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Live broadcast from the steamship Portland

On Sunday 10 July 2005, two 45-minute live video broadcasts were sent from the shipwreck of the steamship Portland located in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) to viewers at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum and on the World Wide Web. The broadcasts gave viewers a live tour of the steamship Portland via the National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes (NURC NA&GL) remotely operated vehicle Hela, narrated by researchers positioned over the wreck on board the University of Connecticut's R/V Connecticut.

Live broadcast from the Portland promotional flyer
Live broadcast from the Portland promotional flyer. (Photo: NOAA/SBNMS, NURC NA&GL, and the Science Channel)

Approximately 140 people watched the tours at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum in Provincetown, MA. An additional 700 visits were made to http://www.nurc.uconn.edu, to view the broadcast's streaming video. Viewers at the Pilgrim Monument communicated in real time with NURC NA&GL director Ivar Babb, and SBNMS archaeologists Matthew Lawrence and Deborah Marx during the broadcast, asking questions about the Portland and the marine life resident on the wreck.

Viewers of the live broadcast witnessed the remarkable, yet fragile, condition of the historic shipwreck. The Portland's remains dramatically convey the terrible ordeal its passengers experienced prior to the steamship's sinking. Furthermore, the biological diversity resident on the wreck is a snapshot of the sanctuary's ecosystem and provides a sharp juxtaposition with the human loss associated with the shipwreck.

A 12-minute video highlight from the broadcast can be viewed with Quicktime software here.

The R/V Connecticut outfitted with antennas and radio equipment for the live broadcast.
The R/V Connecticut outfitted with antennas and radio equipment for the live broadcast. (Photo: NOAA/SBNMS)

Launched in 1889, the Portland was one of the most palatial coastal steamships afloat as it traveled between Portland, Maine and Boston. Measuring over 280 feet long, the Maine-built wooden-hulled side paddle wheel steamship transported passengers and freight along the New England coast with a relatively uneventful record until its loss with all hands, an estimated 192 persons, in November 1898. The Portland became known as the "Titanic of New England" due to the scale of the tragedy and its impact on the region.

Three years of historical and archaeological research by the SBNMS and NURC NA&GL team resulted in the vessel's listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Since confirming the Portland's location in 2002, scientists have documented the site to learn about New England's maritime heritage. The live broadcast was supported by NOAA's Preserve America Initiative Grant Program.

The Portland s steam release pipe, once used to release excess steam from the boilers, is now home to a cusk.
The Portland's steam release pipe, once used to release excess steam from the boilers, is now home to a cusk. (Photo: NOAA/SBNMS and NURC NA&GL)

The Portland is significant to the history of New England and more specifically to the histories of Maine and Massachusetts. The site's archeological integrity also contributed significantly to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The steamship's remains are the best preserved of any New England "night boat" found to date. Further archaeological research is expected to yield information about New England night boat construction, the cause of the Portland's demise, and the passengers and crew who typically used steamships for passage along the coast.

Future projects will continue to document and monitor the Portland, as well as provide public access to the site through live video broadcasts. The live broadcasts were only one component of a 5-day project in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to investigate maritime heritage resources with an ROV in conjunction with the annual SBNMS sponsored NURC NA&GL Aquanaut Program. The cruise documented several previously unexplored shipwreck sites with video and still photographs to assess and interpret the tangible evidence of SBNMS's maritime heritage.

Additional Resources and Links

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
NOAA's National Undersea Research Center/UCONN
Explore the Sea

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http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/maritime/expeditions/portland.html