New Bern, NC – When divers began a two-week expedition to the shipwreck site in the Beaufort Harbor toward the end of the week of May 15th plans were announced to the public that an anchor would be coming up from the ocean floor to highlight the trip.
"The original plan was to pull up A2 because it had been seen to move a little bit when we had excavated up very close to this pile back in 2008 and so we figured, she's loose, but we get out there and prepare to take a closer look and put some lift bags on to the anchor and find out she's still attached to a couple of big cannon immediately beneath it and so that immediately makes a 3000 lb package weighing about 6-7000 lbs, so well beyond the capacity of the lift bags."
David Moore, a nautical archaeologist with the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Fortunately there was a plan B which unexpectedly turned out to be easier than plan A.
"So then we turned out attention to A1 which is right beside A2 and also on top of the pile. We thought initially that was going to be the more problematic of the two because it appeared to be very tightly concreted in the pile but as it turned out it was not, so it was definitely the easier of the two and came up much easier than was expected."
So about 3000 pounds of anchor came off the ocean floor May 27th, highlighting the two week dive that ended the first weekend of June. Crews accomplished what Moore estimates at 85-90% of what they had set out to do helped out by unusually good visibility on the ocean floor. Typically Moore says divers might have two-to-three feet of visibility, good enough to work in. This time there were multiple days that approached 20 feet of visibility, providing a little bit of a comfort zone for those down under.
"During the summer months you have a lot of sea urchins moving into the area and attaching themselves to cannons and anchors and barrel hoops and things and when you have limited visibility and surge on the bottom moving you around you're going to make contact at some point with something with spines on it."
Moore says the recovery of the anchor was "about it" for artifact recovery there were a few cannon balls concreted near the anchor ring but the anchor and anything attached to it was pretty much the sum total of what came up. Much of the dive was spent securing the future of other large artifacts still in the Harbor. A few dives back a project to start conserving larger artifacts underwater was begun, attaching "sacrificial anodes" which help to drive corrosive salts out of the metal. That project was continued and expanded upon.
"We changed out and checked and took readings on the anodes that were already in place on one of the anchors and maybe two of the cannon. We added to that list greatly, in fact probably triple the list and added anodes to other cannon that some of which had already been recovered and were put in a staging area to the south and are ready for recovery but also some of the cannon that were in-and-around that pile we wanted to get anodes on as well and begin recording readings on those."
Each dive researchers check readings to make sure that the process of removing salts from the metal is in fact working as planned. If successful, it could shorten by a year-or-two the up to six years it might take to conserve a large item such as a cannon in a laboratory setting. And that's good news for Blackbeard fans because the sooner the conservation process is completed the sooner the public can have access to those artifacts and judging by the turnout at this past weekend's opening of a new Blackbeard exhibit at the Maritime Museum in Beaufort, there's a lot of folks looking to see more.
"We had somewhere in the neighborhood of about 4000 people on Saturday alone which was the first day of the opening. At times the line was all the way out to the street but the line kept moving fairly quickly and take a look and hopefully will come back when they have more time to soak up more of the interpretation and analysis of the material and the Blackbeard story itself."
David Moore is a nautical archaeologist with the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort. I'm George Olsen.