July 12, 2008 – Saturday – Maritime Archaeology on Spin Cycle – Part Two

By James Hunter

That afternoon, Don swapped places with Toni Carrell, and the two of us picked up where the morning’s work left off. Upon entering the water, it rapidly became apparent that conditions at the site had deteriorated drastically; Toni and I had put over 20 lbs. on our respective weight belts as “insurance” against the surge—to little effect. As Toni fought to hold the “zero” end of the measuring tape on the breech of the carronade that Don and I had established as our datum, I worked—perhaps “struggled” would be a better term—to manhandle the other end of the tape to specific points on the other guns. At the same time, I attempted to take bearings between plotted points with a handheld compass.

If you look closely you can see the fluke of an anchor in the surf.

Under normal conditions, this would have been a breeze; however, the combination of current and surge made short work of any preconceived notions of simplicity and/or efficiency we may have held. The problem was exacerbated when adhesive tape holding a Mylar sheet with my written notes to a slate worked loose and refused thereafter to stick. I must have been quite a sight: Bouncing to-and-fro across carronades like a pinball, with a wildly flapping reel tape in one hand and grasping wildly with the other at my slate with non-attached Mylar sheet.

Over the course of our dive, Toni and I were able to plot relative positions for the three guns. We also endured bruised body parts, a partially flooded camera, and shredded wetsuit kneepads, among other things. Oh, and remember that fingerlike coral I referred to earlier? It turns out that it is a particularly nasty variety called fire coral, and stings justa wee bit when your bare (or thinly-clad) flesh comes in contact with it. I learned this firsthand when a swell picked me up and bodily slammed me into a cluster. The good news was that I was wearing a dive skin; the bad news is that it didn’t do an awful lot to prevent my skin from burning where I came in contact with the coral. Still, despite the myriad difficulties, we accomplished what we set out to do—and came away from the experience wiser and better prepared for the next round.

Oh yeah, that reminds me: Remember that fingerlike coral I referred to earlier? It turns out to be a particularly nasty variety called fire coral, and stings just a wee bit when your bare (or thinly-clad) flesh comes in contact with it. I learned this firsthand when a swell picked me up and bodily slammed me into a cluster. The good news was that I was wearing a dive skin; the bad news is that it didn’t do an awful lot to defray the burn where I came in contact with the coral. Still, despite the myriad difficulties, we accomplished what we set out to do—and came away from the experience wiser and better prepared for the next round.

James plotting the location of the three grouups of carronades.

The following morning, I returned to map four new additions to the carronade assemblage with a group that included Peggy Leshikar-Denton, Grant Dexter, Joe Lamontagne, Jack Crow, Jean-Francois Chabot, and Randy Davis. In many respects, it was a repeat of the previous day’s work—mapping progressed at a fair clip due to the relatively “calm” (i.e., 4-foot as opposed to 6-foot breakers)condition of the sea, shallow water depth, and increased number of participants. Perhaps the biggest factor to our success was that, due to low tide, distance and bearing measurements could be obtained above the water’s surface.

As the day wore on, however, conditions devolved into a repeat of the previous day. By this point, the four guns in the surf line had been mapped, but two from the first group of five still remained. Fortunately, Peggy, Grant and Joe—for reasons that continue to elude me—opted to stick around and get the job done. As with the previous day, the surge increasingly played hell with the four of us, and Peggy in particular incurred a nasty bruise on the heel of her right hand. Still, our intrepid group struck it out, and managed to complete documentation and mapping of the two remaining carronades. Not a bad outcome for two days of work!

Naturally, all of what I’ve just related begs the question: Why bother? In the case of Chippewa, all of this effort to document and map what remains on the reef may seem excessive, if not downright pointless. After all, it’s pretty evident from what we’ve witnessed firsthand that any wooden-hulled vessel that ended up on the reef would have rapidly been smashed to bits. To date, we haven’t located any extant hull remains, nor do we expect to. That said, the relative positions of the carronades that we’ve discovered, when examined holistically, appear to form a linear scatter that may very well terminate on its seaward end at the original grounding site. What may—or may not—be discovered beyond the breakers remains to be seen, but with a proverbial arrow now pointing us in the right direction, we have an opportunity to begin putting the pieces to the Chippewa puzzle in place.
A field drawing of two carronades on the underwater slate.