By Joe Hoyt
Maritime Archaeologist, MNMS
Principle Investigator, Battle of the Atlantic Project
Ocracoke Island, NC. (NOAA)
At the time of writing this, we sit in about nearly 1000 feet of water in the Gulf Stream on the same site where the Bluefields and U-576 went to the bottom. Somewhere beneath me right now the AUV searches...
The beginning of a project is always exciting. After nearly a year of planning, when all the players start showing up and staging equipment, what has been only conceptual in my mind for months finally becomes a reality. The survey team arrived in Ocracoke, NC and hit the ground running. The NOAA vessel, SRVx, was waiting in the harbor as archaeologists from East Carolina University and Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) specialists from the University of Texas' Applied Research Laboratory (ARL:UT) arrived, eager to begin the search for lost World War II vessels.
The first leg of this expedition is designed to cover the largest area possible using cutting edge technology developed by ARL:UT. A sensitive, forward looking sonar array is mounted in an AUV capable of reaching depths up to 600m. This is a one-of-a-kind system, so the first order of business was to ensure that we could safely launch and recover the vehicle from the SRVx. To test this, the first day was spent staging gear and planning how to best interface the AUV vehicle with the research vessel. Attempting our first launch and recovery was done in more benign conditions within the Pamlico Sound.
Over the course of the day, the team developed a solid plan and was able to successfully run a test mission.
It is difficult to hold back and conduct safety operations when you are so eager to get into the primary target area, but they are necessary to ensure solid data acquisition and safety. After several trouble-shooting obstacles that were masterfully overcome by the ARL:UT specialists, we are finally ready to set out to sea to begin our search.