2002 CSS Alabama Daily Project Log
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Sunday-Monday, May 26-27, 2002 - Departure Date Minneapolis to Newark to Paris to Cherbourg. I met four other members of the team in Newark to share the flight over the pond to Paris. After 16 hours in airports and airplanes we arrived in Paris, withdrew some Euros from our US bank accounts using our Cash Cards, rented our van, and departed for Cherbourg. International banking is truly amazing. Of course it was morning in Paris even though our jet lagged bodies were telling us it was closer to midnight. This is where Sunday and Monday kind of slurred together. We stopped along the way at an engineering company to get some training in the new ultra-sonic digital positioning system that will be used in the second stage of the project to do the site mapping. We passed another American, none other than our President Bush, at least his motorcade, in Normandy on our way to Cherbourg. We arrived in Cherbourg in the evening where we met the last member of our team and after a wonderful dinner retired to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002 - Bad news. Our cargo container and boat that were shipped three weeks before by ocean freighter has not yet arrived in Cherbourg. The equipment container has not been released by the shipping company due to some disagreement over a bill and the boat only arrived today. Additionally the organization has to post a $12,000 bond to guarantee that we don't sell the equipment while we are here. There is only a limited amount of work we can do until the equipment arrives. We spent the day shopping for things we new we needed and arranging dockage and other minor details that can only be arranged on site. We have been far more successful finding the wine stores than the hardware stores, but we are making progress. Food is great and accommodations are simple and very comfortable. The pace of life is much slower here. Every thing closes from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM for lunch and dinner starts after 7:00 PM and is served slowly so it takes hours to eat by design. When in Rome (or France) .
Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - Well the boat has been loaded for shipping from La Harve and will arrive tomorrow morning we are told. Still no word on when we will get the equipment container. We are trying to light a fire under the a.. of the Williams Shipping shipping agent who really screwed us, but no telling if that will help. We spent the morning shopping again for equipment. I am thankful for the hours and hours of "Learn French In Your Car" tapes I spent listening to the last two months. It did help for some of the shopping. We needed an oak wedge "un coin de chene" to remove the gun sights from the large cannon before we raise it. I think I might have asked for a "corner of dog or chain" before I finally got to point across. The French seem more than willing to help and so far I found them to be very friendly and willing to help bridge the communication gap. I am slowly gaining some confidence in my language ability, but I know I am butchering the pronunciation. We still haven't found a US phone cable to hook to my laptop modem so I can upload these logs to the web. Maybe this afternoon. ... Later Well I obviously found a modem cable and subscribed to AOL.com in France so I can email and update my web page. It took me three hours to install it and work through the options in French. The good news is I got it to work. The bad news is now my computer only talks in French. It will take me awhile to figure out how to make it speak English again, meanwhile all my menus are in French now. AOL what did you do to me? I guess I will learn some more French. Tomorrow we will do what we can to get ready. Sounds like the best we could possible do is be on site on Saturday which is forecasted to be bad weather again. Maybe the weather predictions will be as unpredictable as they are in Minnesota.
Thursday May 30, 2002 - Well the boat arrived this morning and we got it launched immediately and pulled over to a slip. Finally it feels like we are making some real progress. We met and went over diving and safety protocol and job assignments. We still can't do much until the gear arrives in the freight container tomorrow morning. Then we will have to unload and organize the dive and boat equipment, get tanks assembled and pumped, batteries topped off, put the dive ladder on the boat, and set up the excavation frames or grids. After we finish with a hundred minor tasks we plan to head out for a warm-up dive to make sure all of the equipment is working and all of us are comfortable with it. You don't want your first experience with new equipment to be a 190 ft dive. Things are still moving much slower that any of us are comfortable with, but what else can you do. Tomorrow looks like a very busy day and with luck we may only miss one day of diving. Of course, Friday is forecasted to be the best weather day of the next three days. The French Navy divers will hopefully get out tomorrow and set up the moorings and get the baseline laid. Hopefully I'll have some more interesting news tomorrow.
