distances that graduate in sequential integers with each socket.

Fragments of what is presumed to be ceiling planking were observed on either side of main longitudinal feature. These fragments were between 20 and 150mm deep.

The timbers were observed to be black to both the naked eye and under torchlight, as is often the case with wood after long exposure on the seabed. However, CRS and NPS identified substantial evidence of fire trauma. (Shomette, 2001; Submerged Cultural Resources Center Technical Report No.19, 2004). Speciation analysis by Ian Tyers of the University of Sheffield Dendrochronology Laboratory advised that timbers he had examined from the wreck were oak, but with insufficient rings to be datable (Tyers, pc).

All of the exposed timber was heavily abraded by marine life, particularly marine borers. Timbers uncovered during a very limited test excavation, and by the cyclical hydrology of the bottom environment, were in better condition although it was observed that the surfaces were largely abraded as well.

One large upstanding iron object, and a second similar but largely buried object, both heavily covered by a matrix of conglomerate, were observed towards the northwest extremity of the site, and are believed to be iron hawse pipes.

Towards the southwest end of the site an area of curved timbers was observed to be upstanding by approximately 750mm. This is an area that contains the remains of fishing gear that has become attached to the wreckage.

No immediately obvious evidence of verifiable “battle damage” has been observed although substantial signs of trauma to the structural fabric itself are present. Adams noted a particular opening through the hull that merited further investigation. However, differentiation between damage inflicted by fire trauma, the actual process of vessel loss (possible collision, storm damage, impact with the bottom during sinking, battle trauma, etc.), and natural degradation over time, is impossible until a controlled test excavation of the site planned for future survey work is conducted. 

 History of the Investigation

 Adams’ first investigations were undertaken by in the mid-1970s with limited available resources and logistical capabilities, primitive technology, and substantial difficulty. Nevertheless, he acquired his own small boat for fieldwork, and a cadre of dedicated volunteers, including his three sons. The available electronic depth sounding equipage, though adequate for a fisherman, was still unreliable for accurate archaeological work, and global positioning technology, by which to guarantee a return to one discreet area of any given site, was not then available for civilian use. Positioning was accomplished by the tried and true method employed by fishermen for centuries of taking transits of known landmarks on shore and lining them up in a certain configuration that placed the boat over the wreck. Such time-tested locational methodology depended upon good sea conditions and clear visibility, but in deep water did not lend itself to pinpoint accuracy and was a feat of skill in its own right.

Eternally shifting bottom sediments, at one moment covering the wreck and then reburying it, from tide to tide and year to year, compounded Adams’ difficulties. It is now known that the site has been almost completely buried and exposed almost cyclically.

Consequently, during the early years of investigation, the number of successful returns to and dives on the site were low. But, as equipment gradually improved with the advance of technology and hands-on experience with the site increased, the wreck slowly began to yield its secrets. The information gained was hard won and demanded all of Adams’ disposable resources. It involved working underwater at great depth over a long period of time by touch to establish the distribution of the wreckage in limited or zero visibility, always with the threat of unseen hazards, such a nets and ropes that can fatally trap a diver, and sudden changes of the North Sea weather.

In the late 1990s, the team acquired the use of a basic magnetometer, an electronic device that measures the variations in the earth's magnetic field caused by ferrous objects on the seabed. This enabled the team to establish distribution and possible patterning of any large buried iron features on the wreck site and in the immediate survey area, and notably, an area to the south of the site that is believed to be a debris trail.  This  further expanded the knowledge of the site and its environs. By that time, the team had increased its expertise working in difficult conditions and was able to begin systematic recordation of what they had found. Slowly the investigation gained new adherents and support, such as historian and diver Mike Radley and his Rigid Inflatable Boat, which provided another modest but indispensable “arm” to the survey.

In 1979, the first diagnostic artifacts were recovered. Owing to lack of conservation facilities, however, the recoveries were intentionally limited to a modest few. First a wooden deadeye with part rope stropping preserved in tar, and later a small basal fragment of white saltglaze dishware, were recovered from the site. The dish was tentatively identified as being in the date range of 1750 to 1850; and after consultation, two samples of the rope were submitted to Professor V. R. Switsur of the Environmental Sciences Research Centre for Radiocarbon analysis.

