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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Blog: August 3, 2008
Mapping in Dangerous Territory

By Jason Raupp, Consulting Nautical Archaeologist
Adelaide, South Australia

Stephani, Tane, Cathy, Hans, and Kevin are on deck at 7:45am for small boat launching, wearing the required hard hats and PFDs

Stephani, Tane, Cathy, Hans, and Kevin are on deck at 7:45am for small boat launching, wearing the required hard hats and PFDs.

Today the team returned to the schooner Churchill wreck site to continue recording.  The day’s plan called for mapping the site through baseline trilateration, as well as photographic and video documentation. Since the vessel’s remains are scattered throughout the site, it was necessary to spend the first dive of the day “mud mapping” and photographing certain sections to help determine the best way to make the most of our limited time at this site. 

To get baseline trilateration data of the major features, the team took multiple measurements from the baseline to specific artifacts to record their exact positions within the site.  Churchill’s remains lie in only about 15 feet of water, so even small swells develop into a strong surge as they travel over the reef. Taking measurements across the site can be difficult in these conditions, but trilateration produces accurate data so is worth the effort.  In this case, it proved very effective and the team succeeded in gathering a large amount of information about the site in spite of some large and aggressive ulua (GiantTrevally), which joined us on site in significant numbers. These fish (the larger of those on site weighing at least 80 pounds) are common in the NWHI and are known to be menacing - sometimes biting divers or even boat propellers!

Predator and Prey? Jason and his Ulua map the Churchill site.

Predator and Prey? Jason and his Ulua map the Churchill site.

Upon surfacing from our 2nd dive, we welcomed Hi’ialakai’s Commanding Officer and some of the crew to the site, who had come out with their snorkel gear to take a peek at the wreck and our work there.  Kelly and I jumped back into the water to show them around.  As we toured the site we noticed that the two big ulua, who had been our constant companions throughout the day, were still on site.  As we made our way back to the boat, I suddenly felt a jolt to my right hand – the larger ulua had nearly swallowed it!  I had deep cuts on my palm, middle- and index fingers and was ordered back to the ship to let the doctor check out the wounds.  All proved well and no stitches were necessary, just some bandaging and a lot of questions from the crew!

Dive Three had the team continue mapping operations.  At the end of the dive, the teams performed a diving emergency drill.  These drills simulate real emergency situations that might occur while working in remote locations.  They are performed to ensure that each team member is capable of assisting with the rescue, from getting the victim out of the water to transporting them back to the ship.  The maritime archaeology team and coxswain of “HI-1” did a superb job of managing the staged emergency with confidence.

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.


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