IMH supports Naval History & Heritage Command and Supervisor of Salvage, USN

On Wednesday and Thursday, March 16 and 17, the Institute of Maritime History assisted NHHC and Phoenix International Holdings, a SUPSALV contractor, in deploying a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), two types of small, unmanned submarines, to take sonar and video images of the USS Tulip wreck.  Tulip was a US Navy gunboat that sank with heavy loss of life in a boiler explosion in 1864.  IMH is a non-profit society that is based at Tall Timbers Marina and conducts underwater archaeological reconnaissance and research for the Maryland Historical Trust and other agencies.
The river was too rough on Wednesday to safely deploy the ROV.  Thursday was calm, but even at slack high tide the river sediment prevented the ROV from getting good video images.  The AUV obtained excellent high-resolution sonar images of the hull and debris field.  At the end of work on Thursday a memorial service was held on the site, with tulips dropped into the water to commemorate the sailors who died in the tragic sinking.
Dr. George Schwarz was the NHHC archaeologist on the project.  Stephanie Brown was the SUPSALV representative.  Curt Newport, Charlie Kapica and Andy Yockey of Phoenix operated the Seaeye Falcon ROV and the Iver-3-580-3037 AUV.  IMH members Dan Lynberg, Charlie Reid and Dave Howe, and local resident Will Jordan operated the IMH dive boat Roper.  Roper towed a skiff and used her as a work platform to launch and recover the AUV.  On Thursday, Captain Will Gates of the pinnace Maryland Dove at Historic St. Mary’s City joined in the effort. 
In May, Brendan Burke of the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program at the St. Augustine (Florida) Lighthouse and Maritime Museum will visit IMH, bringing LAMP’s Klein 3900 sidescan sonar and Marine Magnetics “Explorer” underwater magnetometer.  He and IMH members will spend several days scanning, magging, diving and mapping what appears to be another Civil War shipwreck near USMC Base Quantico VA, and several days on the Tulip.  IMH will dive Tulip only if accompanied by Dr Schwarz or another NHHC underwater archaeologist.  As a federal war grave, Tulip is a sensitive site.  The wreck is also protected from unauthorized disturbance under the Sunken Military Craft Act.  Some artifacts were illegally recovered years ago, were eventually surrendered to the Navy, and have been conserved and curated at NHHC.  In the current operation the site was not touched or disturbed.
USS Tulip was a screw gunboat, 183 tons, length 97’3″, beam 21’9″, depth 9’6″, draft 8′, complement 57, carrying two 24-pounder smoothbore cannons and one 20-pounder Parrott rifle.  She was built at New York City in 1862 and 1863 by Jowett & Company for export to China as the lighthouse tender Chih Kiang, but was purchased by the US Navy on 22 June 1863.
Renamed Tulip and refitted for service as a tug and gunboat, she joined the Potomac River Flotilla in August 1863.  That force patrolled the river, protecting Union waterborne communications between the nation’s capital and the port cities of the divided nation during the Civil War.  She initially performed towing duties at the Washington Navy Yard, and then served with the flotilla in operations against Confederate forces in the Rappahannock.  In the latter duties, the ship carried Federal troops and supported naval landing parties which from time to time went ashore for operations against Confederate traffic across the river.
As she continued this wartime riverine service into 1864, Tulip developed a defective starboard boiler.  Commander Foxhall A. Parker, commanding the Potomac Flotilla, ordered the ship home to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs.  Tulip got underway on 11 November with orders to steam only the port boiler.  Not long after departing from St. Inigoes Creek, St. Mary’s County, Maryland, her engineers, against all orders, began supplying steam to the starboard boiler.  When abreast Ragged Point, the boiler exploded and tore the fragile ship apart, killing 47 men instantly of the 57-man complement.  Of the 10 survivors, two died later as a result of injuries received in the violent explosion which claimed the ship.
The attached photo by Charlie Reid shows Captain Will Gates, Curt Newport, and Andy Yockey preparing to launch the ROV.

revised plan, autumn 2015

It was disappointing to cancel our big fall projects up the Potomac, but we can focus on the Lord Dunmore project instead.  It would be very valuable to Maryland and IMH to find and prove a vessel that was scuttled by Dunmore in the summer of 1776.  That would be the first underwater site dating from the Revolution found in Maryland.  Historical records say between eight and 23 vessels were burned, so we are looking for stone ballast piles and associated debris.

The site is convenient to Tall Timbers and does not present the logistical constraints the Potomac projects posed.  It can be done in stages on weekends, and it offers good ancillary training in boat handling, sidescan operation, and magnetometer operation once we get that puppy to work.

Depths are 10 to 20 feet.  The bottom is hard, and visibility is unusually good by Potomac standards.