In his report, Professor Switsur confirmed that, after calibration to take into account for radioactive pollution in the environment in more recent times, two possible date ranges were identified. The first date range was 1630 to 1680 AD (1655 plus or minus 25 years) and the second one was 1740 to 1800 AD (1770 plus or minus 30 years). Owing to identifications of later architectural features, ship fittings, and a second radiocarbon dating from the ship’s fabric itself, the latter date was determined to be the correct period during which the vessel was produced.

Following a request by John Adams, in 1996 and 1997 the Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) of St. Andrews University visited the site at the direction of the U.K. Governments Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). DCMS is the British governmental agency charged with the management of underwater cultural heritage, which at that time retained under contract the services of the ADU for professional advice and archaeological fieldwork in connection with this responsibility.

Upon investigation of the site, ADU concluded, based upon observations of cupreous fittings being present on the wreck, that they did not believe that the remains could be those of Bonhomme Richard. Their conclusion was that copper fastenings generally date a wreck site later than Bonhomme Richard, which was launched in 1766 when copper technology was believed not be in maritime use in European nations, and therefore they would not expect to see these fittings on a vessel of this age.

Adams respectfully disagreed with this conclusion, noting that the ship was noted by the Jean Boudriot, the noted French naval historian and the foremost authority on the construction of Bonhomme Richard, as having been rebuilt in 1772 and undergone refitting several times during her life, the last being an extensive overhaul and refit by Commodore Jones himself in 1779. Subsequent investigation by the U.S. National Park Service noted the usage of cupreous fittings by the French as early as the 1760s and by the British Navy in 1776. The practice was in common usage by 1798. By 1778 the French Navy had begun employing copper and cooper alloy fittings in ship construction. Indeed on her refit by Jones for her voyage to England, he requested copper sheathing for the hull but was unable to secure it. What is now clear is that Bonhomme Richard was refit at the leading edge of the period of widespread adoption of the use of copper sheathing and cupreous fasteners by both the British and French. The cupreous fasteners, however, which were not employed in vessel construction during the seventeenth century, definitively placed the date of ship construction in the 1740-1800 date period based upon the C-14 dating.

Analysis of a timber section by Dr. Alexander Chepstow-Lusty of the Department of Plant Science, University of Cambridge (1998) stated that a piece of timber sampled from the wreck displayed the characteristics of charcoal and was the first clue to the presence of fire damage to the vessel’s fabric. Later hands-on examination of several exposed futtock timbers and sockets confirmed probable fire trauma.

In July 1998, John Adams and the FURU Secretary Tony Green, while on a BBC-funded research trip Annapolis, Maryland and Washington D.C., engaged the services of Cultural Resources Management (CRM), of Dunkirk, Maryland. The affiliation culminated in a visit and preliminary but extensive reconnaissance of the site during August 2000 by Donald G. Shomette, Director of CRM and the first American marine archaeologist to physically examine the wreck. Shomette’s detailed report, produced in January 2001, concluded that there was at that time insufficient evidence to confirm the site as Bonhomme Richard. There were, indeed, factors against the site being the much sought after ship, principal among them being the absence of cannon and anchors. However, those factors in favor of the hypothesis, namely period of manufacture, size, fire trauma, location, and other data, were compelling. He concluded “circumstantial evidence is deemed by CRM to be strong enough to suggest that the wreck is a likely candidate for Bonhomme Richard and warrants a more comprehensive investigation.” (Shomette, 2001).

In 2002 the local investigation continued by means of the use of limited magnetometer and hands-on survey. Due to an episodic natural migration of sediments covering the wreck, large and hitherto buried and unseen components of the ship’s architecture and construction could be examined. Adams made an observation that there appeared to be a series of sockets, below the clamp line in Section A, which he initially believed to be boarded over gun ports, and quickly produced a record of these features before they might again disappear.

