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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Blog: August 6, 2008
Underway to Pearl and Hermes Atoll

By Deirdre O'Regan, Editor, Sea History Magazine
National Maritime Historical Society

Transit days for the ship’s company start a little more relaxed than the dive days. The ship’s professional crew stands watches as per usual, but the research teams settle into individual routines that make the best use of their time. For some, this means staying up late at night working on processing their data and maybe sleeping in—for others, it’s early to bed and early to rise. Breakfast is at 0700 and the team eats together and makes the plan for the day’s work.

One of the iron artifacts that remains a mystery thus far.

One of the iron artifacts that remains a mystery thus far.

For the maritime archaeology team, we’ve been working at laying down the details of the schooner Churchill site plan. As has been mentioned before, the Churchill wreck was challenging to map because the ship’s remains are scattered and, in several spots, piles of artifacts lie in a confusion of wire rope, chain plates, blocks, and other cargo handling gear all tangled together. The team lays out their mylars that they used to take measurements and draw site features underwater and transcribes them to the site map. This is when the photos we took to augment the drawings really help the archaeologists sketch in the details.

A lot of conversation takes place across that drawing table. Questions are posed and discussions follow trying to piece together puzzle of this particular shipwreck. We are fortunate on the Hi’ialakai to have internet communications with the outside world. Much of the rigging on the site is fairly easy to identify, but some individual components are more confusing. Today, we put together a handful of photos and sent them out to some contacts we have who are experts in traditional sail rigging and naval architecture to let them weigh in. We are a few time zones away, but our colleagues ashore are beginning to respond with some helpful IDs.

Mariners know better than to brag about the weather, so I won’t pontificate on this, but we know we’ve been lucky in this regard so far. The shipwrecks sites we’ve visited are in relatively shallow water on top of the reef--even small ocean swells create a challenging work environment under the water. We’ve also been lucky to be aboard the Hi’ialakai. This NOAA research vessel has the reputation as being one of the best, if not THE best, ship in the NOAA fleet. She’s a happy ship run by a professional crew with an easy sense of humor, while still running a tight ship. She is steady, clean, and her crew is well-trained in everything from safety to navigation to boat operations. The ship makes the perfect home base for field operations in that the scientific research teams can focus on their missions without having to worry about most anything else.

The day ends as it usually does. The team meets on the bow for the sunset and a briefing about tomorrow’s dive plan. We expect to arrive at Pearl and Hermes Atoll before first light, and then it’s back to the early morning get-up-and-go as we continue on our voyage visiting and documenting these historic shipwrecks that so few have ever seen.

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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