Downing’s Wreck —The Story of the Sea Venture

• *****

• Director: Ben Watson

• 50 minutes

• Showing tonight at 9:15pm at Liberty Theatre.

LookBermuda’s stunning documentary on the history of this island’s founding ship the Sea Venture is without doubt the most comprehensive and meticulously-researched record of events to date. 

What will amaze you in this film are the details that have never before come to light — who remembers that little-known skin diver named Edmund Downing was the one who originally found the wreck during the 50s before its authenticity was wrongly discredited by the UK authorities? 

And new light is shed on the hull of the ship — it has always been assumed that it was the Sea Venture’s failings that cast her to the watery depths. But following extensive research, it now appears more likely that it was a robust hull that kept her afloat during days in a hurricane. 



This is the first time the public is seeing this 3D rendering of what Sea Venture looks like. *from LookBermuda's Downing's Wreck - The Story of the Sea Venture

Jewel in the crown

And perhaps the jewel in the crown is the creation of the first accurate image of what the Sea Venture actually looked like. She is brought vividly to life in a 3D rendering of the ship —
extracted from an animation sequence — based on her state shortly after she struck the rocks. 

The rendering took several years and thousands of dollars to produce, taking advantage of advances in computer modelling and details from a rare Elizabethan shipwright’s manuscript, not to mention the very ribs of the ship itself. 

These types of revelations seep out throughout the course of the film and you emerge with the most vivid story swimming around in your head. 

Narrator Nigel Kermode says: “The story of the Sea Venture is one of risk, chance and human determination — the determination of the Sea Venture’s passengers to survive and continue their journey; of Edmund Downing to locate her remains; and of all those who sought to prove her identity and learn what they could from her timbers.”

And what we have learned...

I was invited to a special screening of the film a few weeks ago and on more than one occasion I heard members of the audiences, young and old, asking: “Why didn’t we have this when we were kids?”

It’s easy to understand why they asked the question. This ship is not only important locally, it attracts international attention as a significant contributor to Britain’s colonial history, not to mention an inspiration for Shakespeare’s Tempest.

The true events surrounding the discovery of the Sea Venture  are the subject of much political contention. Various different accounts of the story have been told over the years — most slanted in favour of the individuals or bodies telling the version. 

Downing’s Wreck — The Story of the Sea Venture has reached out to all of those involved and it is difficult to think of anyone who was omitted from the story. 

Edmund Downing and wreck searcher Teddy Tucker aside, we have Russell Whayman, who spotted the ribs and keel of the ship in 1978, sparking a second excavation that would confirm her as the Sea Venture; Mendel Peterson, a pioneer in marine archaeology from The Smithsonian; Smokey Wingood of the Bermuda Maritime Museum, who re-opened the case, and John Adams the Marine Archeologist who led the excavation and who was able to reconstruct a rendering of the hull of the Sea Venture through computer modelling (see picture).

As well as William Strachey’s well-documented accounts of Bermuda, those of Diego Raminez, who came across Bermuda in 1603, are included. He wrote of an abundance of fish, herons and turtles, and described Bermuda as “a place of plenty”.

LookBermuda’s Ben Watson, who directed the film, should be credited, along with the LookBermuda team, for the attention to detail. And LookBermuda Executive Producer Jean-Pierre Rouja should be acknowledged for producing the film to the international broadcast standards that this topic deserves. 

The meticulous detail is accompanied by stunning paintings, rare archive footage and photographs sourced from museums, image libraries, the BBC and National Geographic archives as well as private collections. 

Rare footage was unearthed — notably old interviews with Downing, and never-before-seen footage of Winwood and his wife, who were instrumental in confirming the wreck as that of the Sea Venture

What was originally to be a 20-minute film became a 50-minute HD film that will serve generations to come. 

LookBermuda has done a great service to the people of Bermuda, and to those at large with an interest in this legendary tale. It captures the inherent resourcefulness, opportunism and determination that have made Bermuda what she is today. 

Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, Bermuda is one of the most prosperous and, as Kermode narrates, “the Atlantic has been the conduit”.

This is a must-watch for children and adults alike. LookBermuda is in the process of getting the film onto the official schools curriculum and it will be showing at the Bermuda International Film Festival once only — tonight at 9:15pm at Liberty Theatre. 

Downing’s Wreck —The story of the Sea Venture’s official release is soon to be announced. To join the mailing list for future screenings email RSVP@LookBermuda.com Anyone interested in supporting this project or the subsequent curriculum components should contact them directly via LookBermuda.com

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