In September 2002 the National Geographic Society made funds available for a comprehensive archaeological reconnaissance of the site, with field operations conducted by the NPS Submerged Cultural Resource Center’s veteran archaeological dive unit comprised of Daniel Lenihan, David Conlin, Mathew Russell and Brett Seymour, with the assistance of Pritchard Diving Services. World-renowned underwater photographer Christoph Gergk and his team partner Stefan Scholz were contracted by National Geographic Magazine to conduct underwater the photographic and vide recordation of the operation. The main dive platform was to be the local stern trawler Jodan C, while FURU provided small craft support. Field operations were also attended and observed by the Archaeological Dive Unit, which conducted remote sensing work in the area

The ambitious goal of the fieldwork for 2002 was to systematically document the entirety of Section A by photo and a digital video mosaic computerized reconstruction of wreckage. A second mission was to examine, record, and identify the newly discovered sockets. Unfortunately, weather conditions, turbidity, and a natural redeployment of sediments that had accumulated to a greater depth than expected made this impossible. As all excavation, under the parameters laid down under the Excavation License, was limited to hand fanning, it was impossible to remove the heavy sediments that had re-accumulated over the key components of the wreck that were to be investigated. However, at the very end of the survey period, the extreme tidal conditions that had dominated the season briefly subsided, and turbidity cleared over majority of the wreck permitting Gergk to partly achieve his photographic objective of photographing a length of the hull section in a continuous sequence.

In this investigation, the NPS team adjusted their field strategy to better achieve secondary objectives. They concluded that the openings in the hull discovered by John Adams, were not gun ports but sockets for deck beams. They also addressed the question of cupreous fittings on the wreck, noting that while such features weigh to discount the identity of the wreck as being Bonhomme Richard, it is not entirely conclusive as such fittings were in use at the time of the ship’s fielding. They did reconfirmed that there were substantial signs of shipboard fire on the hull fragments that represent areas of the ship above the waterline.

Although NPS could not provide an identification of the wreck based upon the sparse archaeological evidence, it stated that the strongest arguments were those posed by Adams, which were detailed in the Shomette report of 2001.

In 2003 the National Geographic Society funded another season of fieldwork. Peter Prichard, of Pritchard Diving Services, was engaged as the main archaeological contractor, with a team of divers under his direction to undertake further investigation. Prior to the arrival of the contractor, bouyage was laid out by FURU to facilitate operations. The investigation was unfortunately dogged by mechanical failure, and again bad weather and extremely turbid on-site visibility. Owing to dynamic marine conditions, Pritchard reported that the critical archaeological excavation work that they were engaged to perform could possibly destabilize the wreck. Again work was discontinued.

Due to these conditions, underwater photography was deemed impossible and only limited information was gained from field operations. The area of the main site worked was a section of hull measuring 30m by 3m, but as the outside of the hull was embedded in the seabed it was therefore inaccessible. The inner face of the hull was accessible under a layer of sand 300mm deep.

In 2004 Todd James of the NGS and David L Conlin of the NPS developed plans for a very small, self-contained expedition that would draw heavily on local expertise and abilities for a project with limited objectives: location, identification, and documentation, if they existed, of gun ports on the Filey Bay Wreck. NPS offered a decision tree that could prove/disprove the identity of the vessel and this depended upon a range of factors.

This proposed project was submitted FURU and accepted as a worthwhile attempt to confirm the wreck’s service as a possible military vessel, if not that of Bonhomme Richard. Lt. Jeremy Weirich, an archaeologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was brought into the planning as an important professional resource and representative from a key U.S. federal agency. The professional skills and underwater archaeological experience and equipment of Pritchard Diving Services were also again re-engaged.

As in previous years, weather and environmental conditions conspired to hinder investigation. During the fifteen-day project, the team was able to dive the site only eight days. On four other days, dives had to be aborted due to gales. Of the eight days diving, three were unproductive due to zero visibility conditions on the bottom caused by storm-generated ground swell. Operationally productive dives were consigned to three days at the end of the project. It was noted during these quite limited investigations that portions of the wreck were again covered with sediments that were highly mobile but the condition of the site differed dramatically between 2002 and 2004 with large sections of the fabric buried altogether in 2004 that had been exposed in 2002.

The archaeological results, again a result of bad weather, were once more disappointing. In the inadequate bottom time available to archaeologists on site, it was ascertained that sediments had again uncovered a section of the wreck, and again insufficient data was recovered to confirm or deny the identity or service of the wreck.

For the 2005 season, FBI applied for an extension of the license to 18 December of that year so that they could take advantage of any infrequent periods of good weather later in the year. However the seasonal weather patterns were not favourable for investigative work on site and few productive dives were possible. Even those few operative days were largely devoted to clearing hazards from the site in the form of loose fishing gear that had been swept on to the wreck site by the previous winter storms.

