Spring work: U-1105 Historic Shipwreck Preserve, and workboat maintenance

Fetching and deploying the new mooring buoy rig on the U-1105 site

David Howe, IMH Secretary

6-7 April 2015:

Dawn Chesaek, Dean Frank, Charlie Reid, and I took Roper from Tall Timbers Marina to the Maryland DNR pier at Matapeake MD, loaded a new buoy anchor “clump” on board, and returned to Tall Timbers.  The round-trip took 24 hours.  Roper‘s big davit had no trouble lifting the clump and swinging it aboard, helped by her new super-high-tech davit turner: an 8-foot piece of 2-inch steel pipe.

18 April 2015:

The new anchor clump, nw chain, and buoy were deployed on the site, but there are a few loose ends to fix.

The clump is concrete, 30 inches square and 10 inches thick with a 3/4-inch steel staple or eye cast in it.  It weighs 800 pounds dry or 600 wet.  The chain comprises two fathoms of 3/4-inch and 20 fathoms of 1/2-inch galvanized, connected with a swivel.  It weighs about 400 pounds.

A few days ago, Lolly Vann and I slung the chain in 10-foot bights hanging outside Roper‘s port side, held by light line “stoppers” to cleats on the gunwale.

On 18 April we towed the buoy astern of Roper from Tall Timbers Marina to the site.  The marker ball that we rigged on the conning tower last year survived the winter and usefully showed the wreck’s exact location.  (We have three more balls in reserve if they are ever needed.)

Dive crew were Tom Edwards, Fred Engle, and Al Gordon  of BAREG, Sam Glover of IMH, and Doug Van Kirk (Tom Edwards’ son-in-law).  Deck crew were Captain Bobby Bowes, and Dan Lynberg and me from IMH.

When we arrived on site we brought the buoy alongside Roper.  Al and Sam dived and shackled the chain to the buoy.  We shackled the “tag line” to the staple on the clump, rigged the lifting wire from Roper‘s davit to a hook on the staple, put a “mouse” of light line across the mouth of the hook so it could not fall off, and shackled a 1,000-pound lift bag to the hook.  Then we lifted the clump, swung it overboard on the davit, and lowered it about 10 feet into the water.  Al and Sam dived to the clump and inflated the lift bag partway to ease the load on the davit as we paid out more chain and lowered the clump.

We lowered it to 40 feet, cutting the stoppers as needed.  At 40 feet we had a pelican hook connecting the chain to a heavy rope strap over Roper‘s port quarter cleat, so the chain took the weight of the clump and the lifting wire went slack.  Tom and Doug dived to the clump, deflated the lift bag, released the hook, and re-attached the hook and bag farther up the chain.  That step was necessary because Roper‘s davit wire is not quite long enough to lower the clump all the way to the river bottom.

We lowered the clump to about 80 feet, positioned the boat southeast of the U-1105, and lowered the clump all the way to the bottom.  It lies 70 to 75 feet southeast of the wreck, far enough away that the chain cannot hit the U-boat’s conning tower no matter how the buoy swings in changing currents.

The tag line was coiled on a reel.  Cap’n Bobby paid it out from Roper as the clump descended.  The line was 210 feet of 5/8″ laid Nylon, long enough to reach from the clump to the U-1105 and encircle the conning tower on the main deck.  There is no other known attachment point on the U-1105 that is strong enough.  Fred and Doug swam the tag line reel to the marker ball, descended to the wreck, and ran the line around the base of the conning tower.  They got the line around the tower but became short on gas and too cold to tie it off.  They rigged a zip tie to hold it temporarily, cut off the excess line, and brought that up with the reel.  While they were working the line, Al descended the chain and attempted to remove the lift bag and hook.  He was unable to free them, because the clump had spun on the way down and tangled the hook and bag.  We let the wire go and left the hook, bag and wire on the chain.  When Al, Doug, and Fred got back on board we returned to Tall Timbers.

Nobody got hurt, nothing broke, and the buoy and clump are on site.

