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Wednesday, 24 July 2019

OPERATION DEEPSCAN

Steve Ravenhill & Family aboard the New Atlantis in 1987
Operation Deepscan was the brainchild of Adrian Shine, a marine biologist, lifelong Nessie researcher and hopeful sceptic. The leader of the Loch Ness project, in cooperation with Darrell Laurence the head of a U.S. company, Laurence Electronics; organised a sonar hunt for the elusive creature of Loch Ness, which would utilise 24 boats fitted with Laurence X-16 sonar units, which had a range of 1300ft and could target objects as small as 1ft long. It commenced on October the 9th 1987 and was at the time, the largest sonar investigation of any body of water anywhere in the world.

24 sonar equipped boats set off from the new clansman hotel witnessed by 250 journalists, 20 television crews and countless spectators from all over the world, who turned up to see this momentous search for the creatures of Loch Ness. Adrian Shine, who addressed the volunteers that day,
asked that they do it for, "all the maligned eyewitnesses who look to you for vindication."


On the first day, 3 strong sonar contacts were recorded from 78 metres (256ft) to 180 metres (590ft). The best of these was made just off Whitefield, opposite Urquhart Bay. Darrell Laurence said that "All the contacts made were larger than a shark but smaller than a whale", and Adrian Shine, leader of the Loch Ness Project, said that in his opinion, "All 3 targets were unlike those which could be expected from the lochs known inhabitants, like salmon, eels or shoals of char", and that they were, "Deep midwater contacts of considerable strength."

However, later, in what appeared to be a partial recantation or at least a more realistic appraisal of the contacts, Adrian speculated, based on size, that they might be seals which had entered the loch! (Of course, it goes without saying that the discovery of a seal capable of growing to a size somewhere between that of a large shark and a small whale, would also be an amazing discovery!)

Somewhat reassuringly, the following day, some of the sonar equipped boats returned to the location, but no further contacts were made, indicating that these anomalous sonar contacts must have been moving midwater targets and not stationary objects.

Nevertheless, the rest of the operation passed without any significant findings and it was largely tabled by the media as a flop and lauded by the scientific community, as proof of the 'non-existence' of the fabled creatures of Loch Ness.

In May of 2017, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Steve Ravenhill, who took part in Operation Deepscan, aboard a vessel named ‘New Atlantis’. Steve Ravenhill was a lifelong fan of Nessie and friends and actively kept abreast of the latest in lake monster lore from his retirement home in Columbia, where he sadly died, early this year.

What follows is an account of this event in Loch Ness history, from a first-hand observer and active participant in this extraordinary expedition!

OPERATION DEEPSCAN


B.O.B: "How did you become involved in Operation Deepscan?"

Steve: "I have been interested in Loch Ness since I was a boy, now many years ago! I first visited the loch in either 1970 or 71. I know that because the LNPIB was still open. I have been there many times since, either staying in a local hotel or renting a boat from Jim Hogan at Caley Cruisers. In Sept 87, I was going back up and Jim informed me that New
Atlantis was available for 2 weeks. I jumped at the chance and rented it for 2 weeks! I took my mother, father, then-wife and her mother; and had a great time learning how to use the sonar. I showed some of my sonar readings to Jim, he asked me to interpret them, which I duly did! He said he was very impressed, said I had a natural aptitude for sonar and told me about ‘Deepscan’ and invited me to join the crew of Atlantis. I accepted and that’s how I got involved!"


B.O.B: "What role did you fulfil in the investigation?"

Steve: "The role of Atlantis was to operate in a support capacity to the main fleet and to verify any contact they might have! I personally took on a lot of the driving and the side scan. We also went off on our own for a bit of, off the record poking around, mostly around Urquhart bay and down by the horseshoe scree."

B.O.B: "Was there ever any discussion about possible sonar contacts that were too ambiguous to be proof?"

Steve: "I can't remember any specific discussion about sonar contact but yes, there must have been some! Plenty of discussion (argument) about the Dinsdale film and various photos!"

B.O.B: "Did you feel that Adrian Shine and company wanted to prove or disprove the existence of the monster?"

Steve: "Adrian always played down the monster hunt side of ‘Deepscan’, but I remember his speech saying, 'we must go out and vindicate the many eyewitnesses', so there was a public side and a private side! I do remember Dick Raynor and a story about some giant eels seen by the Foyers Power Station. As you must know, both of them now go for the big fish theory! David Martin never has believed, Alistair Boyd did not believe, but then he had a hump sighting and now I think he does!"

B.O.B: "Do you believe there is now or has ever been anything like Nessie in the Loch?"
Steve: "Yes I do believe there is something unexplained in loch Ness, I have spoken to eyewitnesses and personally witnessed one deepwater sonar contact as it happened. What the creature is I cannot say, but I do not think there is any 1 theory that covers all the reported sightings! A fish cannot explain the head and neck, as an eel cannot explain the humps!"