There were exceptions. At one period in August, the weather and underwater visibility substantially cleared and for a short time productive work could continue. During this window of good visibility, more was seen of the main piece of wreckage than had ever been previously possible. The team took advantage of this to place a permanent baseline down the middle of the site with stainless steel pins for datum offset measurements of the site. Hitherto a baseline had been set and removed each season. For the first time, video footage of the full length and breadth of the main section was shot and the benefits of this work were to be reaped the following year.

In 2006, a further survey licence was granted, this time to map surficial areas, and due to the favourable weather conditions, an earlier start on site could be planned. The Filey Bay Initiative had again successfully applied to the National Geographic Society for grant aid for equipment, permitting the diversion of a substantial amount of money from other FBI projects into advanced archaeological training for the FURU team and technical training by Pritchard Diving Services. As a consequence of this, the team undertook some training for the Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques World Underwater Federation, the equivalent and a First Aid qualification which are recognized by the Health and Safety Executive for the Scientific and Archaeological Approved Code of Practice, Diving at Work Regulations 1997. The Team have yet to complete the training and formally qualify for this Certification.  Following the presentation of a Final Report in 2009, Pritchard Diving Services have now withdrawn as Nominated Archaeologist to English Heritage for the wrecksite and have stated that they will have no further part in retraining or certification of the Team.

Good weather and visibility continued and during a two-week investigation of the main section of wreckage, the first detailed plan of the Section A site was generated, which produced the most comprehensive picture of the wreck to date. Although there was still not enough information available to ascertain the identity of the wreck or its service, the information gained allowed for the planning of the next phase of investigation with a view to providing critical evidence regarding the vessel’s identity, typology, architecture, service, and loss.

The team also recovered another artifact, a leather boot or shoe, which is currently undergoing conservation. Examination of data on the boot is currently being conducted at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, U.S.A. Fragments of possible ballast shingle were sent for analysis to Dr. Ervan Garrison, Professor of Archaeometry, University of Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. During the field season, FURU also had a limited opportunity to closely inspect a sheave block, only recently discovered, that is set into the inner hull structure.

In addition to the 2006 archaeological work, FBI instigated for the first time a biotic survey of the site by Dr. Sue Hull of the Scarborough Campus, Hull University. The results of this survey will identify the varieties of marine life present or once present on the site, to assess the damage and degradation affecting the ship remains, the sequence of its exposure and reburial cycle, and aid to in the long term planning for on-site conservation and protection of the wreck itself.

The 2007 investigation concentrated on gaining hard archaeological evidence from the site, this again entailed careful excavation of an area delineated by the Nominated Archaeologist, and followed on from the previous year’s work. With slow painstaking work which is a feature of the operations on this site, no further conclusive evidence was recovered.  However, this years’ work added to the sum of knowledge already gained and provided further experience of working on this difficult site. Additional measured surveys and digital photography were completed and the scale drawing of the site has been updated.

The statistics for diving operations between 15th and 28th July 2007 and additional diving outside of the programmed investigation are 66 dives undertaken with a total of 1812 minutes on site underwater.

  Dr Sue Hull of the Scarborough Campus, Hull University has produced an interim  report on her biotic survey of part of the site which is shown below:

 Interim report

  All digital imagery previously recorded have been viewed and a species list of the macrofauna in the vicinity of the wreck produced. Various additional areas were targeted for further sampling of the site including Tublaria stands and the dense hydroid/bryozoans turf present on various areas of the wreck. Most notable from video footage were areas with dense growths of Hornwrack (and related species) indicating that such areas were exposed from beneath the sand for a period of two years.

Biological samples of turfing organisms were collected from three sites on the wreck during this years project, these samples contained a variety of turf-forming bryozoans and hydroids with accompanying infaunal and epifaunal species. Currently 25 taxa have been identified and further taxonomic analysis will be completed in the New Year.

Additional survey work on the area of the wreck site

In addition to the above, the Initiative were fortunate to secure the help of  the Royal Navy survey vessel, HMS Gleaner.  HMS Gleaner was able to provide a high quality survey of the area around the wreck site and this survey has produced:

1)  The location of additional underwater objects on the sea bed.

2)  The location of a probable prehistoric river bed feature close to the site of the wooden wreck.

