New Bern, NC – INTRO - Dive teams with the state's Underwater Archaeology Branch have completed their fall dive at the shipwreck believed to be that of the pirate Blackbeard's flagship the Queen Anne's Revenge. George Olsen has more.
The Queen Anne's Revenge ran aground in the Beaufort harbor in 1718 and laid there undiscovered until 1996 when private contractor Intersal came upon the wreckage. Since 1997 excavation of the site has been ongoing though lately the site, hidden for almost 275 years, has been not as forthcoming with its secrets. Last year a fall dive was cancelled because of a lack of funding. This year funding was secured but the site played hard to get or more precisely hard to get to.
"Basically the swells were such and the currents were such that they would sweep the hoses around, sweep the divers around and of course the monsoon that we had at the end of September about the 2nd week of the project that kept us off the site for a week helped stir a lot of sediment and silt up in the sounds and every time we had a flowing tide out of the inlet that dirty water would sweep across the site so we would have very, very poor visibility pretty much the duration of the project this year."
David Moore is the Curator of Nautical Archaeology for the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Those swells were enhanced by winds predominantly out of the south, unusual for the six-week period divers were on the site from Sept. 21 to Oct. 29. Moore estimates about 40% of their dive days were shortened by the weather, primarily wind-related. That resulted in the amount of ground typically surveyed during their fall dives to be reduced by more than half.
"Normally we'll have over the past 4-5 years we'll average maybe 50-80 units, a unit being a 5 foot by 5 foot square grid. This year I think we got somewhere in the neighborhood of 20."
Still, things did get done. One of the goals of this dive was to treat while underwater large objects such as cannon to forestall their deterioration before space opens up at conservation labs for their ultimate preservation.
"I think we did end up able to check a couple of those artifacts, and these artifacts were essentially the large cannon and anchors on the site that we were setting up with anodes on the bottom and hopefully, at least theoretically, starting the conservation process on the bottom before they get into the lab, recovered and into the lab."
Because of a lack of lab space, it was decided prior to the start of the dive to limit the amount of artifacts removed from the site. Artifacts of interest still came up despite that decision pewter plates that were fairly intact, a sounding lead used to gauge the depth of water ships were sailing in that Moore described as the biggest sounding lead he'd ever seen come off a shipwreck, and a sword handle that could add to the pile of circumstantial evidence that this shipwreck is indeed the Queen Anne's Revenge.
"The fact is has the embossed fleur-de-lis on it suggests it has a French manufacturer. Of course, the vessel having been a French slave ship the Concorde, it kind of falls in with our whole strengthening and circumstantial database that this was in fact the privateer and prior slave ship Concorde hence the Queen Anne's Revenge. We get really excited whenever we can find French related material on the site."
One other bit of good news from the dive archaeologists found the site better protected then when they last visited crucial, because the intervening time between dives can present problems nor'easters coming through can play havoc with an exposed wreck site. But those same ocean swells that made this year's dive problematic did their part in preserving the site for the next time around.
"We did have quite a bit of sand move into the site from offshore where the Corps of Engineers had established a spoil area from dredging they had done inside the inlet several years ago, and it took a year or two for that sand to move from an offshore position over the site but eventually it did get there. So over the past couple of years we've experienced an accretion of sand out there rather than any sort of sand moving off the site which we had seen previously. So generally speaking I think the site did fairly well because we did have a couple more feet of sand over the site that we know about so that was good."
The build-up of sand will help protect the site until the next dive comes around weather and funding permitting. David Moore is the Curator of Nautical Archaeology for the North Carolina Maritime Museum. I'm George Olsen.