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2010 ECU Nearshore Expedition
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Blog: June 9, 2010

Nathaniel Howe
East Carolina University

Today was Day Three of diving on the wreck of the USS Oriental, which wrecked here on the Outer Banks in 1862. It is an enormous shipwreck, stretching over 200 feet between the massive propeller and the ship's detached bow section. In between lies a junkyard of engine machinery, pipes, and collapsed hull plating. Yet, in three short days we have managed to complete detailed mapping of the wreckage on the seafloor and have begun measuring the massive steam engine that towers thirty-five feet above the wreck, breaking the surface, and standing eight feet above the waves.

The propeller of Oriental (John McCord, UNC CSI)
The propeller of Oriental. (John McCord, UNC CSI)
We have been fortunate. Conditions on the site have enabled us to work quickly and efficiently. The warm, clear water and remarkably calm seas this past week allowed each of us to make up to three dives per day, maximizing our working time on the wreck, and reducing the complications of wave surge on the bottom. We have been able to put up to eight divers on the wreck at a time, all equipped with tape measures and drawing slates to record assigned sections of the wreck.

Now, at the end of day three, we are already able to piece our separate drawings together and see the entire shipwreck take shape. The massive fourteen-foot propeller at one end, then the long propeller shaft, the cathedral-like legs of the engine mount, the fire boxes for the boilers, and finally the elegantly formed bow heeled over in the sand-all mapped out in meticulous detail.

One more day of diving should complete our work on the USS Oriental. For me, one feature of the wreck stands above all others-both literally and figuratively. Somehow, that towering steam engine has managed to endure almost 150 years of storms and hurricanes and still stands as a proud marker over the grave of a fine ship.

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