3)  Other boat shaped depressions in the sea bed.

4)  High quality images of the area of sea bed surrounding the site.

5)  A survey of two other wreck sites.

The objects discovered by HMS Gleaner are being truth dived and a report on these will be forthcoming

Under a separate Heritage Lottery Grant, it is proposed to undertake advanced magnetometery work of the area covered by HMS Gleaner and to complete a survey of the additional area known as the Filey Box located to the south and connected the site of the wooden wreck.  Any targets identified in this magnetometery survey will be truth dived and further investigated by the FBI Team.  A separate report on this work is to be provided by the FBI Team.

Further investigation is to be completed on the supposed river bed feature to prove or disprove its existence.  If proven, it will link to the submerged land of "Dogger Land" or the land bridge  to the near Continent of Europe that disappeared when sea levels rose after the last Ice Age and will be of great local importance.  The Filey Bay Initiative is greatly indebted to the Commanding Officer and crew of HMS Gleaner for providing the opportunity for new discoveries to be made and for the advancement of the knowledge of our area.

In line with the continuing work on the site, in September 2010 a report in the local press quoted the Filey Bay Initiative as saying that many of the seabed anomalies previously identified in the area of the wooden wreck had been investigated but no evidence of any wreckage or remains had been found.  The report advised 'that FURU had also been busy checking a search corridor of seas stretching towards Flamborough Head.  During previous seasons nearly 5000 readings indicating the possible presence of metal objects have been located within the search corridor'.  Data is continually being analysed to narrow down 'hot spots' to be proof dived in the hope that they will be able to identify artefacts.

Following an evaluation of reports, documentation and other information relating to the wreck site, in order to assess the results of its work, and to provide an indication of the possibility of the wreck being that of Bonhomme Richard, FBI constructed a scoring matrix consisting of a list of thirty parameters. The matrix is shown below.

Bonhomme Richard Matrix Probability

Table One

Yes = definitely related to BHR.  Probable = supporting evidence as being related to BHR

No = not found (■ = If BHR, should not be there)






Source where specific

Geographical location



Shomette/Adams/written record

Other wooden ships in vicinity



Shomette 2001/Adams

Other burnt ships in Filey Bay



Shomette 2001/researchers

High Archaeological potential



Dean/Shomette/US Nat. Parks

18th Century vessel



Shomette 2001

Large ocean going vessel



Shomette 2001

French constructional details



Dean/US Nat. Parks

Other  constructional details



Length of main section



Shomette 2001

Trauma to main section



Shomette 2001




US National Parks 2001/2004

Carbon dating



Switsur, University of Cambridge




Tyres, University of Sheffield

Item of Salt glazed ware




Leather sole artifact







Shomette 2001


Bonhomme Richard  Matrix  Probability

Table Two

Yes = definitely related to BHR.  Probable = supporting evidence as being related to BHR

No = not found (■ = If BHR, should not be there)





Source where specific




Shomette 2001/Adams





Stone Ballast




Gun ports



US National Park Service

Metal Hawse pipe



Shomette/US Nat. Parks

Doubling of Frames



Boudroit 1987

Iron Knees



Boudroit 1987

Ferrous hull fixings



Shomette/US Nat. Parks

Copper hull fixings



Shomette 2001

Copper hull sheathing



US National Park Service

Lead scuppers



Shomette/US Nat. Parks

Tidal drift theory




Debris trail




Part leather boot









                           Out of 30 parameters, 17 score as definitely being related to BHR, 8 as Probably related and 5 score as not found.


 Although John Adams’ initial investigations of the Filey Bay Wreck, begun three decades ago, were undertaken as a modest amateur archaeological inquiry beneath the turbulent waters of the Yorkshire Coast, it has evolved over time into a model of cooperative, multi-national, multi-disciplined scientific study by virtue of a well disciplined and organised project. While it would seem to some that an entirely disproportionate amount of time has been spent on the project, it must be borne in mind that for the better part of thirty years Adams and his dedicated team of volunteers and supporters conducted their work in one of the most hostile marine environments extant, without recognition, and usually funded from their own personal disposable assets.  However, more recently with the generous help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Filey Town Council the Adams Family dive team have more assets at their disposal then comparable local organisations.