19 April 2015:

Bobby, Fred, Sam, Dan, and I returned to the site.  The wind was southeasterly, gusting 20+ knots.  The sea conditions on site were choppy but adequate.  Fred and Sam dived.  They were able to tie the tag line, but the tangle of hook, bag and wire was too deep in the mud to fix, even after lifting the chain with a 500-pound lift bag.  So we made some progress, but we still need to clear the tangle and perhaps tighten the tag line.

20 April 2015:

Roper was hauled at Tall Timbers Marina for her annual refit.  We can fetch the U-1105 gear with our other boat Polly while Roper is “on the hard” or with Roper after she is launched but before 16 May when she will go to St Augustine for summer work with the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP).  Brendan Burke and Brian McNamara of LAMP will come to Tall Timbers on 21 April and spend a week or two preparing Roper for that work.

After the last season of work, Roper‘s bottom and topsides paints look fine but need another coat or two, her propeller has some dings that need repair, her zinc anodes need replacement, and her engine, electronics, and ports need some love and care.  Her aft work deck will be professionally sandblasted and coated with several layers of two-part epoxy paint.  We will also remove and re-bed her heavy davit and have all new injectors professionally installed in her Caterpillar 3208 diesel engine.


Roper Finishes Overhaul and Heads South

RV Roper, the steel workhorse of the Institute of Marine History (IMH), spent three weeks on the hard for annual maintenance.  Major work included removing, tweaking, installing and re-aligning the engine, rebuilding the dry exhaust stack, professionally sandblasting the underwater hull, applying four coats of epoxy and two of non-ablative bottom paint, painting her topsides, fixing the on-board computer system, and installing a new Humminbird 1199 sidescan sonar.

Captain Brendan Burke, an underwater archaeologist from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum in Florida, came to Tall Timbers for two weeks of sandblasting, welding, grinding, sanding, painting, wrenching, cursing, boat yoga, and the other joys of yotting.  Eighteen other volunteers gallantly joined the effort.  They included IMH members Dawn Cheshaek, Isabel Mack, John Dowdle, Sam Glover, Bill Isbell, Dan Lynberg, Kirk Pierce, Jim Sanborn, Ted Sargent, and Dave Howe; friends Kathleen Lowe, Kirk Esco, Mike Gates, Kathleen’s fiancé Brian, Hugh McKeever, and Hunter McNee; and Florida crew Tom Arnold and Brian McNamara.

On Saturday morning, 17 May, Brendan, Tom, and Brian McNamara started Roper south for Florida.  She passed through Great Bridge Lock at midnight, averaging 7 knots on her new, hard, clean bottom.  She will spend June working a shipwreck from 1782 as part of the Lighthouse’s annual field school in underwater archaeology, and July and August searching for French shipwrecks dating from 1565.  She will come home to Tall Timbers in September, spend six weeks mapping a dozen World War One wrecks near Aquia and two Civil War wrecks near Quantico, and retrieve the U-1105 mooring buoy on 1-2 November.


2011 schedule, revised again

Field work will start on 21 February, and we have added some items to the list.  The updated schedule is attached.  Dust off and tune up your dive gear, folks — this will be a very busy year.

Kojo Nnamdi Show, Monday 10/25/10

IMH and our Mount Vernon project were featured today on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU (88.5 FM).  For a transcript go to http://thekojonnamdishow.org/ for 10/25/10, and click on Listen under Underwater Archaeology.


Back to sunny Florida again

Weeather willing, Roper will sail from Tall Timbers for Florida on Saturday, 22 May, and arrive at St.Augustine around 27 May.  She will be on loan to LAMP throughout June for field work and a field school.

I hope to bring her back north in early July to continue SHIP reconnaissance in the Potomac, return to Mount Vernon, and reconnaissance of the Potomac and Anacostia in DC.  Other possible work this fall includes another field session at Lewes, reconnaissance of Fort Elsborg along the DE/NJ shoreline, and reconnaissance in Virginia rivers.  It all depends on funding.