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NC Divers Recover Two Cannons From Blackbeard’s Ship

Photo: Telegram.

By R. Gregg, The Raleigh Telegram

RALEIGH – Last Thursday, underwater archaeologists recovered two heavy cannons from the wreck that is widely acknowledged as Blackbeard’s ship.  The ship currently rests at the bottom of 24 feet of water near Beaufort, North Carolina.

Blackbeard’s ship, “The Queen Anne’s Revenge,” sank in the Beaufort area in 1718 and was discovered in 1996.  According to underwater archaeologists, the decision was reached in 2006 to bring up the entire shipwreck as it is threatened by hurricanes and other storms.

According to former project director Richard Lawrence, about half of the wreck and its artifacts have been recovered.  The contents of the ship that have not been brought up yet may wash away if large storms take place, so there is a race against time to raise as many items as possible before they are lost to tide and time.

The recovery project is privately funded by the Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge non-profit group.  Depending on funding, the full recovery of the site could take a couple more years.

This month, the plan was originally to recover three cannons during mid-June, but wind and weather prevented divers from meeting that goal previously. Even on Thursday, June 20th, when the dive finally took place, the waters were a little choppy with gusty winds, which meant that divers were only able to recover two instead of three cannons as it took longer than planned.

The divers who did the dangerous work were Nate Henry and Chris Southerly of the North Carolina underwater archaeology team.  In an interview with this newspaper after the dive, Southerly said that visibility was very low.  He said that he couldn’t see further than his arm, which meant that they basically had to “feel their way around.”

They dove off of their small dive boat, which looks like a barge.  Attaching a yellow inflatable bag to the cannons, which were already in a staging area, the divers then floated the cannons one at a time to the surface.  A longer line was attached to the 80 foot long R/V Dan Moore, which is a large research vessel on loan from Cape Fear Community College.

Once floated to the side of the Dan Moore, a davit was used to haul the cannons aboard the ship.  At times, the raising of the cannons seemed to be a laborious, painstaking process as the waves almost washed the divers against the side of the ship as they tried to keep the cannons from doing the same.

According to dive director Billy Ray Morris, the cannons weigh from 1800 to 2200 pounds each, depending on the amount of accretions on them.  As a result, they can be dangerous and act like a giant counterweight when attached to the end of a swinging rope.

Explaining that the delays were a result of being cautious to not only protect the artifacts but divers as well, Morris told reporters that no one had ever been hurt in the years that they have been diving on The Queen Anne’s Revenge.

“I’d like to keep it that way,” he joked.

Out of the 40 or so cannons that were believed to have been on board Blackbeard’s ship, underwater archaeologists have found 27 at the wreck site.  Of those, 13 cannons were raised before this most recent expedition and the two cannons that were raised last week will be added to that total to make 15 that are now on land.

After the cannons were loaded onto the Dan Moore, they were then taken to the Fort Macon Coast Guard Station which is not far away from the wreck site and unloaded.

Put aboard a trailer, the cannons were immediately doused with water using a hose to keep them wet.  Covered in accretions which form when the iron in the cannons reacts with the seawater, they also had some barnacles and small sea creatures attached to them.  However, the cannons seemed to be in remarkably good shape and the outlines of the guns could clearly be seen.  Even the inside of the muzzle of the cannons was visible and one could easily imagine a pirate loading them in battle some 300 years ago.

One of the new measures that underwater archaeologists have been employing on The Queen Anne’s Revenge is the use of sacrificial anodes attached to the cannons while they are still underwater.  Similar to zincs on a boat, the anodes corrode instead of the cannon itself.  The process is used to stabilize the condition of the guns while they are waiting to take them out of the water.

After the two recovered guns were removed and put on the trailer, a researcher drilled a small hole in the accretions to get to the actual cannon.  They then attached a sensor to test the pH level of the cannon to see if the anodes were working.  Researchers said this was the first time they had tested the anodes before they had brought them back to the lab.  More tests will be done to see if the anodes are stopping the corrosion underwater.

They also have left some cannons in their natural state underwater without attaching anodes to serve as “controls” so they can see how they compare to the ones with anodes.

The cannons were later taken to East Carolina University for conservation and preservation measures. Researchers said the cannons will remain in water for many years to slowly get the metal to a state where it can be removed from the water and also remove the accretions bit by bit with small tools.

Items already removed from the shipwreck include pewter plates, pieces of sails, cannons, musket barrels, sword remnants, small amounts of gold dust, lead shot, glassware, ceramics, cannon skirts, timbers, rope, and much, much more.  The items are on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, North Carolina which is free and open to the public. ::

Article Posted: Friday, June 28th, 2013.


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