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2008 Papahanaumokuakea Maritime Heritage Expedition
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Mission Blog: August 14, 2008
The Gledstanes and Beyond

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

Six archaeologists, one film-maker, three shipwreck sites, one day. The adrenalin from yesterday’s big discovery of the shipwreck site of the British whaler Gledstanes was still running strong this morning as we loaded the small boat for another day of diving. The search for this site had been on our original work plan for Kure Atoll, but no one could have anticipated we’d find it and so quickly. In 2002, when Dr. Hans Van Tilburg began studying historical records for information on USS Saginaw’s wrecking event of 1870, he located a hand-drawn map that Saginaw’s survivors had made noting the location of the whaler Gledstanes on the east side of the atoll. Armed with an historical chart, notes, and a hand-held GPS, the team searched the spot thought most likely to hold the remains of the ship. After preliminary surface surveys, one dive and there it was. Remarkable.

The spur and groove topography of the Gledstones site is beautiful and dramatic.

The spur and groove topography of the Gledstones site is beautiful and dramatic.

This morning we started with a short detour back to the USS Saginaw site so that our film-maker, Stephani Gordon, could get some footage of the paddlewheel shafts and hubs. This allowed the rest of the team a chance to check out this part of Saginaw’s wreck site and to get some specific measurements on the components of the paddlewheels.

Then it was back to Gledstanes, as we were all eager to investigate it further. This part of the reef is strikingly beautiful. The narrow sandy grooves heading into the shallows of the reef are defined by steep ridges of coral on either side. Small piles of ballast lie in these outside sandy grooves in a path that leads toward the reef, where the coral ridges come together in a confusion of underwater cliffs and arches. This is where the heavier components of the wreck lie—the anchors, cannon, and some heavy iron bands and bars. Past the last anchor is the location of the trypot, nearly buried in the sand and coral. We returned to the trypot for a series of photographs and a measured drawing of the pot and surrounding artifacts. Even though the sea conditions have been uncharacteristically calm, even small swells build in the shallows and can toss divers around a bit. The site is long and narrow, and the buddy teams finished up their assigned tasks in a single dive. Some of us, perhaps unwilling to say goodbye to our exciting find, did one last snorkel around the area for a last look and to see if we’d missed any outlying artifacts.

The team enjoys lunch aboard HI-1, our daily transport to all the shipwreck sites.

The team enjoys lunch aboard HI-1, our daily transport to all the shipwreck sites.

The day was not done, however. On the way back to Hi’ialakai, we made a stop by Dunnottar Castle for a reconnaissance dive, so we could make a plan for tomorrow to make the best use of our one day left of diving at Kure Atoll. As the afternoon sun began to descend, we swam across the huge area that this massive sailing ship, albeit a broken ship, now occupies. It is indeed huge. Dunnottar Castle was a 258-ft. riveted iron hull sailing ship, reminiscent of San Diego’s Star of India and San Francisco’s Balclutha and Honolulu’s Falls of Clyde. In about 25 feet of water, there are iron ship parts everywhere. We will return to Dunnottar Castle tomorrow and make the best preliminary site plan we can in our limited amount of time. Our hope is to set a baseline and map the most recognizable features so that future archaeologists who return here can continue the work we’ll start tomorrow.

All in all, a long day but a productive day in the spectacularly beautiful environment of Kure Atoll.

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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