New Bern, NC – When underwater archeologists get together to plan their annual fall dive on the Queen Anne's Revenge they typically plan on allowing one day out of five to have weather inhospitable to diving the site. This year during their October-long dive their precautions weren't precautionary enough.
"Unfortunately the weather Gods were not good to us. We lost about 50% of the time with bad weather. We go out in the fall because generally the winds shift around from the north. It's cooler for the divers but it also comes from the land so the waves aren't as big, there's not as much swell and disruption as the summer winds coming in from the ocean. Well, for whatever reason that didn't really shift around."
Dr. Mark Wilde-Ramsing is the Queen Anne's Revenge Project director with the state Department of Cultural Resources. The weather disrupted the most carefully laid out of plans to bring up one of twelve cannon that remained on the ocean floor at the beginning of the dive which wrapped last Friday the 28th.
"We had been eyeing more optimistically C23 which we excavate in 5X5 foot squares and this was about 25 squares down the line that we would excavate and get to. If we'd had good weather just lost our one day a week instead of almost 3 days a week we probably would've gotten there."
But they did lose those 3 days a week, so after a good initial first week on the site most of the next two weeks were lost and so were those plans. However, right where they had started excavating was another cannon which they had planned on excavating but, rather than bring it up top, leave on the ocean floor in a holding area for future recovery. So rather than move it to the holding area the decision was made to just go ahead and bring it up top. And after two weeks of bad luck the cannon designated C13 was brought to the surface.
"C13, these cannons were all named sequentially when they were found on the seabed in the early days of 1997 & 1998. Well, it happened we had brought up 12 of the large iron cannon so this became the 13th cannon. There was some question but once it came out of the hole and got over the site, the staging area, and this Wednesday morning was just the most glorious morning in the world. The weather was calm. It was warm and it came up without a hitch and off it went."
Their luck that day was limited, however. Dr. Wilde-Ramsing says if they'd tried to bring the cannon up that same afternoon or the following day it wouldn't have happened the winds that had bedeviled them for two weeks suddenly picked back up again. But luck wasn't all bad or more precisely, foresight paid off. The QAR project had the Army Corps of Engineers drop sand near the wreck site in 2006 to act as a berm to protect the site when tropical systems passed through which is what happened when Hurricane Irene rumbled through at the end of August.
"So this time when we did have this major storm, yes, it did remove some of it but we didn't get the kind of scouring and big holes and artifacts just rattling around that we saw prior to 2006. So it was a bit exposed which was good, we didn't have as much sand to dig through but we still had 2-3 feet of overburden we had to remove just to get to the artifacts where we were working."
Now the QAR project faces a two-year period where they'll need a combination of luck and planning to complete their task.
"We've been going at this hard since 2006 when the determination was made that the best thing for the site was to remove the artifacts from the sea bed and get them away from storms and get them into the safety of the conservation lab in Greenville."
Dr. Mark Wilde-Ramsing says they hope to have the site they've been exploring since 1997 complete by the end of 2013. He hopes to get 12 weeks of exploration in next year with dives during the month of May and next September and October winds permitting, of course . I'm George Olsen.