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The John Murray and a family exploring The Loch Ness Centre

Exploring the Depths: The John Murray Sonar Search Vessel

13th Dec 2023

On the mysterious waters of Loch Ness, 1981, a novel craft took to the waves – The John Murray sonar search vessel. Illuminated by the moonlight, this ‘flatpack’ creation had been crafted on the beach, for a special purpose.

The John Murray research vessel that's on display at The Loch Ness Centre
The John Murray and Adrian Shine at The Loch Ness Centre

The Unveiling of John Murray

The fifth area of our expedition unfolded as a night-time spectacle, showcasing The John Murray in all its glory. This ‘flatpack’ sonar search vessel was ingeniously designed with inflatable sponsons, facilitating seamless movement between Loch Ness and Loch Morar for various research purposes. Plywood deckings and superstructures were improvised rapidly on site to serve different functions.

Ingenious Design for Loch Exploration

The John Murray version emerged as a standout, dedicated to day and night scanning sonar patrols along the length of Loch Ness. Powered by a Ford Anglia van engine, for the upwind run, the vessel tactically utilised the wind for its downwind return. The forward superstructure was all that was required to sail silently downwind. It was designed to catch the wind, prevented the vessel from turning broadside – a common challenge for powerless vessels. ‘Dagger boards’ at the stern further stabilised the vessel by gripping the water as wind pressure pivoted the hull around.

The open bridge offered a clear downward view of the foredeck, a valuable feature for tracking ropes during sampler retrieval. The cabin, with small tinted windows, enhanced visibility of sonar screens in daylight. To preserve night vision during nocturnal operations, the crew relied on red lights.

The John Murray vessel in the Search for the Truth room at The Loch Ness Centre

Underwater Exploration and Salvage Operations

The John Murray’s maiden task involved locating and conducting the pre-salvage survey of a WWII Wellington bomber that had ditched on the loch on New Year’s Eve 1940. A Sea-pup Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) was deployed from the stern to dive 75 metres and explore the wreckage. Sonar contacts gathered during patrols formed the foundation for more systematic studies throughout the 1980s.

Innovations in Underwater Monitoring

Another iteration of our ‘Sponson’ system was The Monitor, a fixed station moored by one and a quarter kilometres of rope over the 200-metre deep southern basin. This version was designed for sonar monitoring and sampling. With a smaller, low-profile cabin painted orange for visibility, The Monitor became a crucial element in our exploration efforts.

In 1984, The Monitor was crewed for over a month, contributing valuable data to our ongoing quest for understanding the depths of Loch Ness. The intricate interplay of technology and innovation during these expeditions laid the groundwork for a more comprehensive exploration of the Loch’s mysteries in the years that followed. The legacy of The John Murray sonar search vessel endures as a testament to human ingenuity in the quest for uncovering the secrets that lie beneath the surface.

Family looking at The John Murray research vessel
The John Murray research vessel and telescope in The Loch Ness Centre

Discover more scientific research and get up close to the real John Murray on our immersive tour of The Loch Ness Centre.


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