Missions Header Graphic
2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
menu
Mission info 2007 Nancy Foster Cruise
 

Mission Blog: August 7, 2008
Circling Sharks and the Reef of Doom at the British whaler Hermes

By Tane Casserley, National Maritime Heritage Coordinator
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

Tane wedges himself against the anchor to take measurements for his sketch.

Tane wedges himself against the anchor to take measurements for his sketch.

So there we were, an intrepid team of six archaeologists and one documentarian floating over one of Hawaii’s oldest shipwrecks, when it happened.  Dark shapes began moving in and out of sight; a flash of a tail, a glint of silver, and a glimpse of a coal black eye. Then, out of the gloom swam two majestic Galapagos sharks, quickly followed by a third.  These sharks have an ill-gotten reputation as aggressive, but their lazy side-to-side undulations soon took them out of visual range.  Taking the attitude that what you can’t see can’t hurt you, the team caught their breath and let their heartbeats settle before getting back to the task at hand--documenting the remains of the British whaling shipwreck Hermes, sunk in 1822.  We chose to ignore the dark shapes circling around us, most likely something toothy and carnivorous but a natural part of the food chain in these remote atolls.

We’ve been here before in 2005, but treacherous seas in subsequent years have prohibited further documentation of the site.  Waves often roll over the wreck, and luck, more than anything else, is the deciding factor on getting to the site.  Now, three years later, the sea state looked promising and the team was excited to begin work again on the Hermes.

The Hermes site is scattered across the shallows of the reef.

The Hermes site is scattered across the shallows of the reef.

The goal for our first day was to photograph the site and map in the Hermes’s major features.  Kelly, Deirdre, Stephani, and I swam toward the reef crest to a collection of artifacts, the largest of which was a 12 foot anchor.  As we moved into the shallows, the benign reef began to take on another character, one which we like to call the “Gates of Hell.”  The gentle back and forth movement of the swells in deeper water was replaced with what can be described to a landlubber as trying to swim across a giant washing machine on full spin cycle.  The surging water tore at us we attempted to take measurements of the major artifacts.  Even with all of our equipment strapped securely to us, the power of the surging water would grab objects like our slates and tapes and invariably throw them right into our faces or some other vulnerable body part.  After getting frustrated by doing my impression of a flag in a schizophrenic hurricane, Kelly and I wedged our bodies against the anchor flukes and its shaft in an attempt to record its dimensions.  We repeated this somewhat successful wedging technique to document the Hermes other major features in the area as Stephani and Deirdre slid back and forth above us like three year olds on a rope swing, taking video and still images of the artifacts and the mapping process. 

As our dive day drew to a close, we slowly glided back out to our awaiting jet boat, and I had the opportunity to take in the rest of the Hermes wreckage.  The site’s extreme scatter and lack of any hull remains is a true testament to the grinding power of the ocean in this dynamic and ever changing environment.  I was comforted that we would soon be leaving this churning hell-scape and returning to our stable home aboard the Hi’ialakai, and I felt a keen respect for the Hermes sailors, who survived in this remote atoll for several months, one hundred and eighty six years ago.

To ask us questions, you can email the team at: sanctuaries@noaa.gov and we will answer your questions within the blog, or in a live internet broadcast later in the cruise. Again, stay tuned for details.

 

leaving site indicates a link leaves the site. Please view our Link Disclaimer for more information.
Revised August 14, 2008 by Sanctuaries Web Team | Contact Us | Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service
National Ocean Service | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Privacy Policy | For Employees | User Survey
http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/missions/2008pmnm/blog_080708.html