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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, August 31, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

QAR divers on the hunt

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

This photo of columnist Bethany Bradsher was taken last spring while she was on a vessel in the vicinity of Beaufort Inlet gathering information and interviews for a feature story on recovery efforts related to the shipwreck believed to be Queen Anne's Revenge. The story was previewed on this site last month and appeared in full in the recent issue of Bonesville The Magazine. This week, Bradsher got an optimistic update from QAR project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing on a major ongoing diving expedition to bring up artifacts.
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For ten years, a group of underwater archaeologists and other scientists have been chipping away at the excavation of the wreck believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship vessel.

This fall, in just six weeks time, the crew will likely raise more artifacts from the Queen Anne’s Revenge than were collected in that entire decade. It’s a windfall that can only result from a magic combination of ample state funds, ambitious planners and widespread cooperation from state, federal and private entities.

Oh, and one more factor — the one with the power to trump every other variable: clear weather for diving, both above and below the surface.

“This week has just been absolutely gorgeous,” QAR project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing said. “The wind shifted around, and you could see 30 feet on the bottom which is very unusual. The speed that we can work and feel comfortable with getting good information is many times what you get when you can hardly see.

“We’re going to bring a quarter of the site up.”

The expedition team, led by QAR site director Chris Southerly, set out last Wednesday and spent the rest of the week preparing the site — putting up mooring lines, setting up a grid to delineate the footprint of the wreck and other tasks — and testing equipment.

When they set out on Monday, they were geared up for some real excavation. The diving during the past four days has centered on two areas of the site — an area near the south edge of the site that contains few artifacts larger than gold dust and lead shot and the heart of the pile, in what was once the officer’s quarters, that houses at least five cannon and an unknown number of other interesting items.

“Part of getting the equipment ready was to start on the outshore edges and try to define the site,” Wilde-Ramsing said. “Even though the larger artifacts are not scattered out that way, the smaller leadshot and gold extends a little bit farther out than we thought.”

The more intense part of the dive, the stern area where the officers once slept, has revealed not only cannon but goodies like three pewter plates, an intact wine bottle, a little brass cup that was used to weigh small items, and a couple of rolled lead pieces that could be weights or sinkers for fishing.

“We found a mystery item, it looks like maybe a whistle, or maybe it’s a piece of medical equipment,” Wilde-Ramsing said.

The team will bring those types of artifacts up to the surface and transport them to the QAR Conservation Lab at the ECU West Research Campus. But here’s where the expedition’s efficiency is outpacing the QAR project’s resources: They can’t raise more than one cannon at this point because they wouldn’t have enough space to conserve and store the other four. They are hoping to rent a warehouse to supplement the space in the Conservation Lab.

“The lab is not ready for that many big things, so we’ll probably just move them over,” said Wilde-Ramsing, who is helping to move the other cannons to a holding area adjacent to the wreck on the ocean floor.

The divers haven’t determined definitively which cannon they will raise, although it’s possible that they’ll bring up C16, the gun that was supposed to break the surface last spring on the day I accompanied the divers out to the site on assignment for Bonesville The Magazine. But the main determining factors in choosing the cannon will be their condition and the number of smaller artifacts concreted with them.

The decision will be, which one is more of a preservation risk,” Wilde-Ramsing said. “‘One certainly had a couple of plates on it. They all seem to be very interesting. They all have things hanging off of them, and there are all kinds of things around them.”

The divers have received invaluable assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, which offered the team the use of a six-bed berth and a trailer to house the team for free, as well as reduced rates on meals at the base. Fort Macon State Park has also supplied some rooms for other support personnel.

One of the greatest benefits of the housing arrangements is the close proximity to the launch site for the boat, which is located near Fort Macon. With more than a month of dives left, the team will be sustained by kindnesses like the Coast Guard’s and those forays into perfectly clear water on the ocean floor.

The leaders of the group set November 9 for the final day of the dive, but Wilde-Ramsing said that the expedition might actually conclude earlier that if things continue to go smoothly, because the team will have accomplished the pre-established goals of this, the longest and most effective dive in the QAR wreck’s history.

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08/31/2007 04:47:51 AM

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