Friday May 31, 2002 - Our cargo container arrived this morning and cleared
|Curt, Billy Ray and Jason unloading cargo container|
customs without a hitch. We were unloading the container and loading the equipment into the van by 10:00 AM. It took several van loads to move all the diving gear to the building where we set up base. We had hoped to get our tune-up dive in today but no such luck. We just couldn't fit three days work into one day, but we came close. We assembled the pneumatic lift, moorings, dive tanks and decompression set-up. We mounted the dive ladder and rails to the boat and put the odds and ends that were removed from the boat for transport back on it. Our boat is a 29 foot diesel I/O nicely equipped for the job. To do the air dredging at 196 feet deep requires a 100cfm 100psi air pump which is run
|Jason and Mark talking to Ulane the President of the CSS Alabama Association while assembling the excavation frame.|
off a hydraulic power take-off on the boat engine. The air hoses stay on site during our off time and have to be firmly secured to the mooring line. Luckily the French Navy divers and the French volunteers did get their dive in today and got two of the moorings in, the baseline laid, and did a brief survey of the site. In the morning when the Navy divers dove the visibility was 1.5 to 2 meters. In the afternoon when the French dive club dove they had light all the way to the bottom and much better visibility just from the difference in the direction of the current and tide. Apparently if the flow is from the ocean the visibility is good, if the flow is from the channel it isn't so good. Tomorrow is our tune-up dive and with luck we will be on site Sunday.
Saturday June 1, 2002 - I think this was the most disappointing day we have had. I felt like we were all suited up with no place to go. The plan was to take the boat out of the harbor and do a tune-up dive to get our weighting worked out since most of us were diving with some new gear and for me a fresh-water to salt-water change. We hustled all morning to get all the equipment together we needed for the next day and to do today's dive. The problem is that you only have about a one-hour of window to dive here where the current is slow enough that you can make it down a line. Otherwise you would be diving in a four to five knot current. We loaded the boat in just enough time to make our window, started the engine and when Gordon gave it a last check -- Oh no the raw water pump was gushing water through the seal. Another day scrubbed. We changed the pump seal and fixed a couple of other problems we saw while were working on it. In order not to lose another day, three of us that needed to check our buoyancy did our dive in the marina, much to the pleasure of a couple of the British sail boaters who needed some underwater inspections done on their boats. It wasn't what we had planned, but it was what we needed. We are ready to go tomorrow.
Sunday June 2, 2002 - It has taken us a week, but today is the day. My first task is to be safety diver. Since we were unable to get one of the French divers to be our boat operator or our safety diver, we are taking turns on the deep dives and leaving two of us on the surface - one to take care of the surface operations and one safety diver. We departed promptly at 2:45 PM to a gently rolling sea with a forecast of a 20 to 30 knot squall on the way. The plan for the day was to set the permanent mooring which is a heavy poly line with the air-dredge hose attached, and string the air lines from the bottom of the mooring (and hose end) to the two locations teams would be dredging. The French dive club had already set a temporary mooring for us, which is a line with a solid 10 inch plastic float on the end. During the high current time the mooring lines are swept to the bottom by the current. As the current subsides the lines start floating up toward the surface. When the float breaks surface it is time to moor up and dive. There were three mooring lines on the Alabama. The GPD (French Navy) float broke surface first since theirs is the longest. Then the French dive club's broke surface. Where was ours? Things started to look grim, like we might not get a dive in today. You only have a one-hour window, and if you miss your time you lose another day. We considered dropping me in the water to see if I could see it underwater since the line was almost certainly either tangled or hung up on something. I dawned my dry suit just as the French boat operators spotted our float just under the surface. It had a giant gnarly knot in it near the surface. Mark and I quickly looped another section of line into it to extend it to our boat cleat and we were ready to go. Unfortunately now the dive profile had to be shortened and a couple of tasks dropped off. Gordon and Billy Ray would take the mooring line to the bottom and fasten it to the heavy cannon. Curt and Jason were going to carry the air lines to set, but now were going to position themselves on the line to help muscle the hose to the bottom. I helped the divers suit up quickly and Mark fed out the mooring. After the four divers were in the water I had to scramble to finish suiting up, help Mark set the decompression trapeze and then string a travel line from the trapeze to the mooring line so the divers could find their way back to the stern of the boat for their last three decompression stops. After everyone was on the trapeze I removed the travel line and signaled to Mark to cut loose. The boat then drifts with the current during the decompression so the divers aren't being dragged by the current which would make for a strenuous decompression. Everything worked smoothly and fast. I don't thing we've reached the point of well oiled machine yet, but for the first dive it wasn't too shabby. It's late now and we switch from the high tide dive to low tide tomorrow so the dive time will be noon and we meet early to get equipment together. Visibility today on the wreck was good. There was a fair amount of ambient light at the bottom. The surface visibility was around 20 ft. They said the low tide dives tend to be worse visibility. I guess we will see tomorrow.
