Navy boat, Woods Hole staff to join exploration of Watch Hill shipwreck
Stonington – A Navy research boat and staff from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts accompanied local divers Charlie Buffum and Craig Harger Tuesday to explore what they believe is the 201-year-old wreck of the Oliver Hazard Perry ship the Revenge, which the two men say they have discovered on Watch Hill Reef.
The Navy vessel, led by Buffum’s boat, left the Wadawanuck Club dock in the borough at 8 a.m. on a two-day expedition to survey the wreck site using a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle from Woods Hole that is equipped with sonar, a magnetometer and a video camera.
George Schwarz, an underwater archaeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command, said the goal of the trip is not only to use the AUV to map the wreck site but to possibly expand the site by locating nearby pieces of the ship as well. He said divers would return at a later date to explore the site and a subsequent archaeological investigation would determine whether the vessel is indeed the Revenge.
If it is the Revenge, the location would be deemed a protected U.S. Navy site and no artifacts could be removed.
While the wreck sits on the rocky reef, Schwarz said, it is possible that the ballast could be pinning some of the hull to the bottom. For someone who studies early wooden shipbuilding and nautical archaeology, he added, the prospect of exploring a 201-year-old vessel is very interesting.
Buffum, who owns Cottrell Brewing in Pawcatuck, and Harger, who lives in Colchester, have spent six years looking for the Revenge and exploring the wreck. They said they have been looking forward to the trip that could confirm that the ship is in fact the Revenge.
“It’s been a long time coming but it’s been a fun process. We hoped to do this in the warmer months but we’ll take what we can get. The people from Woods Hole said the robot doesn’t care how cold it is,” said Buffum, whose brewery recently released Perry’s Revenge Ale to celebrate the discovery.
Still, Tuesday’s calm, clear conditions offered excellent visibility for the group, especially since the wreck sits in just 10 feet of water.
“We’re just tour guides,” said Harger. “We’ll show them where it is. We have as much experience on that reef as anyone, we dive it so much.”
So far they have found six cannons as well as an anchor. But because the wreck could belong to the Navy, the two men have not salvaged any items.
The Revenge was a 14-gun schooner that sank on the reef off Watch Hill on Jan. 8, 1811, while surveying southern New England harbors, including New London.
Perry faced a court martial over the wreck but eventually was exonerated, and blame then fell on the ship’s pilot. Because of the incident, however, the formerly fast-rising captain could not get command of a ship battling the British along the Eastern seaboard. He had to settle for the less glamorous position of commanding a fleet of warships in the Great Lakes.
Aboard Perry’s ship, the USS Lawrence in Lake Erie, was a battle flag bearing the now-famous saying, “Don’t give up the ship.” The battle is seen as a turning point in the war and helped change the course of U.S. history.
In his post-battle report to his superiors, Perry wrote another saying that is now famous: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced it has signed a cooperative agreement with the University of Texas at Austin and a team of highly qualified and experienced Arctic researchers for a comprehensive study of the Hanna Shoal ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. The study will be conducted from 2011-2016 and is expected to cost $5,645,168.
Ongoing studies have highlighted Hanna Shoal as an important biological ecosystem between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean waters. BOEMRE analysts and decision makers will use the information developed by this study in future National Environmental Policy Act analyses and decision-making regarding potential energy development in the Chukchi Sea.
“Over the course of many years, we have devoted substantial resources to promote better understanding of the Arctic environment,” said BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich. “This five-year study will greatly contribute to the body of knowledge regarding the biological diversity of the Hanna Shoal area and will provide additional valuable information about the ecosystem that supports marine life.”
The main objectives of the study are to identify and measure important physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in the Hanna Shoal area. The study will document physical and oceanographic features, ice conditions, and information concerning local species. BOEMRE will integrate data gained from this study with other relevant Chukchi Sea studies to provide a more complete understanding of environmental considerations such as food web and contaminant bioaccumulations.
Dr. Kenneth H. Dunton, University of Texas at Austin, will serve as Principal Investigator. His team will include researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Maryland, the University of Rhode Island, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. BOEMRE will be involved in all phases of the study, including substantial input to the field research design and coordinating with other research efforts in the Chukchi Sea to ensure BOEMRE information needs are met. BOEMRE staff may also participate in field cruises, field data interpretations and analyses, and in writing articles that flow from research that will be conducted under this cooperative agreement.
Although BOEMRE developed the Hanna Shoal study parameters in 2010, the study will also address several issues raised by the U.S. Geological Survey June 2011 report, An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska.
Since the early 1970s, BOEMRE and its predecessor organizations have funded more than $340 million in studies in Alaska. The Hannah Shoal study is one of approximately 40 ongoing studies the bureau’s Alaska Region is currently coordinating and managing. The bureau’s Environmental Studies Program conducts and oversees world-class, scientific research to inform policy decisions regarding leasing and development of OCS energy and mineral resources.
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- Fed agency approves Shell Artic drilling plan (usatoday.com)