Latest News
For Teachers
For Keiki (Kids)
About the Area
Photo Images
Video Images
Maps and Satellite Images
More Info

You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/dice/


Ship Logs

Throwing the Dice
Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Written By Carlos Eyles
September 29, 2002

Clouds at sunrise on Pearl and Hermes Atoll.  Photo by Andy Collins.Every day is different, but this one is different in the way men and women are different. I am with the Archeology Team of Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Marc Hughes and Suzanne Finney. We are in a small zode in the dark, on a stirred, but not shaken sea. We bob like wayward sailors cast from their mother ship waiting for the sun to come up so that we might find our way. Finally, after waiting forty-five minutes the sun cracks the horizon, igniting the high clouds a bright ginger against an early neon azure sky. Beneath them, still slumbering (as we should be) in the darkness of morning, flat clouds, like carriers of misfortune drift low to the sea. The Rapture pulls her anchor and we watch her depart upon the bruised sea. Before leaving, she casts another zode to the dawn and it speeds off to some alien destination. I am without my usual Documentation team; we have been split up on this early morning commando raid.

The sun catches the carrier clouds and alters their doomsday countenance into golden ingots, cheery and full of promise. It is that kind of day. One full of promise, but that is all. We are on a mission to find, the two whaling ships that ran aground and sunk here in 1822, the Pearl and the Hermes. They, or their remains, have never been discovered. Hans has bearings based on historical research, and believes it to be resting in pieces just inside or outside a barrier reef within a two-mile stretch of water. Sounds easy enough, but I have already been on a ship hunt during this expedition and it wasn't as if we struck out, we never got to the plate. The attraction to this wreck is that the water is shallow and can be easily searched, and what makes this particular hunt enormously intriguing it is the very ships for which this atoll is named. I had a choice to go with another team as the Doc team did, or roll the dice with Hans and his crew. My whole life has been a dice roll, why change now?

SS Quartette wreckage at Pear and Hermes Reef.  Photo by Hans Van Tilburg.Searching for wreckage is tedious, boring work, made lighter with good company. When the sun is high enough to see we begin to run what is called a designed search, as opposed to a random search, we are in shallow water inside the lagoon with Ice at the wheel, and are looking in three to four feet of water. Hans believes that one ship hit the reef and the other came to pull her off when it too went aground. Then, over years storms probably pushed them into the lagoon and scattered the wreckage hither and yon. While looking, we talk books and there is a fine joy in recreating the delights of a good read. Whenever someone sees something that does not appear to fit into the seascape we stop the boat and put on a mask and take a look. We come up empty on the first pass, and I start to lose faith, Hans undeterred by failure, which is almost a bylaw in this form of discipline; if you can't fail repeatedly without discouragement, then you best change vocations. Actually Hans has done remarkably well, on this expedition, having located some seventeen shipwrecks including two airplanes. But we failed on the first pass, and on the next, Marc gets into the water and we tow him by a twenty foot line, while snorkeling for another two miles. More book talk, but no wreckage. Despite the disappointment Hans remains upbeat, and decides that with our dawn departure it is time for an early lunch. I go for a long swim, come back to find the food nearly gone. I had forgotten that Marc is on board, and the guy puts the groceries away. The mound on food on his plate at dinner time is often mistaken for a week's food allotment granted to small African Countries by the United Nations. Yet he has not an ounce of body fat, go figure.

After lunch, such as it was, Hans wants to do a drift dive on the outside of the barrier reef in shallow water, twenty-five to thirty feet and search for wreckage that might have not made it into the lagoon. Though I have brought a tank, I elect to free dive. I prefer to free dive whenever the opportunity presents itself, and this is one of those times. There is a different approach to the water, when free diving on a breath hold. The view is broad from Carlos Eyles freedive.  Photo by Jim Watt.the surface and actually covers more area than a scuba diver would have. If I see something of interest I can dive to it and have plenty of time in a minute and a half to inspect a cave or crevice, look at fish or whatever falls into my field of vision. Without bubbles and the noise of scuba I can move into the realm of fishes and not frighten them off. Without the heavy bulk of a scuba tank I am able to cover much more ground. My time in the water is unlimited I can free dive all day, drift for miles and see more of the ocean than a scuba diver could on his limited time at depth. While these are obvious advantageous, the real difference between the two is that I am not bringing a linear element into a nonlinear environment. I can feel my way through the water, rather than think my way through by way of constantly monitoring gauges. Here on this drift, I am in my element, and encounter reef fish by the score, lobsters, ulua, snapper, a couple of big white tips sharks, that were unafraid and allowed me to get close, and at the end of the dive, a large school of ulua came in and brought with them a monk seal. The perfect treat to finish off the dive.

We did not find any wreckage, but Hans had no expectations, it was the vehicle that got us in the water, and who knows, maybe next time we will find a wreck, and wouldn't that be something. In the meantime, Hans will keep looking and I'll keep throwing the dice, and ships will keep sinking. As advanced as we believe our civilization is in these days of electronic marvels, the ocean is still a force to be reckoned with, and continues to hold us at its will. And if we forget for a moment, we will find ourselves in the same unenviable quandary as the Pearl and Hermes.

<<Journals Home

Home | News | About | Expeditions | Photos | Video | Maps
Discussions | Partners | Teachers | Keiki | More Info | Search
Contact Us | Privacy Policy
This site is hosted by the
Laboratory for Interactive Learning Technologies
at the University of Hawai`i