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Ship Logs

A New Submerged Site at Laysan
Posted By Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Maritime Archaeology and History team
September 18, 2002

Laysan Anchor.Today we began with a relatively simple task, documenting the three anchors in shallow water near the landing beach at Laysan Island. The three represented three different styles: kedge, folding stock, and stockless anchor designs. None of them have chains attached, so it's a bit of a mystery as to what they're doing here at the island.

The departure schedule for the Rapture was shortened this morning; all tenders had to be back at the ship no later than 11:45. Instead of heading south to search for the remains of the Kaiyo Maru, then, we headed further offshore for our second dive. The NOAA vessel Townsend Cromwell attempted to recover an historic anchor in this vicinity in 2001, and it should still be down there, marked with yellow ½ inch line. On our descent, we found our own tender's anchor set near an encrusted iron strap emerging from the sand. Swimming in the general area we came across not one but two more large anchors. Neither had signs of yellow line or attempted salvage. Shapes in nearby areas of the reef suggested encrusted iron artifacts. We just had enough time and air left to inspect these anchors.

This is a suspicious site. One large and heavily encrusted admiralty style anchor emerges from a small sand patch amid the deep reef, its anchor chain fouled around the top of the shank and then diving down into the sand. The second somewhat smaller admiralty style anchor lies flush on top of a nearby boulder. It is so completely covered with coral and growth that it's almost as if the reef itself grew into the outline of an anchor. Its chain lays over the rock and descends into the sand (in a different direction than the first).

Possibility #1: one or both of these anchors are associated with the guano operations on Laysan between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps they were part of a mooring system for vessels coming to the island. One might expect, then, than the anchor chain would be stretched out across the sand and reef, not fouled on top of the anchor itself. One might also believe than ships would prefer to anchor over larger sand patches, and not so close to shallower reef itself. However, this site is close to the entrance to the channel for Laysan's landing. This explanation is a distinct possibility. Research into local archives might clarify the landing system and gear during Laysan's guano days.

Possibility #2: combining the coincidence of two misplaced anchors at the same spot (30 feet apart) with iron debris nearby, it's possible that this is a wreck site. Thrums Hawaiian Annual reported that the CC Kennedy, a Hawaiian schooner, wrecked at Laysan on March 3rd, 1905, due to poor weather conditions. Alternatively, the bark Ceylon was lost in this area. Maui Shipping News for November 1902 (information gathered by Richard Rogers) reported that Captain Willer and his crew witnessed portions of the vessel breaking up and washing towards shore. The exposed wood from old wrecks would have been devoured long ago by the ship worm (teredo navalis), but the heavier iron artifacts would have been strewn about the reef. Only further dives in this area could shed light on this possibility.

Possibility #3: there is an entirely different explanation.

Time out! We're off to Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

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Dr. Hans Van Tilburg
Dr. Hans Van Tilburg

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