A ringing success: Kenn Reefs expedition, days 7 and 8

Lee Graham and his trusty tow-board. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Lee Graham and his trusty tow-board. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

While the dive team was busy documenting sites KR10 and KR11 on the morning and afternoon of 14 January, the magnetometer team took advantage of the calm weather and sea conditions to run a survey along the outside of the entire Kenn Reefs system. The first area surveyed was along the outside fringe of the ‘foot and ankle’, with specific emphasis placed on detecting offshore components of known shipwreck sites (such as KR1, KR2 and KR4). Because sea conditions were calm, the team also ‘deployed’ Lee on a tow-board behind the magnetometer.

The tow-board (also known as a ‘Manta-board’) is a flat, hydrodynamic-shaped board with handles that is connected to a towing vessel with a length of line. The person using the tow-board grips the handles, is pulled through the water at low speed, and can visually search the seabed for shipwreck material. Most tow-boards are designed so that their users can turn, dive and ascend through the water column at will, simply by changing its orientation with the handles. Lee was positioned 10 metres behind the magnetometer in the hope he might be able to visually spot and identify any anomalies it detected.

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Finding ‘Hope’ with a magnetometer: Kenn Reefs expedition, days 6 and 7

Pete Illidge and Renee Malliaros prove that site mapping and synchronised swimming are not mutually exclusive tasks. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Pete Illidge and Renee Malliaros prove that site mapping and synchronised swimming are not mutually exclusive tasks. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

One of the major goals of the Kenn Reefs expedition was to find Hope, the small cutter built from material salvaged from Bona Vista, and later lost during the rescue of the brig’s crew. According to historical accounts, two boats were sent from the rescuing vessel (the ship Asia) to Observatory Cay, where they recovered most of Bona Vista’s crew, the brig’s allocation of specie (gold and silver coin brought aboard Bona Vista for trading purposes), and brought them aboard Asia. A skeleton crew of thirteen and the personal belongings of all of the brig’s officers and men remained aboard Hope, as did unspecified salvaged goods valued at £1,000. However, as Asia got underway and took Hope under tow, tragedy struck:

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Kenn Reefs expedition, day four (continued) and day five

Silentworld Foundation CEO and project team leader John Mullen uses a metal detector to search for artefacts in shallows off Observatory Cay, while Jacqui Mullen (background) documents a find. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Silentworld Foundation CEO and project team leader John Mullen uses a metal detector to search for artefacts in shallows off Observatory Cay, while Jacqui Mullen (background) documents a find. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

While the magnetometer crew conducted its initial search west of Observatory Cay, a second team embarked upon a metal detector survey of the cay itself and searched for evidence of survivor camps associated with the wrecked vessels Bona Vista and Jenny Lind.

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Kenn Reefs expedition, days one through four

Observatory Cay and part of the ‘foot and ankle’ are visible from the bow of Silentworld shortly after its arrival at Kenn Reefs. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Observatory Cay and part of the ‘foot and ankle’ are visible from the bow of Silentworld shortly after its arrival at Kenn Reefs. Image: Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

The Australian National Maritime Museum and Silentworld Foundation recently led an expedition to the Australian Coral Sea Territory to conduct an archaeological survey of historic shipwrecks lost at Kenn Reefs during the nineteenth century. The Kenn Reefs expedition is a continuation of an ongoing collaborative project between the museum and Silentworld Foundation that commenced in 2009 and led to the discovery that same year of the wreck of the colonial government schooner Mermaid (lost in 1829 on what is now known as Flora Reef). No less than eight vessels are known to have wrecked at Kenn Reefs between 1828 and 1884, and most grounded in relatively close proximity to one another on the largest of the southernmost reefs in the chain, as it was located within an oft-travelled shipping route, but poorly charted until the mid-nineteenth century.

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Its the Mermaid

Dr. Nigel Erskine , ANMM, surveying a cluster of anchor chain on site.

Dr. Nigel Erskine , ANMM, surveying a cluster of anchor chain on site.

I hope you have been following Alice and Megan’s blogs on the 2009 Mermaid Project over the last six days. Over the last couple of days the dive team have made a number of significant discoveries on Flora Reef. Two days ago during a magnetometer survey on the southern side of the reef the team picked up a small but impressive magnetometer signal about 150 meters offshore from what was then Flora Reef Unidentified shipwreck No 2. A team of divers were sent in and after only a short search located a 5 foot long, wrought iron kedge anchor sitting on top of a coral bommie in 7 meters of water. We know from historical accounts of the wreck that the crew of the Mermaid dropped a small kedge anchor about half a cable length from the stern of the vessel in an attempt to kedge (pull) the Mermaid off the reef. Their attempt failed and the kedge anchor and its coirfibre cable were abandoned.

Lee Graham from the Museum's Fleet section next to the Mermaid's anchor.

Lee Graham from the Museum’s Fleet section next to the Mermaid’s anchor.

Paul Hundley, ANMM surveying in the schooner's pump.

Paul Hundley, ANMM surveying in the schooner’s pump.

In itself the discovery of the anchor did not proove that that the wrecksite was HMCS Mermaid and the team continued to survey the site looking for additional information. Yesterday a metal detector survey uncovered a series of anomlies scattered amongst coral rubble on the southern side of the site. These anomlies have now been identified as being casement or cannister shot (packets of ball bearings contained within a small canvas bag of small wooden cannister) the team have also found fragments of copper sheathing, sheathing nails, ship’s fastenings, lead patches and several large magnetic anomalies on the wrecksite. This information along with the position of the wreck and the size of its remains has meant that we are now quite positive that the site is that of HMCS Mermaid wrecked off the Frankland Islands in 1829.

Archaeologists, scientific divers and volunteers divers and snorkellers are continuing their investigation of the site hoping to reveal more information about this fascinating vessel.