Monday June 3, 2002 - I feel like we are finally rolling on the project. I got my first deep dive on the CSS Alabama today although I didn't get to see much. My job was to take one of the dredges with hoses to the bottom hook it up to the main air line and take the dredge end to the area where they will be dredging tomorrow and tie it down.
|Jason assembling the air dredge. The mooring line and air hose lies in the background.|
It doesn't sound like much because you just don't get much done in a 15 minute dive at 200 feet deep which turned out to be 13 minutes after a staggered start so Mark and I didn't tangle the hoses from the two dredges we were carrying. I got it done so I feel pretty good about that, but I didn't get to see much of the wreck. I saw the back of the cannon we are moored to and some of the side of the ship sticking up a foot or two out of the bottom. Most of the ship has either been eroded by the current "sand-blasting" it with shell wash (course pieces of shells) or it is buried. The French dive club got the pieces of the excavation grid down and Mark started laying them out for assembly tomorrow. It's my turn to be safety diver again tomorrow. Four of us alternate days going down and manning the boat or being safety diver. I haven't been able to shoot any photos of the diving yet. Things move really fast since we are trying to get divers suited up and in the water and equipment down to them in the short dive time. It's nice diving in the morning because you have all afternoon and evening to do other stuff. Of course, the other stuff turned out to be craning the compressor aboard the boat and starting to get it hooked in place. It's difficult to get work done here. Businesses open at 9:00 AM. Lunch hour runs from noon to 2:00 PM and many businesses close at 5:00 PM although some are open to 7:00 PM. When you are on a schedule it is difficult to keep up when stores are closed most of the day. We think we can finish the job tomorrow and start the dredging, although we haven't started the compressor yet. Hope there are no surprises there.
Tuesday June 4, 2002 - Well we truly got our butts kicked today by equipment problems. It takes a pretty large compressor to supply two air dredges 200 feet down. The project has two 100cfm 100psi compressors. The backup compressor runs off a Volkswagen engine and is what they used last year. It's very large and heavy and takes up so much space that it is difficult to dive two dive teams from the boat. The other is a hydraulic driven rotary compressor that runs off of a hydraulic pump on the boat engine. Unfortunately with all the funding foopaw that went on to get the project off the ground there was little time to get a good pump mount built for the hydraulic pump on the engine. What Gordon paid to have designed and built looks far to light weight to drive a forty-horsepower power take-off. The result is that the pump twists the mount putting the pulleys out of alignment and making the clutch, bearings and pulley squeal loudly. We tried shims and adjustments but nothing worked. When our dive window came today we were not in any condition to run the pump and Gordon and Billy Ray said it was not worth it to make a dive just to put together the grid and level it without starting the dredging. We have several fixes and options for tomorrow. A French machinist is making us a support arm that we hope will be enough of a brace to make it work. If not we may have to fall back to using the much dreaded giant compressor. We have our fingers crossed and meet the machinist at 7:15 AM.
