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The 2005 Aquanaut Program Maritime Heritage Cruise investigated several shipwrecks within the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The Aquanaut Program brings together marine scientists and students to conduct field research important to the management of the sanctuary. During each day of the cruise, sanctuary archaeologists, National Undersea Research Center for the North Atlantic and Great Lakes (NURC NA&GL) scientists, and University of Connecticut students boarded the University of Connecticut's R/V Connecticut in Gloucester, MA for the trips into the sanctuary. NURC NA&GL scientists operated the investigation's primary research tool, the ROV Hela. Hela carried lights and cameras into the sanctuary's cold and dark depths allowing the archaeologists, scientists, and students to document the shipwrecks and their resident marine life.

Side scan sonar image of the Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary.
Side scan sonar image of the Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary. (Photo: NOAA/SBNMS and NURC NA&GL)

The project's primary goal was a thorough examination of the coal schooners Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary. The Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary collided on 17 December 1902 in Massachusetts Bay enroute from Baltimore, MD to Boston, MA with full cargos of coal. A miscalculation by the Louise B. Crary's mate caused his schooner to smash into the Palmer's portside bow. Within minutes of the collision, 6 of the 21 sailors onboard the vessels lost their lives when the schooners plummeted to the bottom. The remaining 15 sailors made it into the Frank A. Palmer's longboat with only the clothing they were wearing and no food or water. During the following 4 days, 5 more men perished from exposure in the open boat before being rescued more than 60 miles east of Cape Cod.

First investigated by the sanctuary in 2002, side scan sonar images of the wreck site clearly show the schooners upright on the seafloor connected at their bows. This investigation began with the stern of the Frank A. Palmer, where the research team made several discoveries. The team located and imaged the schooner's partially intact steering wheel along with artifacts from the captain's cabin such as dishware and a chronometer. Unfortunately, fishing nets caught in the wreck prevented the ROV from exploring further forward than the aftermost mast. Overall, the Frank A. Palmer's appears to have considerable archaeological integrity.

The Frank A. Palmer's helm.
The Frank A. Palmer's helm. (Photo: NOAA/SBNMS and NURC NA&GL)

After exploring the Frank A. Palmer to the extent allowed by the entangled fishing nets, the ROV jumped the gap between the schooners and began exploring the starboard side of the Louise B. Crary. The Crary appeared to be even more intact than the Palmer; however, entangled fishing gear prevented the ROV from safely examining the Crary's stern cabin where the most exciting discoveries were made on the Palmer. The data gathered during this ROV cruise will be used to write a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary.

In addition to the Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary, the 2005 Aquanaut Program Maritime Heritage Cruise also investigated several previously undocumented shipwreck sites. At each site, the ROV ran video transects to record diagnostic information that will be used to characterize the site. Additionally, the video transects also served to characterize the marine life resident on the shipwrecks.

Currently, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is undertaking the inventory of its maritime heritage resources, as required by the National Marine Sanctuary Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The information gathered as the result of this project allows the sanctuary to effectively protect and manage these sites for future generations and provide compelling interpretive material that can engage the public at large and foster preservation attitudes towards the sanctuary's cultural and natural resources.

Additional Resources and Links

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

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