Wreck Reef expedition…magnetometer finds two interesting anomalies

Warren Delaney plus team off Porpoise Cay

Warren Delaney plus team off Porpoise Cay

7 December, Mon.

This morning the wind and waves seem to be in opposition!  Actually, it was a very rough night for people on both boats.  And everyone seemed to be a bit subdued about breakfast…

As we have been working hard and sometimes having less than expected (or at least hoped for) results, it has been decided to do something completely different today.  We are shifting the Nimrod to Hope Cay (AKA Whalebone Cay) for the day.   We will be looking for the remains of the Lone Star, which was built in the United States in 1864.  Interestingly, this was during the American Civil and there were limited materials available for non-war related enterprises.  A bit of further research could uncover some fascinating insight into Civil War shipbuilding in the USA.  (For those very few specialists that might be interested in that sort of thing!!)  The Lone Star wrecked on Hope Cay in 1871.  The crew was left behind on the cay to salvage whatever they could, while the captain went for a rescue vessel.  Everything was able to be saved with the exception of three anchors.  The remains were located during a preliminary survey by the Queensland Museum in 1988.

Another potential wreck that may be in the area is the Lion.  This is an American whaler that wrecked in 1856 on Wreck Reef, but with no more specific information.  The captain published an account of the wreck in the Sydney Morning Herald and reported his last position in the vicinity of Wreck Reef.  There is more information we have gathered on this…. but more later.

We didn’t have a lot of time after anchoring at Hope Cay.  We sent out two teams of snorkelers/manta boarders to scour the area where previous remains had been seen.  Warren Delaney and his team were able to locate a few more bits and pieces, especially some copper sheathing.

We had a very quick (and late) lunch as a result of the morning search.  And got a second group away for a short (hour and a half) survey, but didn’t find anything else.

We were back at anchor near Porpoise Cay by 5:00 and settled in for dinner with a debrief and after dinner talk.

8 December, Tues.

This morning we have two manta board teams heading back to the middle reef we went past yesterday.  Not having found anything that might possibly have related to the Lion on Hope Cay, we passed an unnamed reef on the way back to anchorage at Porpoise.  It seemed to fit the description the captain gave in his report.  We decided it would be worth spending some time to have a closer look.  The teams are going to do some towing around the inside and outside reef fringe to see if we can locate the Lion.  It was only a 10 minute run across open water from Porpoise Quay.  Lee Graham led the outside team and I had five others with me to look at the northern reef fringe and then move inside.  Nigel Erskine led a team back to the Porpoise site to do more detailed survey work there.

After lunch the Porpoise team returned on SCUBA to start recording a measured site plan of the wreck and the teams returned to complete the reef search for Lion.  By the end of the day we had covered the inside and outside of the reef.  Visually there was no indication of any shipwreck material outside the reef, on the reef top or in the inner lagoon.  It may be worth dedicating a bit of time to do a magnetometer survey after it arrives tomorrow with the resupply.  But the priority will be to use it in delineating the site of the Cato wrecking.

9 December, Wed.

Today is the day for the mid-project resupply.  The vessel was supposed to arrive between 4:30-6:30, but didn’t get here until about 8:30.  The crew that are changing over were already worried about making their flights tomorrow!  Once again it will be a 30 hour voyage back to the mainland.  We are losing Jenni, Sarah (from the manta board team) & Andrew (from the Fishos).  We had the official expedition photo before they boarded the resupply vessel and waved farewell as they departed about 10:30. The resupply vessel had transferred 3000 litres of fuel to Nimrod for the remainder of the survey and the trip back.  Theoretically, we had enough to make it back….just!  So to be safe the refuel was ordered.

We also received the back-up magnetometer.  The mag crews went straight to work testing the unit and setting up for a tow around the reef.  They are going to focus on the area off the reef in front of the Cato gully.  The chef packed lunch for them and they head off about 11:00 for a field test.

One of the dive teams headed out to do more work on the Mahiaca wreck site, looking for any new material that might be visible.  They found a few new areas with some interesting objects that may be related to the steering gear of the ship.  They finished their dive and headed back to Nimrod for lunch.

After lunch we were just having our briefing for afternoon work assignments, when a call came over the radio.  The magnetometer team had two significant hits… one west of the Cato buoy and one west of the Mahaica site.  The two dive teams were reassigned to check out one of the anomalies each.  The boats were away by 2:15 and we were in the water half an hour later.  Nothing visible was found on the Cato site, so we returned to the inflatable boat and picked up the underwater metal detector.  The second dive was checking out the area for any metal that might be obscured by coral growth over the last 200 years.

The Mahaica dive team had a similar experience.  They spent their second dive on another target on the eastern side of the reef near the northeast corner.  They couldn’t see the marker for the hit, so they radioed the mag boat to get the GPS coordinates of the anomaly.  They found the current in this area so strong that it was holding the marker buoy underwater! They aborted the dive as it was unsafe.  It does confirm all the historical descriptions…and excuses, that the loss of many of these vessels was attributed to the strong westerly current that set around all of the reefs of Wreck Reefs.

See you tomorrow….or the next day!

Paul

Contributed by Paul Hundley, Curator – Australian National Maritime Museum

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