The vagaries of the unforgiving North Sea are well known and because of this, on many occasions access was denied to the site, sometimes for whole seasons. With the input of the joint partners and an increase of financial, technical, and professional resources available, it is now possible to move the project forward to a conclusion. Whether the Filey Bay Wreck is that of Bonhomme Richard or not has yet to be discovered. What is undeniable is the quality of one man’s mission in life and those who were the architects of  and supported the Project, without who's support the investigation at this level would not have been possible,  to unravel one of the most intriguing enigmas of our time - the last resting place of the flagship of Commodore John Paul Jones’ historic voyage.

The project has provided many benefits. It has extended our knowledge about the capabilities and limitations of marine archaeology, site survival, and evolution in extreme hostile environmental conditions. It has provided venues for the marriage of biology to archaeology to help understand site formation processes for historic shipwrecks in areas of high energy and mobile sediments.

If the wreck is eventually proven to be that of Bonhomme Richard, it will be of immense benefit to the communities of the United States, France, and Great Britain, all of which have a shared interest in the history of the ships, men, and war at sea that influenced the momentous, pivotal events of her voyage—events that contributed to a veritable turning point in world history, American Independence. The climatic battle fought on 25 September 1779 was an epic of classic proportions and as such a herald of the Unites State of America’s birth as a nation and the continued advancement of the European community’s move into the age of enlightenment. If the wreck is not that of Bonhomme Richard, the work of Adams, Green, FURU, FBI, and the extended partnership of international supporters and expertise will still be a great contribution to the knowledge about our shared maritime past. Most importantly, it will provide valuable information on what is without question a valuable, irreplaceable archaeological site of significance to Great Britain and the World.

Although the scoring matrix shown above does not prove or disprove the identity of the Filey Bay Wreck, it provides a scale by which the cumulative research work to date work can be judged. From the data it cannot be said with any certainty that the remains are those of Bonhomme Richard.  Yet evidence that disproves the identity of the vessel is that of Bonhomme Richard is equally absent.

The parametric evidence, however, is strong.  The wreck has been determined to be a large, decked, wooden sailing ship which meets the broad circumstantial and dimensional criteria of Bonhomme Richard. The vessel falls within the correct life span in which Duc Duras/Bonhomme Richard lived and died. Moreover, the wreck lies in the immediate area in which the final stage of the engagement between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis was fought. It suffered severe fire trauma as did Bonhomme Richard, and appears to have been cleanly snapped or severed twenty feet below a deck that was burned, as was Bonhomme Richard as a result of constant, point blank fire from Serapis’s guns. The vessel was partially outfitted with iron knees as was Bonhomme Richard, and may have carried shingle ballast as did Bonhomme Richard; no other wooden sailing ship meeting the various parameters of the wreck above is known to have been lost in the Filey Bay Study area.

Wreck plan


 Adams, J (2002). Personal communication regarding the seabed dynamics of the possible wreck site of Bonhomme Richard  .

Adams, J (2003). “Filey Bay Operational Report for 2003 to DCMS.”

Adams, J (2004). “Filey Bay Operational Report for 2004 to DCMS.”

Adams, J (2006). “Filey Bay Operational Report for 2006 to DCMS.”

Buglass J & Rackham J (1991). “Environmental Sampling on Wet Sites” in Goodburn, D.
M. & Coles, J. M. (1991), Wet Site Excavation and Survey

Buglass J (2002). “Filey Underwater Research Unit. Possible Wreck of the Bonhomme Richard. Filey Bay, North Yorkshire. Report on the 2002 Season.” 

Dean, M. (2002). “Filey Bay, North Yorkshire ADU Operational Report to DCMS.” 

Goodburn, D. M. & Coles, J. M. (1991). Wet Site Excavation and Survey. 

Boudriot, J. (1987) John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard: A Reconstruction of the Ship and an Account of the Battle with HMS Serapis. 

Health and Safety Executive (1998). Commercial diving projects inland/inshore. The Diving at Work Regulations 1997; Approved Code of Practice and Guidance - L104

Health and Safety Executive (1998). Scientific and Archaeological diving projects. The Diving at Work Regulations 1997; Approved Code of Practice and Guidance – L107 1998.  

Joiner, J.T. (2001). NOAA Diving Manual. Diving for Science and Technology. 

