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An expedition of monument proportion
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Mission Log: July 2, 2006
Secrets in the Spur and Groove

Kelly Gleason
Maritime Archaeologist

steam cylinder
Steam Cylinder at the USS Saginaw shipwreck site. (Photo: Bob Schwemmer)
Today was our fifth day in the beautiful, clear and calm waters of Kure Atoll. Because of the near perfect conditions, the team has devoted almost all of its time over the last two days to survey at the Saginaw site. Each dive on this site reveals something new.

Yesterday, the team spent the majority of their time outside of the reef crest where one of two rifled pivot guns (30-pd), as well as one of the ship’s two oscillating steam cylinders was discovered during reconnaissance dives in the intricate spur and groove topography.

With each new artifact, the team’s excitement is growing in anticipation of the way that this shipwreck site is expanding, part by part. Finding these highly diagnostic artifacts such as the inclined steam engines, one of only two of this type ever used by the navy, helps the team say with certainty that they are looking at the USS Saginaw. This two-cylinder oscillating steam engine built by the Union Iron and Brass Foundry in 1859, later Union Iron Works of San Francisco.

paddle wheel
Paddle Wheel Shaft at the USS Saginaw shipwreck site. (Photo: Bob Schwemmer)
The team spent today inside of the lagoon and on the reef crest, adjacent to the area where the engine, guns and other ship parts were discovered in the preceding days. The plan was to conduct a systematic survey of the shallow areas inside of the reef while the tide was high and seas were calm. The divers split into two teams of three and swam north and south of an area inside the reef where a large Martin water tube boiler face was discovered in 2003.

The team hopes to map out a trail of the wreckage inside of the reef, finding fasteners, straps, a gudgeon, boat davits, glass and rigging implements scattered over hundreds of meters inside of the reef.

On one of the first sweeps of the survey the team was lead by a trail of artifacts to an exciting discovery, the paddlewheel hubs and shafts! The small wave-tossed cove where they lie is the main site for the Saginaw’s heavy machinery. On the bottom next to the paddlewheels shafts was another anchor and the second of the two pivot guns, the ship’s main armament.

Parrott 30-pound swivel gun
Rifled pivot gun at the USS Saginaw
shipwreck site. (Photo: Bob Schwemmer)
After such an exciting day of discovery, the team spent some time on Green Island, discussing the site work with Cynthia Vanderlip, the State Wildlife Refuge Manager at Kure Atoll.

Protecting and appreciating the unique historic resources at Kure Atoll is an important part of maritime heritage work. As the State’s steward of this beautiful atoll, Cynthia’s awareness about what the maritime archaeologists do, and their preservation goals is critical to the long-term protection of these sites.

The team then returned to the ship for another late evening of processing data, along with another breathtaking sunset over the glassy Pacific Ocean in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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