New Bern, NC – Divers have done yearly expeditions to explore the shipwreck in the Beaufort harbor since 1997 but despite years of experience at the site it promises to be an adventure every year.
"We can go out there for instance immediately after a fairly good blow or nor'easter and see where areas around the site have been scoured out, so those become immediate areas of concern with potential for losing material. And then we can go out there two, three months later and there will be another 2-3 foot of sand in those same exact areas where the sand has moved into the site from offshore with the normal daily currents."
David Moore, a nautical archaeologist with the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. He says despite knowing an exact location for the site sometimes you can go out there and find yourself saying "where's the shipwreck." The first couple of days of any expedition are spent making preparations underseas, checking out the "highway system" they've set up on the ocean floor in order to navigate the wreck site without getting lost. Once that's set weather permitting then you set out to achieve pre-ordained goals.
"Probably the main item is to take a close look at one of the big anchors, a 13-foot anchor, and get it excavated and hopefully recovered and brought back in where we'll have a media viewing at the museum before it goes to Greenville at the QAR laboratory."
This particular anchor is the 2nd largest artifact on site, outdone by another anchor. Recovering the anchor is made possible by additional space at the Queen Anne's Revenge recovery lab at East Carolina University. Two large 40-foot containers have been leased to house artifacts, freeing up space in the main lab for the anchor after limited space in the last three years slowed down the recovery of artifacts. The conservation process is a long one Moore says removing the salt from a cannon can take 4-to-6 years. But the on-dry-land restoration on some items may get a boost from below-water restoration efforts currently taking place underwater.
"We've also initiated a program out there in regards to putting sacrificial anodes on some of the larger artifacts, primarily cannons and the other anchors which essentially jumpstarts the conservation effort on those items. We hook these sacrificial aluminum anodes to these artifacts and essentially drive the salts out of the metal, makes it a lot easier and a lot shorter time period once the artifact is recovered and in the laboratory."
Underwater efforts to "jump start" the conservation process have been underway since 2009. Efforts to preserve the integrity of the site go back a few years earlier when the Army Corps of Engineers about three years ago agreed to take dredged sand they'd planned to dump two miles off shore and instead dumped it a mile-and-a-half offshore of the wreck site. That sand has migrated in and covered the site, preventing severe weather from scouring the site and scattering artifacts. It's good for the site integrity but when divers come to work the area it ups the ante on work that needs to be done to recover objects.
"But it's a double-edged sword. You've got all that sand available now to kind of come in and help cover and stabilize the site and help prevent a loss of material but at the same time when we go out there it gives us another couple of feet of sand we have to excavate. Between the two we've opted for the latter. We'd rather have to excavate through additional sand then actually set us up for possibly losing material from these sites."
Plans now call for dive crews to be at the site until June 3 weather permitting. David Moore is a nautical archaeologist with the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. I'm George Olsen.