Wednesday June 5, 2002 - Today was a weather day. I think they said 5-6 ft waves with the wind out of the North and Northwest - bad direction for us. None of the teams were diving. It was probably a good thing because we were still working on the compressor. We cruised it over to a marine repair shop on the waterfront and the repairmen there cut and welded up a really good support bracket for the hydraulic pump mounting frame and moved the tightening adjuster to better place on the motor mount. We aligned and tightened the pump into place, started it up and with a few minor adjustments, we were back in business. Hopefully tomorrow we can start the real excavation and photography work.
Thursday June 6, 2002 - The reason the CSS Alabama project is scheduled for June is because the winds are generally the most favorable. The exact diving dates are timed when the tides change from the lowest high tide to the highest low tide or vice versa which minimizes the currents. That gives us the highest probability of being able to dive the most days that we are here. Today started out beautifully with a light breeze from the northwest. Everyone was excited to put all the equipment to use that we have been slaving to get working. By 12:00 noon, rendezvous time the wind had picked up to 20 knots out of the north a bad direction and too strong of winds. Another day scrubbed. What a disappointment.
Since we are about as ready to go as we can be, there was little else that could be done for project work. So we took the day June 6, - the 58th anniversary of D-Day to head down the coast to Pointe du Hoc, the point of invasion depicted in Saving Private Ryan, Utah Beach, and Omaha Beach. These were the only places I had really wanted to visit in any down time of the project. The vision of what took place at these beaches 58 years ago is really overwhelming. Billy Ray our history expert described the landing in his own familiar way while I tried to imagine what it must have been like. Touching the ground seemed almost a sacred act.
Sorry for the digression. This part of the world seems like someone broke a time machine and left pieces of the scenes from so many eras scattered throughout the fabric of the land and sea. From Medieval houses to the 15th Century Cathedral to the 300 year old homes, to the our Civil War shipwreck CSS Alabama, to the WWII Normandy beaches. It's a lot to digest.
Now its raining again and I hope that is a sign that the weather front has passed and we will get out of the strong winds of the last couple of days so we can get back to work.
Friday June 7, 2002 - Weather 3 us 0. Some years you win and some you don't.
Saturday June 8, 2002 - Weather broke and finally we got a dive in. I was safety diver again. Bill, Gordon and Curt were down. Bill and Curt were to assemble the excavation grid and Gordon was shooting video in a 17 minute dive. We were firing up the compressor for the first time to run the air dredges so the French dive club divers could dredge out around the big cannon. That doesn't sound like much to complete in one day, but 15 minutes on the bottom in a bit of current and under heavy narcosis that turns out to be a lot and actually turned out to be more than we got done. Once on the bottom it took a long time to untie the pieces of the grid so the grid didn't get assembled. After we fired up the compressor the hose fitting at the top of the line blew and let the hose fill with water. It takes a long time to push the water out of the hose. When we originally strung the mooring line and hose Gordon bubbled air up the hose to purge the water out and we normally keep the top of the hose closed off with a valve and cap during the off time so the hose is ready to go when we connect to it. Well its progress, but we are almost to the end of the first diving period and have very little to show for the work.
Sunday June 9, 2002 - This is the last day of the first dive period and the currents are noticeably stronger now even at their slack. We switched from the afternoon slack current to the morning slack. There a four slack times a day every 6 hours as the current changes direction. The plan was for Mark, Jason and I to dive. Mark and Jason were going to finish assembling the grid and I was to shoot video. When we got on site the seas were running about 2 to 4 feet uncomfortable in our 28 ft boat. Yesterday Mark and I managed to splice on two more floats on our mooring line so now our line comes up first which gives us an extra five to ten minutes of time for the dive or surface work. By the time we were ready to dive Jason was sea sick in part from too much wine the night before. We scrapped the video part of the plan and Mark and I were just to assemble the grid. There was enough current that we had to swim down the mooring line. Mark was a couple of minutes ahead of me on the descent and I could see him in the grid from 40 feet above so the visibility was really pretty good. It's amazing how hard it is to read the A1B1, A1D1 markings on the ends of the grid pieces at 194 ft deep of narcosis with the high intensity lights we use. We got the job done. Assembled the grid and moved it into position with not too much time to spare. We made our ascent to 50 ft where we started the decompression even though our computers would have allowed us to start at 30 ft. Both Mark and I like to stay on the conservative side of the decompression time. As soon as we got to the decompression trapeze and Bill, our safety diver today, got the crossing line disconnected, they cut loose the boat and drifted for the decompression. I'm sure the rocking on the boat was much worse than the decompression trapeze. For me the second dive was much better than the first even though the current was worse. I'm much more familiar with the equipment, the bottom features and the diving protocol now. Diving operations are stopped now for five days until the current coefficients come back into a diveable range. We have a lot of work to do to get the compressor system working and tested out so I think we will be busy at least for a day or two.
