30.11.09 – 1.12.09
Flinders University Masters of Maritime Archaeology students Shawn Arnold and Toni Massey who are under the direction of Lecturer Jennifer McKinnon were invited by the Australian National Maritime Museum to participate in the Wreck Reef Expedition. The main objectives of the project are to visit Wreck Reef in the Coral Sea, 450km off the Queensland coast, to expand our knowledge of the wrecks that surround the reef system. In particular the project aims to relocate Mathew Flinders’ 1803 wreck of HMS Porpoise and to locate and identify the wreck of Cato.
The evening of 30 November we loaded our luggage onto the Nimrod Explorer and were assigned our bunks. We then made our way to Silent World II, a large 120ft vessel, where we had a luxurious dinner (prime rib, prawns, mussels, etc.) and mingled with everyone on the Wreck Reef project. The team is quite diverse including maritime archeologists, shipwrights, students, avocationals and genuinely interested people.
Our voyage began at 0200 on the morning of 1 December while we were sound asleep. When we awoke in the morning we found our vessel being escorted by a pod of porpoises and saw loads of flying fish – some of which were unfortunate enough to have landed in the boat overnight and were dried up on the deck. During the 30 hour passage to Wreck Reef the team worked on organizing and prepping dive gear and equipment. Lee Graham gave a fantastic session on how to splice ropes and a refresher course on knots. It was a bit of a rough ride and some didn’t take to it as well as others. Nevertheless we made it.
We arrived at Wreck Reef at 1130 am on 2 December. Silent World II had passed us in the night and was already there to greet us. The seas had calmed down a bit and the passage into the lee side of Porpoise key was smooth and uneventful.
The group was split up into four teams. Two teams conducted swim line snorkel surveys. One team used a magnetometer to conduct a remote sensing survey. The other team investigated Porpoise Cay looking for remains of HMS Porpoise and the accompanying survivor’s camp. The Porpoise Cay team located the two anchors and pig iron ballast of HMS Porpoise with the help of veteran shipwreck finder Warren Delaney. Other remains found included deteriorated cannon balls, coal and glass shards. Both swim line search teams did not locate any wreck remains but may have located the gulley which the remains of Cato may sit within. Marine life spotted included turtles, sea snakes, moray eels, rays, wrasse, a white tip shark and schools of tropical fish of all kinds.
The magnetometer search had a few issues but this is to be expected on every maritime archaeology project. We have another two mags to play with on board the Nimrod and will give those a go if we cannot get the first one up and running properly.
All teams were out of the water by 4 pm and assembled back on Nimrod for debriefing, delicious snacks and cold drinks. Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day.
Contributed by Kieran Hosty.