Achill Island Field Report 14: Odds and Ends: Curragh pens, anchor stock recording, and snorkeling Dooagh pier, 12-15 July 2006

The forecast is calling for heavy seas for this week, precluding any diving, so over the next few days we are working on several alternative tasks. One ongoing objective is to continue recording the curragh pens at Dooagh pier. We would like to finish an overall plan depicting all 20 pens, the coastline, and pier itself.



They notice what appears to be an old ship fitting, now being used as part of a curragh berth. This iron band or ring has four smaller rings attached to its body, and has been embedded in cement to serve as an tie-downs for securing a berthed curragh. It appears to have once been a mast band, an iron collar with eyes and swivels for attachments which would have encircled the mast of a sailing ship. There is a long tradition of Achill islanders salvaging objects from ships wrecked or abandoned in local waters, and this appears be an example of this practice.


Throughout the day, a pod of dolphins has come in to Dooagh Bay to play, putting on quite a show for the archaeologists working at the pier. One of the locals has told us they come in to feed on the sand eels, but they certainly seem to be playing to us, jumping entirely out of the water and rolling across the waves in groups.


Later in the day, we decide that it is a good idea for our team to conduct a snorkel dive in the waters sheltered by the Dooagh pier breakwater. Getting in the water with snorkeling gear, in order to familiarize ourselves with our exposure suit buoyancy, equipment, and the local environment, is always a good idea to do before starting full-fledged diving operations. We can also test our underwater camera equipment in these more controlled conditions. Here Kevin Cullen is suited up in his new semi-drysuit, preparing to enter the water.


Our underwater camera system, which we purchased new to use on this project, has been successfully field-tested. Here is a picture of Kevin snorkeling to the rocky bottom near the pier. We all agree that this exercise has been useful for us, in advance of our upcoming diving operations. We are hoping to get some dives in as soon as the seas calm down, and to start dive operations in earnest with the arrival of our fourth team member on the 16th of June.


In the meanwhile, though, we continue to work on the shore. One of our jobs in the following two days is to record the stock of the anchor recovered from the wreck of the Sceptre, which was lost off Achill in 1841. Norine and Kevin produce an interior, exterior, and side view of one of the two anchor stock components. As we did with the anchor itself, this is done by measuring offsets from a baseline running the entire length of the artifact.




In the evening, we are pleased to see that the seas are finally laying down. Our landlord, Tony McNamara, has agreed to take us out on his boat for some fishing. Mackerel are always plentiful in Achill waters. Here Norine pulls in three fish on one line!


We also are interested in helping Tony bait his lobster pots. In the old days, lobster pots were handcrafted from wicker, and weighted with stones. They had to be checked every tide, or risk losing their catch since the wicker traps were easier for lobsters to escape from. Modern traps allow the lobstermen to check their pots less regularly, so that they won’t have to risk going out to sea in foul weather. Tony pulls up his string of eight pots, called a spillet. No lobster are caught today, unfortunately.


Afterwards, we bait the pots and return them to the sea.


We are all excited about the good weather being forecast for the next week. We had plans to dive tomorrow, on Saturday the 15th, but unfortunately the boat we had hoped to use became unavailable at the last minute. In light of this, we have contacted John O’Malley, a third generation boatbuilder from Corraun peninsula who also runs a charter boat service. He is not available for Saturday, so our first dive is scheduled for Sunday. Our final team member arrives that evening, so we are hoping that the weather holds for diving operations the entire following week.