Monday June 10, 2002 - It's blowing and raining. Other than drying equipment and filling tanks it was a day for R and R. I got some time to work on the parts of the SS America shipwreck model I'm building for Isle Royale National Park.
Tuesday June 11, 2002 - We think we finally diagnosed and fixed the hopefully last set of problems with the compressor for the dredges. The hydraulic bypass valve was set too low for the amount of horsepower we were trying to pull. That caused the compressor to intermittently stall. Now we have run the compressor under load at working speed. Tomorrow if the weather holds we are going out to the site to hook it up and see if we can blow bubbles at 194 feet. If things go well I might still get a chance to take off for a couple of days and do some touring.
Wednesday June 12, 2002 - Winds still too strong. I thought June was supposed to be the month with light winds. We shopped and I worked on the Isle Royale America Shipwreck model.
Thursday June 13, 2002 - The weather forecast was correct. The winds were very strong even in the morning. Gordon and Mark headed to meet with the Navy people to confirm arrangements for the use of their ROV in July. I rented a car and headed down the west coast to the famous Mont - Saint Michel, the Medieval monastery built on an island off the coast. We now have only one more day to test the dredge compressor before the diving starts on Saturday.
Friday June 14, 2002 - Weather was beautiful. A light breeze out of the southwest made for gentle one foot swells on the site. Even though the current coefficient was 78 we dove anyway and it was a good call. I was safety diver again and Gordon, Bill, and Curt dove. We hit the window perfectly and the dive went off smoothly. The compressor was another story. In the interim between dive periods Mother Manche (French for the English Channel) dumped about six inches to a foot of new shell hash on the site and buried our excavation frame and one of the two dredge heads. The currents also tangled and made a general mess of the air hoses on the bottom.. For the first time we managed to get air to bubble out of the dredge heads on the bottom before the engine and pump stalled with belts slipping. Now we are between a rock and a hard spot. I don't think we can do much more to make this system more reliable and the one we know works is a real big and heavy beast and will probably mean taking fewer crew on the boat. Tomorrow we will work on trying to find a likely problem that could have caused the pump to stall, but it may be wishful thinking. Curt did notice a kink in one of the hoses near the bottom. Who knows. It was nice to get working again.
Saturday June 15, 2002 - Wow good weather two days in a row. Could this be a trend? Well our big compressor is stored in the warehouse at Cherbourg Maritime and of course they are closed today so the decision on which compressor to use was made by circumstances. We worked on the compressor all morning. We elongated the mounting holes of the pump to improve the belt alignment, put new belts on, and tightened the belts and hydraulic overpressure valve. At the dock the pump sounded better than it ever did. It was my day to dive in a three person team of Gordon, Bill, and I. The goal was to untangle the mess of hoses that the currents had wrapped around several parts of the wreck and buried under a new layer of shell wash 6 to 12 inched deep then get the dredges working. The compressor would be fired up 3 minutes after Bill started down. Bill was going to go directly to the unburied dredge head and use it to dig out the buried head. Gordon was to figure out which dredge Bill was using and turn off the other dredge at the "Y" valve, disconnect the hose then I was going to take the loose end of that hose and untangle it while Gordon untangled the other. The French divers would take the Farallon scooter down one of the dredge heads if we got them working. They were to use them to blow some of the shell wash from around the large cannon in hopes of getting good size measurements so Gordon could determine the size of crane it would take to lift it off the bottom.
