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You are here: /main/research expeditions/May 2005/Day 2 Pearl and Hermes

Day 2, Pearl and Hermes Atoll
by Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeology Team

Musket balls from the wreck site.
Musket balls from the wreck site.

As I’m writing this update most of the science team on board the Hi’ialakai is asleep. The few that are buzzing around right now in the ship’s dry lab and survey area are the multi-beam mapping team who are excited about the new ground that they are mapping. Before this trip, there was very little bathymetric mapping data at this atoll. Last night, they mapped the one hundred fathom boundary around the atoll, and they are currently processing the data as the ship maps a potential monk seal foraging ground. The Hi’ialakai is truly a twenty- four hour operation, and at any given time there is a ton of data being collected by the ship and scientists who are busily working throughout the day and night.

Early this morning, the maritime archaeology team headed back to the still unidentified shipwreck site, where we continued to map the site, and drew measured sketches of the major artifacts (like trypots, cannon and anchors). Of course we take tons of photographs, but there is still no substitute in the field of underwater archaeology for taking measurements by hand with tapes and slates of the artifacts underwater. Unfortunately, conditions at the shipwreck site are extremely challenging. As one might expect, the shipwreck rests in the surge and breaking waves that crash up against the atoll. These are perfect conditions for a shipwreck, but not so great for working underwater. Our strategy is to wear more weight than usual so that we are able to stay in one place while we map and draw and measure, and also have a ton of patience. Working in the shallow, surging reef areas has its rewards, and we continue to discover new and exciting parts of the shipwreck site.

There is more than one shipwreck area that we are examining and documenting on this trip to Peal and Hermes Atoll. As fortunate as we feel to begin working at these sites, we are also challenged by the short amount of time we have. This morning we wrapped up the major goals we had at the first shipwreck site, and moved on to an area close by along the reef where NOAA’s CRER debris team reported more artifacts. We are hoping to determine if this new site is indeed a whole different shipwreck, since sites in these atolls can scatter for hundreds of meters. Judging by the artifacts found at the first site, it is very likely that we are looking at two different shipwrecks, very likely the Pearl and the Hermes. We had similar strategies to map the new site, although we found the conditions to be a little more unforgiving. The topography was breathtaking and full of spur and groove reef where hundreds of fish kept us company as we attempted to delineate the wreck scatter. The site is shallow, but it does not make the work much easier except that we are able to stay underwater for a really long time. We have great support from our small boat, HI-1, who is able to anchor close by. With the support of the Hi’ialakai, sometimes the only drawback to working in these remote areas is how distractingly beautiful our surroundings are. We will continue to investigate these shipwreck sites tomorrow. The identity of these shipwreck sites are important stories that we are weaving together in order to add to the historical record of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

I am heading to my bunk to get some rest and notice the room of computer screens full of multi-beam data as the mapping team continues to collect invaluable data about the seafloor around these islands. It reminds me of how far science and navigation have come since the early 1800’s when the Pearl and Hermes ran aground on a reef they had no idea existed.




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