Lenihan, D., Conlin, D.L., Russell, M.A. & Murphy, L.E. (2002). “Filey Bay Wreck, Shipwreck Site Reconnaissance September 2002. U.S. National Park Service Submerged Resources Centre Technical Report No 9.” 

National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration U.S. Department of Commerce (2004). “Site Reconnaissance July 2004. Submerged Resources Center Technical Report No. 19.”

Oxley, I. (1991). “Environmental Sampling Underwater” in Goodburn, D. M. and Coles, J. M. (1991). Wet Site Excavation and Survey

Palmer, P. Sallamaria Tikkanen, Rikka Alvik, David Gregory 2004.  “The MoSS Project, Newsletter 2/2004.” 

Pritchard Diving Services (2003). “Filey Bay Wreck Archaeological Evaluation. Confidential Report to the National Geographic Society.” 

Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. 

Russel, M. A. Beached Shipwreck Archaeology: Case Studies from Channel Islands National Park

Shomette, D. G. (1990). The Hunt for HMS De Braak: Legend and Legacy. 

Shomette, D. G. (1995). Tidewater Time Capsule: History beneath the Patuxent. 

Shomette, D. G. (2002). “Investigation of an Eighteenth Century Shipwreck in Filey Bay, North Yorkshire, England.” Unpublished Report by Cultural Resource Management, Dunkirk, Maryland, USA.  


 Below is a list of organizations and individuals in alphabetic order whose generous contribution has enabled the project to have been advanced to its present status, we are deeply grateful to them and we thank them all, we apologies for anyone who may have been inadvertently left out:


 Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites; Cambridge University Environmental Sciences Research Centre; Cultural Resource Management, Maryland; Department of Culture Media and Sport; English Heritage; E.U. RDF Funding; Filey Archives; Filey Bay Initiative; Filey Town Council; The Filey Community, Fishing Community and Diving Community; Filey Coble Preservation Society; Filey4wards; Friends of Filey Bay Initiative; HMS Echo; John Paul Jones Museum, Kirkbean; Leader II; Maritime Coastguard Agency – Filey and Bridlington; National Geographic Magazine; National Lottery; National Museums of Scotland; National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration; Organization for the Research into Coastal Artefacts; Peter Pritchard Diving Services; Receiver of Wreck; Robin Hood Watersports; Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Filey Station; Scarman Trust; Sheffield University Dendrochronology Laboratory; Simpson Marine Engineering; St Andrews University, Edinburgh, Archaeological Dive Unit; Submerged Cultural Resources Center, U.S. National Park Service Santa Fe, New Mexico; University of Hull, Scarborough Campus  Environmental Studies; United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, USA; Wessex Archaeology; York Archaeological Trust. 


 Aileen Newbury; Alan Davies; Alex Wood; Anne Radley; Arthur Godfrey; Barry Robson; Bethany Powell; Bob Dony; Bob Findlow; Bob Gibson; Brett Seymour; Brian Cox; Carl Whittaker; Christoph Greigk; Chris Hazel; Dan Lenihan; Dave Newbury; David P Fogle (Professor), D A Saguto (Dr); David Adamson; David L Conlin (Dr); Deborah Girven; Don Adams; Donald G Shomette; Drew Mahood; Elizabeth Jackson; Gary Adams; Gill Wright; Graham Thornton; Helen Cox; Ian Panter; Ian Southwell; Ian Turner, (Captain OBE, RN); Ian Tyres; Ian Cundall; Ian Oxley; James Hodgson; Jeremy Weirich (Lt NOAA); John Adams; John Buglass; John Haxby; John Simpson; John Watkins; Kath Wilkie; Lee Norgate; Lex Austin; Larry Murphy; Linda Green; Mark Adams; Mark Dunkely; Martin Dean; Mathew Russel; Michael Fearon; Michael Farline; Mike Radley; Miles Jackson; Neil Adams; Paul Chapman; Peter Pritchard; Peter Reevely; Peter Scaife; Peter Simpson; Peter Watkins; Rebecca Martin; Richard Adams; Roger Gill; Roger Hellmandollar; Roger Keech; Roland Burr; Sophie Excelby; Steffan Scholz; Steve Griffiths; Sue Hull (Dr); Terry Dealtree; Theo Skinner (Dr); Todd James; Tony Green; V R Switsur (Prof); William Gilkerson; Andy Waddington (Captain RN)  



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