B.O.B: "Do you think that Nessie/s live in the Loch all year round, or do you think they travel between the Lochs and the sea?"

Steve: "I don't think they migrate to and from the loch, because any connection from the loch to the sea large enough for these animals to use would be far more obvious! I have just remembered one incident involving one of the boats in the line! They reported over the radio, a deep water rising directly beneath it, from around 400 to 500 feet! We were some distance away and proceeded towards them as fast as we could when suddenly the boat shot forward fearing a collision with the contact! Then contact was broken and by the time we arrived, we were unable to regain or verify contact. I don't think this incident was ever reported."

DEEPSCAN'S DEEPSCAM


B.O.B:
"Do you think that Operation Deepscan was proof that no large Nessie-like creatures live in the Loch?"

Steve: "Don't forget Deepscan never covered all of the loch, only about half, or 60% or so! Think about it! Neither end of the loch was covered, none of the bays were covered and because a lot of the volunteers were inexperienced boat drivers, it was deemed too dangerous to go too close to the sides, especially at the southwest end! Many of the drivers had a struggle just keeping in a straight line without crashing into each other! The loch is pitch black from 6 to 7 feet down, so eyes would be pretty much useless! If they are sensitive to sonar, then Deepscan must have been deafening and they probably pissed off up the other end of the Loch! No wonder we didn't find anything! As well as not covering the ends, and the sides and bays of the loch, there were also gaps in the sonar curtain itself, because the line abreast soon fell apart! Add to that the fact that because there were so many sonars pinging away they interfered with each other and had to be set to the lowest sensitivity level, it was always unlikely there would be any contacts at all! Put yourself in the position of one of these creatures! You are swimming along looking for your dinner, then there is this almighty racket that scares you witless! What would you do? Getaway as far as possible? Find a nice little hidey-hole? You certainly wouldn't hang around to see what's going on!   Alex Campbell, the former water bailiff of Loch Ness, once reported witnessing one of the creatures reacting scared to the sound of an approaching ships engine and diving before it came in to view!"

THE AFTERMATH OF DEEPSCAN


B.O.B:
"Do you believe that Deepscan was a success for the sceptics or believers in Nessie?"

Steve: "Deepscan, What did it achieve? Bluntly, not a lot! 3 deep water contacts? Nothing new there! There was already a good few since around 1982 and Deepscan did not add anything to help solve what they are. We debunked the Rhines gargoyle head photo, Yes! But that was already known and I don't think Adrian Shine had anything else to give to a packed, expectant press conference, but that is just my opinion! It raised a few people’s profiles and made a few local businesses a lot of money! For a week we were followed continually by press and TV looking for interviews. But being a quiet, shy chap, I ran a mile. There were a few of the more prominent 'faces' who saw it as a giant ego trip, sorry no names!"

"That’s about it! Will the mystery ever be solved? No, I don't think so!"


A SHALLOW SUCCESS


At the time, this gargantuan operation was painted as the final 'nail in the coffin' for the mystery of Loch Ness, its aim to disprove (or prove) emphatically, whether any large creature existed in this large and intransigent body of water. The sonar 'net' set by this operation should certainly have captured any large, errant creatures in The Loch and of course, if the 'net' came up empty, then the conclusion that the monsters existed only in the realm of fantasy, or were a mere histrionic frail brained fallacy, would be implicit!

Aside from those initial sonar contacts on the first day of this expedition, nothing further was found. But, as can be seen in the comprehensive trip down memory lane, afforded us by Steve Ravenhill, the mission was not really equipped to find anything significant, due to its being, in composition, fatally oversized and under-skilled. These flaws, coupled with the low sonar intensity, (due to overlap with the other vessels), and up to 40 % of the Loch remaining untouched (including the bays and the sides of the Loch) due to safety concerns; would indicate that the operation was doomed to failure, in lieu of its experimental nature and unnavigable topographical dilemmas.

It is of course, always easy to speculate on the Shudda, cudda, wudda's, with the benefit of hindsight! But perhaps, the operation was not as cut and dry as it was sold to be. In any plan of a prospective nature, there will always be technical issues that are difficult to foresee.

So again, Nessie resists all attempts to be recognized and become a permanent resident of the British Isles! (Joking aside, she was recently refused British residency by the home office, in reply to a somewhat comical campaign to have her naturalized, as part of the Brexit campaign!)

However, when it comes to believing the 'facts' about the creatures that are said to inhabit Loch Ness and other cryptids locales around the world, a little faith, admittedly, can be dangerously stretched, to transform sticks into sea serpents and bears into Bigfoot. However, a lack of faith also can wash over the most blatant evidence, making even the most extraordinary sightings out to be, the experience of frail brains and fraudulent men! A bit of balance on both sides, 'Sceptic' & 'Believer', would certainly be beneficial if any progress is to be made, in finding, cataloguing and more importantly; protecting these elusive beasts, that have survived 'extinction' to make our little island an an altogether more interesting and magical place!

Written by Andrew McGrath


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