Our plan pretty much worked. I was the third one down and when I got to Gordon air was gushing out of the hose "Y". Somehow the nipple got unscrewed from the "Y" and Gordon was trying to screw it back in. I held the light for him for a minute, but he seemed to be making progress and his light was working so I started untangling hoses. Things didn't look quite as bad as they had said from the previous dive. One of the hoses had looped under a long piece of the side so I worked that under a long line of copper pins and off the end. That done, I looked for the next tangle. The working hose was looped around another piece and I thought I'd really like to disconnect the hose to get that untangled, but I didn't want to stop the dredging to do it. Then I noticed the hose was flat. Oops, looks like our compressor quit again, but that was good for me so I quickly disconnected that end of the hose and un-kinked section two. The last knot I spotted was the one Curt had mentioned from the previous day. The feed line was knotted around the mooring line about twenty feet off the bottom. I worked the loop to the bottom and Gordon disconnected one hose and I disconnected the other from the "Y" and unwrapped the hose then Gordon and I reconnected both. Off the bottom at 16 minutes, two minutes earlier than our plan, but slightly late for Bill's time who was first and had bombed to the bottom. With our Netex computers the small extra time was not a problem although the decompression was much longer than we had anticipated. The 58 degree water is very comfortable for me, but for the sunshine belt members of the team this is cold water diving. Cold doesn't start form me until I get back to Isle Royale where I expect the water temp to be closer to 40 degrees to start the season this year. When we surfaced we found the pump had worked fine until the yellow high temp hose blew. When we returned to the dock we built up a new hose so we are ready to switch it out if it happens again. If the weather holds maybe we can start digging tomorrow.
Sunday June 16, 2002 - Well the weather held fine but the compressor system did not. The plan was for the French divers to go first and fix their mooring which had been apparently chopped off 60 ft down by a passing freighter. The second French team was to start dredging by the big cannon so Bill could push stakes into the bottom around it and measure its diameter and length. Gordon was shooting video and two other divers from our team were to move the excavation frame back into position after it got buried by the currents and moved when they unburied the dredge heads. Mark and I were topside. We had a new diver Steve join us after the break so we now have a very full boat and it is the first time we dove four people - two dive teams.
Today was not our day to shine. We started the compressor with the new hose, confident we had fixed the problem. Three minutes after the pumping started the end blew off the new hose. We quickly switched back to the old hose and after two minutes that blew. We repaired the first and tried again and it blew again. Nothing much got done on the bottom except replacing the French mooring and moving the excavation frame back into position. I think this was about the most frustrating day for Gordon. Even the video lights failed when he hit the bottom so no video. Fortunately Job 1 was successful. Job 1 is that everyone returns safely from the dive. First thing tomorrow we will replace all the topside hose with heavy duty industrial hose that can withstand the heat and pressure. We couldn't do that on the weekend since nothing is open in France on weekends.
Monday June 17, 2002 - Today Gordon and Mark put together a really industrial heavy duty surface hose set-up. No Brico Depot hoses this time. Working pressure 300 PSI hydraulic hoses and galvanized pipe for the outlet of the pump. They even found belt dressing to keep the belts from slipping on the pulleys. This was the day to do the dredging. Mother Nature also gave us a beautifully calm day for our dive. I was safety diver again and Gordon, Bill, and Steve were to follow the French divers who were going to move the dredge heads to the pump site then dredge around it. Afterwards our divers were going to remove the shell wash from the excavation frame. We fired the compressor up and it worked for about 5 minutes until it smoked the drive belts. Our divers made the dive anyway and at least Gordon got some video footage. I think that was the first piece of equipment that worked this second dive period. Steve lost a fin when his legs over inflated in his Viking suit, but we managed to get him to the decompression trapeze and do his time anyway. Job 1 was still successful and tomorrow we will try the other pump. Tomorrow we will switch to the early tide switch so we will be diving on the low tide. Mark, Jason, and I are scheduled to do the deep dive assuming we can refill our nitrox bottles early in the morning.
