Thursday, May 18, 2017


18 May 2017: Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Lasch Conservation Center (Clemson University) in Charleston, SC, to view the progress being made on the Confederate submarine HUNLEY. 

We had visited the site about 10 years ago and the progress made to date on both the preservation of the vessel and the display area is staggering. When we first saw the ship she was totally encrusted in concretion and filled with mud, sea critter skeletons, and other undersea detritus, soaking in a tank to begin the process of leeching out the salt from her iron hull. And the facility was a warehouse which housed the tank (90,000 gallons) and a conservation lab. Today, the vessel has been almost totally cleared of the concretion, revealing the black iron hull and her insides cleared out to show the operating mechanisms and, while the vessel still resides in the tank, the solution inside is 1% NaOH (sodium hydroxide) which will remove the final bits of concretion and stabilize the iron. She will be moved to a museum, along with her artifacts, in about 2 years. 

For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story of the first successful submarine, here is a piece from the "Friends of Hunely" sited describing her history. Inserted in the piece are images I took yesterday at the site.

"On the clear but chilly night of February 17, 1864, John Crosby stood on the deck of USS Housatonic a little less than six miles and three years removed from the launching point of the Civil War, Fort Sumter. The moonlight shimmered on Charleston Harbor’s still surface as Housatonic patrolled the South Carolina waters as part of the Union naval blockade that was slowly strangling the Confederacy.
As Crosby gazed out at the placid harbor around 8:45 p.m., Housatonic’s officer of the deck suddenly saw something shatter the water’s glassy surface only 100 yards away on the starboard side. At first, Crosby thought it could be a surfacing porpoise or perhaps a log. But as the murky shadow rippled closer to the warship, the Navy officer sounded the alarm as he realized that the strange object closing in on Housatonic was actually a cutting-edge naval weapon—a submarine.
Based on information gleaned from Confederate deserters, Union ships had been on alert for undersea vessels lurking in Charleston Harbor. 
Semi-submersible David reproduction
Only four months before, USS New Ironsides had been partially damaged in an attack by the semi-submersible CSS David, and this windless, moonlit winter night offered perfect conditions for operating the approaching submarine, H.L. Hunley.
As all hands raced to their stations on Housatonic, seven Confederate sailors inside the primitive submarine turned a handcrank that powered the propeller as another man steered toward the 1,240-ton sloop-of-war. 
part of the handcrank which powered Hunley (in tank & behind glass)

Even if they hadn’t been bearing down on a mighty warship, the eight men were already undertaking a dangerous mission simply by being inside the submarine that had already claimed the lives of 13 men, including its inventor, during training exercises.
The undersea vessel had been privately constructed in Mobile, Alabama, based on the plans of marine engineer Horace Lawson Hunley. Although Crosby initially thought he spotted a porpoise, the submarine more closely resembled a whale. It was constructed out of a 40-foot-long cylindrical iron steam boiler with a tapered bow and stern. After successful tests on the Mobile River, the submarine was transported to Charleston in August 1863 amid hopes by the Confederate navy that it could be a secret weapon in breaking the Union blockade.
Shortly after testing began in Charleston Harbor, five of Hunley’s nine crewmembers drowned when a ship officer accidentally caused the vessel to dive while the hatches were still open. The submarine was salvaged, but less than two months later, a second training accident killed the eight-member crew, including H.L. Hunley himself.
Once again, the submarine was pulled to the surface, and even though he knew its tragic history, Lieutenant George Dixon agreed to take command of the vessel in November 1863 and raised a crew of courageous volunteers.
bent $20 gold piece carried by Dixon

facial reconstructions of Dixon and crew
As Dixon led his men on the daring attack on Housatonic, he carried with him his good luck charm, a bent gold coin that had saved his life by slowing a bullet that wounded him two years before at the Battle of Shiloh.

Although Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard had instructed Dixon to remain on the surface during any attacks, given Hunley’s previous accidents, most of the submarine still remained below the water line as it moved so close to Housatonic that the warship’s 12 cannons were useless. The captain and crew fired their rifles and shotguns in a futile attempt to halt the approaching vessel, but the bullets merely bounced off Hunley’s armor as a spar torpedo mounted at the end of a 16-foot rod that protruded from the submarine’s bow struck the warship.
diagram showing "mine" attached to a spar

The spar tore into Housatonic’s starboard quarter near its powder magazine, and the rebel torpedo laden with 135 pounds of gunpowder exploded. Housatonic took on water immediately, and within minutes it was a loss, the first warship to have ever been sunk by a submarine.
diagram showing attack (presumed)

Most of Housatonic’s 155 crewmembers saved themselves by launching lifeboats or climbing the rigging, which remained above the harbor’s shallow 27-foot depth in time for rescue boats from a nearby Union warship to arrive. Five Union sailors died, but the outcome was even more devastating for the Confederacy as Hunley never returned to port. For the third time, Hunley slipped to the bottom of Charleston Harbor, but exactly why remains a mystery. The undersea vessel could have been fatally damaged in the torpedo explosion, hit by a shot from Housatonic or sucked into the vortex of the sinking warship.

In 1995, the submarine was located beneath sand and shells by novelist Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency. Five years later, the well-preserved wreck of Hunley, with its eight crew still at their stations and Dixon still with his lucky coin, was raised from its murky grave
lifting slings and frame used to raise Hunley

 and brought to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston where it was placed in a 90,000-gallon freshwater conservation tank. The crew of Hunley were given a proper burial in 2004, and an international team of scientists studying the wreck believe they are close to solving the mystery of what happened to them in the final moments of their daring mission

The crew of Hunley were given a proper burial in 2004, and an international team of scientists studying the wreck believe they are close to solving the mystery of what happened to them in the final moments of their daring mission."

