BEAUFORT — On their fourth attempt this month, state underwater archaeologists brought up two cannons Thursday from the Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck in Beaufort Inlet.
The cannons have been on the ocean floor for nearly three centuries, going down with Blackbeard’s flagship, which ran aground near Beaufort in 1718.
Archaeologists had originally planned to bring up three cannons that day, but because of worsening sea conditions decided to leave the third on the ocean floor for a future expedition.
It’s been a challenge for archaeologists, who had originally set out to bring up eight cannons this month, but because of poor weather conditions had to cancel previous dives.
It was a sweet victory for archaeologists as cannons were hoisted aboard the Cape Fear Community College research vessel, the Dan Moore, as a boat full of media and others invited to witness the event watched on a nearby vessel, Crystal Coast Lady. Wendy and Bucky Oliver of Beaufort, members of the Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the nonprofit fundraising organization for the project, chartered the boat. A few additional boats owned by private individuals, as well as an Olympus Dive boat, floated nearby to watch the event as well.
Among those onboard the Crystal Coast Lady was Secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz, who said she was happy to see the cannons finally come up.
“It’s just wonderful and I’m so excited. It’s just such an historic day, especially for North Carolina,” she said. “I’m just thrilled to be here and be a part of it. I’m so proud of everyone who has helped with the project.”
Among those watching with the nearly 80 people on the charter boat were Nichole McDuffy of Beaufort and her 14-year-old daughter Ashley, who were invited to go on the vessel.
“It’s just amazing to be a part of this. This is history,” said Mrs. McDuffy. “These cannons haven’t seen the light for three centuries, and we got to experience this.”
Her daughter agreed.
“It was very exciting. I thought they would have more barnacles on them and be harder to see. But it was very easy to see they are cannons,” she said.
It was also exciting for Crystal Coast Lady Captain Farmer Styron, who navigated his boat near the two research vessels used to hoist the cannons and stage divers.
“I love it. I’m a history buff. It’s nice to see these cannons after 300 years. And it’s nice to know they’re going to be seen by people in Beaufort and across the state.”
The two cannons are six-pounders (shot 6-pound cannonballs), and make 15 cannons retrieved from the site since its discovery in November 1996, according to Sarah Watkins-Kenney, chief archaeology conservator for the project. She said 27 cannons have been discovered at the site so far.
Archaeologist Nathan Henry, one of the two divers who helped retrieve the cannons by attaching a large balloon to them that was inflated on the ocean floor, said he believes one of the cannons is still loaded with gunpowder.
He based that on the fact that the end of the gun barrel was plugged. Pirates normally used a wooden plug known as a tampion, although Mr. Henry said he wouldn’t know for sure until the gun is cleaned.
“It’s a very hard and tedious process to remove the tampion,” he said.
Dave Moore, nautical archaeologist with the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, added that all but one of the cannons retrieved so far have been loaded.
While QAR project director and Deputy State Archaeologist Billy Ray Morris was excited to get the cannons up, he was frustrated that more weren’t brought up during the month.
“We got two of the eight, so we’re batting 250. It’s better than not getting any cannons at all. And I’m glad we got them up safely with no one getting hurt. But when we return in August we’ll be starting at a deficit because we didn’t get as much done as I had hoped,” he said after offloading the cannons at the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Fort Macon.
The cannons were wrapped and kept wet overnight at the station, then transported today to the QAR lab in Greenville. There they will undergo cleaning and conservation in preparation for being displayed at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, which is responsible for curatorship of artifacts.
The cannons, which underwent an experimental process on the ocean floor designed to slow down corrosion, were also checked for pH balance and corrosion by researchers once they were offloaded at Fort Macon. The data being collected will be used to determine if the process, which involves hooking anodes to metallic artifacts to draw away salinity and slow down corrosion, will be used on other artifacts.
This month’s expedition is the first of two planned for this year. Divers will return Aug. 5 and work at the site through the end of October. The goal is to retrieve all artifacts from the site by the end of 2014.
Mr. Morris said he’s trying to find a vessel large enough to hoist more cannons in the fall, but still had not found one by press time.
This expedition was the final voyage for the Dan Moore, which is being decommissioned from service, according to Mr. Morris. However, Cape Fear Community College has acquired the former Duke University Marine Lab research vessel, the RV Cape Hatteras. He’s hoping to get that vessel sometime during the fall season.
Since exploration of the shipwreck began in 1997, about 280,000 artifacts have been recovered, including cannons, anchors, ship’s bell, grenades and platters. Many of those items are on display at the N.C. Maritime Museum, and others are part of traveling exhibits around the state.
The QAR wreck was located in November 1996 by Intersal Inc., with information provided to Operations Director Mike Daniel by company president Phil Masters. Archaeologists with the Underwater Archaeology Branch in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources lead the research on this shipwreck.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.