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2009 Lanai Expedition

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Introduction

A familiar scene for many decades, Inter Island steamers at Honolulu Harbor, SS Mikahala (left) and SS Waialeale (right).  Ray Jerome Baker, Bishop Museum
A familiar scene for many decades, Inter Island steamers at Honolulu Harbor, SS Mikahala (left) and SS Waialeale (right). (Ray Jerome Baker, Bishop Museum)
The 2009 Return to Shipwreck Beach project represents a collaborative and multidisciplinary resource survey set on the island of Lāna`i. Led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) Pacific Islands Region, and in partnership with the University of Hawai`i’s Marine Option Program, the survey was supported by local schools and institutions.  Through the investigation of our maritime heritage resources, in this case an historic wreck site of a Hawaiian inter island steamship, we gain a better understanding of our own maritime past, and of the historic value of this special coastal and marine place. 

Students documenting shipwreck timbers along the shoreline during the 2009 project.  J Coney/NOAA ONMS
Students documenting shipwreck timbers along the shoreline during the 2009 project. (J Coney/NOAA ONMS)
The primary goal of the 2009 project was to conduct a non-invasive survey of the selected wreck site and then interpret this information in the context of the ship’s history and inter island navigation during Hawai`i’s late 19th/early 20th century plantation period.  The secondary goal was to actively engage the public and partner institutions in participation through hands-on activity.  Field work itself can be an opportunity for education and outreach, a great way to communicate the science of maritime archaeology to the public.

The physical remnants of ships which once plied near shore waters provide the perfect gateways for discovering the maritime past in Hawai`i.  And of all the shores among the islands there is one particular coastline which claims the greatest share of these wrecks.  The rough and treacherous north shore of the island of Lāna`i, within the ahupua`a or traditional Hawaiian land divisions of Paoma`i and Mahana, features the remains of many inter island steamships, vessels which once served the sugar plantations, ranches and island communities at the turn of the century.  This area is also known locally as Shipwreck Beach, for its reef and shores are covered with broken ship timbers and iron steam machinery of a bygone era. 

The wreck site’s boiler and engine bed, on a typical day near Lae Wahie Point, Lana`i.  H Van Tilburg/NOAA ONMS
The wreck site’s boiler and engine bed, on a typical day near Lae Wahie Point, Lāna`i. (H Van Tilburg/NOAA ONMS)
The site chosen for the 2009 survey lies near Lae Wahie (firewood) point.  A large encrusted double-cylinder steam engine and a massive steel boiler emerge from the surf.  Beneath the surface of the ocean, heavy cargo winches and anchor equipment lie scattered on the seafloor, surrounded by rigging and iron components.  Ashore, the wooden frames, keelson, and hull planks are arranged in a chaotic pile by storm and surge.  All of these features contain potential clues to the identity of this unknown vessel.  

Over the course of three weeks, a group of university students under the direction of Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator for the ONMS Pacific Islands Region office, received training in maritime archaeology survey techniques, conducted archival research into inter island navigation and local steamships, and carried out the field survey.  In addition, the survey team trained some of the Lāna`i High & Elementary School students in shore side surveying techniques.  Visits to the Lāna`i Culture & Heritage Center, and a public presentation at the Lāna`i High & Elementary School, added to the team’s experience of this special island. 

The 2009 maritime heritage survey team, from left to right: Jeff Kuwabara, Jen McWhorter, John Coney, Tom Horn, Annie Dowling, Alysia Curdts, Hans Van Tilburg, Gavin Key, Kaitlyn Gaab.  (Not pictured: Sabina Van Tilburg; Linda Harrington)  S Van Tilburg/NOAA ONMS
The 2009 maritime heritage survey team, from left to right: Jeff Kuwabara, Jen McWhorter, John Coney, Tom Horn, Annie Dowling, Alysia Curdts, Hans Van Tilburg, Gavin Key, Kaitlyn Gaab. (Not pictured: Sabina Van Tilburg; Linda Harrington) (S Van Tilburg/NOAA ONMS)

This project was made possible by a generous grant from NOAA’s Preserve America Initiative Grant (PAIG) program

Links:
ONMS Pacific Islands Region

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