Prior scans by Azulmar, LAMP, and IMH with sonar and magnetometer covered about half the target area and disclosed several dozen protruding objects that need to be mapped and assessed, and at least 23 isolated magnetic anomalies that need to be refined, found, and assessed — plus two linear magnetic targets hundreds of yards long.  Those probably are underwater cables, perhaps left from the US Navy torpedo test station that operated in the area from 1941 to 1959, or electrical cables that once powered a lighted aid to navigation.  That speculation needs to be proved or disproved.

So, the revised plan for autumn is to dive and map the Dunmore site every weekend the weather allows, starting this Sunday, 20 September.  (Saturday 19 is out.)  Most weekdays are available too, if we have divers.  The standard plan will be to meet at Tall Timbers at 0830, load up, get underway by 0900, arrive on site and start diving by 1015, secure at 1600, and dock at Tall Timbers at 1715.  Two tanks should be enough.  Roper will carry spare tanks with yoke fittings.  We will anchor or live-boat, depending on location, conditions, and manning.  Mapping will be done by sonar, offsets, and trilateration.  Bring a tape, slate, and lunch, and confirm with me by email or phone (302-222-4721) the day before you come.

Autumn 2015 work

We have five projects scheduled for this autumn after our workboat Roper comes home from LAMP at St Augustine:

7-10 September:  help the Naval History & Heritage Command evaluate a portable sonar system;

11-18 September:  assess 19 sites in the Potomac River in transit to Widewater VA;

19 September – 19 October:  assess about a dozen WWI wooden steamship hulls at Widewater;

20-26 October:  assess a possible Civil War site near Quantico VA; and

2-24 November:  assess features that might be related to vessels scuttled by Lord Dunmore in July and August 1776.

If you would like more information on these projects, and especially if you would like to participate, please click the “contact” button on our homepage.


summer and fall projects

Our main workboat, Roper, is on loan to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum again this summer.  During June we will set up our second workboat for diving.  She has been named Polly, short for Polynavicular Morbus, the disorder of owning too many boats.  In July and August we will use Polly to continue searching for the vessels that were scuttled at St. George’s Island, Maryland, in late July 1776 by Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia.  Those vessels numbered between eight and 23, depending on which archival sources you like.  We have more than 20 mag and sonar anomalies to investigate in the area.  We will also have dive boat coxswain training and a field school and on-the-job training in low-visibility site mapping.

Roper will come home from Florida during the first week of September.  The rest of September and all of October will be spent mapping what may be a Civil War canal boat, and the remains of a dozen World War One wooden steamships at Widewater, Virginia, across the Potomac from Mallows Bay, Maryland, where more than 150 of their sisters were scrapped.  The Widewater work will end in time for us to return to home port and recover the mooring buoy from the U-1105 Historic Shipwreck Preserve on Hallowe’en.

If you would like to participate in any of these projects please click the “contact” button above and let us know.

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.


Fall 2014 recon at Widewater VA

Attached is a summary report of our reconnaissance of wooden steamships from World War One at Widewater VA in September and October.  We will return to the site in September +/- October 2015 to continue work.  Please contact me if you would like to participate.

2014 fieldwork plans, updated

IMH’s field projects for 2014 include the following —

1    Help Scott Tucker assess a 1680s site (done)
2    Search for eight sites in St Mary’s River for Maryland Historical Trust (July)
2a  Inspect a storm anchor in St Mary’s River, Maryland (July)
3    Assess a dozen WWI wooden steamers at Widewater, Virginia (September – October)
3a  Assess 14 Pootomac sites en route to Widewater (September)
4    Continue mapping Civil War wrecks at Quantico, Virginia (October)
5    Resume search for Lord Dunmore wrecks at St George Island, Maryland (July – Augusr and November)
6    Help LAMP search for French wrecks from 1565 off Florida (July – August)
7    Assess possible SS “Express” (1878) wreck near Patuxent River, Maryland (August – September?)

Specific dates will depend on weather and participants.  For more information or to join in fieldwork please click the “contact” button in the top right corner of this page and say which projects interest you.

2014 fieldwork plans

World War One started 100 years ago this August.  As we reach its centennial, IMH plans to map and assess the remains of approximately 15 large, wooden steamships from that war.  They were built for the US Shipping Board’s Emergency Fleet Corporation, and now lie submerged or partially exposed in an area of the Potomac River called Widewater, near Aquia Creek and near Mallows Bay, Maryland, where more than 150 of their sisters were burned for scrap in the 1920s.  We will also search for other wrecks in the vicinity, assess perhaps 15 more sites in transit, and report all findings to the Maryland Historical Trust or the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, depending on site locations.

Fieldwork is scheduled for the period from 13 September to 5 October.  This project will provide an excellent opportunity to engage volunteer divers in the assessment of a large number of large wrecks from a crucially historic period whose effects are still keenly felt today, in an area that is geographically convenient to Washington DC, and in diving conditions that are benign, if somewhat turbid.

Please review the attached project summary.  Then, if you are interested in participating, either click the “Contact” button above, or email