Here is Hunley today resting in the NaOH tank, cleared of the concretion and with several deck plates removed to open the inside to viewing. Note the 3 bladed propeller at the stern (Part of the original shroud is gone).

Midships to bow portion

stern of Hunley

Now, no museum open to the public would be complete without a gift "shoppe" and the Hunley exhibit is no exception: 

 Tee shirts, miniatures, books, and other gee-gaws abound, mementos of your visit!

But the progress the Clemson preservation team has made is truly amazing and should you find yourself in Charleston South Carolina on a weekend, a visit here should be high on your list of attractions. 

That will do it for now. Got a plane to catch! 

Until next time, 
                                         Fair Winds, 
                                                Old Salt

Sunday, May 14, 2017


14 May 2017: First off apologies for the delay in posting. We have been on the road and beyond busy. But here we are back again with a follow on to an earlier piece on the two Franklin expedition ships, HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, which you will recall were found last year in the Arctic Ocean in Canada. We mentioned that England had "grabbed" the recovered artifacts for exhibit there rather than in Canada which left the Canadians and the Native People - the Inuits - a bit bereft since the items and the wrecks were found in Canadian waters. Here now a follow on to that story.

map of wreck locations

Sir John Franklin's 1845 Arctic expedition was intended to find the last link in the Northwest Passage to the Far East, but his two ships were beset by ice, and were later abandoned and sank. Every crew member perished, and the disappearance of the expedition triggered a series of Victorian-era searches, none of which fully explained the disaster.
Traditional Inuit knowledge, generally ignored by Western searchers for more than a century, was critical in finally locating the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in 2014 and 2016.
HMS Erebus was found off the Adelaide Peninsula, while HMS Terror was located well to the north, in a bay off the southwest coast of King William Island.

Canada spent millions of dollars to recover artifacts from HMS Erebus, the sunken wreck from the 1845 Franklin expedition to the Arctic that was finally located in 2014 — but it still doesn't own the collection almost three years later.
And most of those objects, now restored at taxpayers' expense, are leaving Canada next month for their first public exhibition — in Britain, which remains the legal owner of the HMS Erebus treasures.
Parks Canada says yearlong negotiations with the British government have yet to produce a deal to transfer ownership rights to Canada.

Buttons recovered at HMS Erebus wreck show a crowned anchor surrounded by a rope edging, a motif that was found on Royal Navy tunic buttons after 1812. Thirty-eight objects such as this are headed to Britain next month for a major exhibition. (Parks Canada)

A sword handle recovered from the HMS Erebus wreck this summer poses 'significant conservation challenges,' Parks Canada says, because it is 'delicate and complex.' (Parks Canada)

"Discussions with the government of the United Kingdom on the transfer of the Franklin artifacts are ongoing," Parks Canada spokeswoman Meaghan Bradley said this week.
Ownership talks began in earnest in May 2016 with officials of the National 

Museum of the Royal Navy, in Portsmouth, England, based on a 1997 Canada-U.K. memorandum of understanding (MOU).
That MOU, signed before HMS Erebus was discovered and before its sunken sister ship, HMS Terror, was located in 2016, says Britain owns everything. But it also stipulates that the British government agrees to transfer ownership to Canada of all recovered objects, except those significant to the Royal Navy, as well as any gold. (No gold has yet been discovered.)

Bell from Erebus in conservation in pure fresh water

'Unique discussions'
It's unclear why the talks are taking so long. Bradley calls them "relatively unique discussions," adding that Parks Canada "hopes to have the transfer completed as soon as possible."
The delay has left Inuit groups, who also claim ownership rights, in the lurch.
"We're not really kept in the loop," said Ralph Kownak of the Inuit Heritage Trust in Iqaluit, Nunavut. "Who owns it is still a good question. That's still being discussed."

The Canadian Museum of History is spending $1.2 million to support this traveling exhibition, which won't arrive in Canada until 2018, long after Canada's 150th birthday celebrations have concluded.
Instead, the Erebus trove is going on display July 14 through to Jan. 7, 2018, at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, a venerable institution that is providing other elements that draw on its own Franklin relics. The Greenwich exhibition will be in English only.

Canadian taxpayers will cover the costs of shipping the artifacts to Britain, insuring them, and providing a team to set them up, including their hotel and travel costs.
The Canadian Museum of History, which is paying for an English-language souvenir catalogue for sale only in Britain, will itself display the exhibition next year, March 1 to Sept. 30, 2018.
English, French and Inuktitut versions of the catalogue will be available for the Canadian leg. Afterward, the exhibition moves to two other yet-undisclosed venues in Canada, in late 2018 and most of 2019. Parks Canada says some of the components may be shown in Nunavut.

Dives planned
Parks Canada archeologists are currently at the site of HMS Terror, which sits on the seabed underneath about two metres of sea ice. Marine archeologists are using two remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) to photograph and video the exterior.
No diving is planned this spring, but divers are scheduled to visit HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in late summer to recover further artifacts from both ships.
The agency says it has hired local workers from nearby Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, to help with the logistics, specifically creating the ice hole through which the ROVs will operate.

You know this story is far from over and Maritime Maunder will keep you updated as new facts are released. 

That'll do it for now; until next time, 
                                              Fair winds,
                                                        Old Salt