Tuesday June 18, 2002 - The day started at 7:30 breakfast and was in full swing by 8:00 AM. Mark and Jason went to Cherbourg Maritime and got the Volkswagen engine powered compressor about 700 lbs worth. Gordon and I disconnected the other compressor, fueled the boat and moved the boat into position under the hoist. We hoisted out the compressor that had given us so much grief and hoisted in its big brother. This one is powered by a four cylinder 1974 VW engine and is hot and stinky with exhaust, but you do what you have to do. Curt and Bill got the nitrox bottles filled and everything was complete in time for the morning dive at 11:45 AM when the buoys surfaced. The French dive club would dredge around the pump first shift them we would follow on the second shift. Mark and Jason would dredge and I was to shoot video. On the way out we found out that the GPD (French Navy Divers) were planning on lifting the stove today. This was a bit annoying to Gordon and Bill since they didn't even know the GPD was still working on the site. They hadn't communicated with us at all the second period. Nothing was ready to conserve the stove so Gordon asked them to delay lifting it. For our dive, we all hit the bottom OK and after the camera shut off I managed to get it going again and got some footage of the French divers dredging. When it was our turn -- no bubbles. The pump quit again. Jason and I waited around the area doing some limited touring and shooting some video, hoping the air would come on again. Mark took a quick swim to the bow to see what the GPD had gotten ready to lift the stove. We all did our deco and surfaced safely and found out that the compressor just quit after about 15 minutes. Someone upstairs just does not want us to dredge on this wreck. Plus with the additional layer of shell wash that blew in over the break it now looks like we would have to remove about 5 feet of silt and shell wash to reach the deck where the pump is mounted. The intent is to see how it is connected so they can decide what it will take to remove it. The wreck site went from the least amount of sediment they've seen covering the site before the break to the deepest sediment they've seen after the break. I suggested to Gordon that maybe our next step should be a half-day prayer vigil to pray that the current removes all the shell wash for us. It was a good dive for me since at least I got to see a few more things and shoot some video.
When we returned the GPD had a surprise for us. They had found the ship's bell and mount under the stove. Of course the archeologists were a bit upset because they like
|CSS Alabama Bell and Mount in conservation tub|
to totally document the location of the artifact before it is removed, but at least it will be conserved now for the future. We spent the afternoon trying to diagnose the compressor engine problem which frankly I feel a little more at home with than trying to diagnose a hydraulic system problem. My best guess is a bad condenser or coil. We couldn't find a VW dealer in town before the stores closed. We will try tomorrow.
Wednesday June 19, 2002 - Today was the best weather day we have had yet. Gordon decided early to yank the compressor off the boat so Mark could work on it while we went out for the dive. They really didn't do much from an archeological standpoint but Gordon, Bill, and Curt had a good dive and shot some video. I tore my wrist seal yesterday and my dry suit was in the shop being fixed, so I took a day on boat duty. Mark ran the compressor twice for a half-hour each time and had no problems with it. It is too late now to excavate anything so they will use the dredges tomorrow if they work to uncover the propeller lifting frame to see the mechanism. Otherwise we start pulling the equipment off the bottom Thursday and Friday then we are done. Going home seems like a strange change of pace after a month of fairly intense work and diving, but I think everyone is ready for it to end.
Thursday June 20, 2002 - This was the final attempt at an archeological dive on the site for this project. The plan was to try to dredge out the sediment from around the lifting frame for the propeller to see how the mechanism worked. The Alabama carried its propeller lifted out of the water when it was sailing to minimize drag then lowered it into position in the water when it went on steam power.
We lowered the 660 lb compressor on the the back of the boat in the morning and headed out to the site for at 3:00 PM dive. The French dive club would dredge on the site for 10 minutes then Bill, and Jason would tag team with them and continue while Gordon tried to film what he as interested in. At 10 minutes after they went down we were to kill the compressor and they would disconnect and bring up the two dredge heads using a 50 lb lift bag on each of them. For the first time of the project the compressor worked fine. The teams dredged all the light sediment from around the propeller shaft. Then they ran into hard packed gravel which was not going to be dredged easily. They didn't get nearly as deep as they needed to in the time they had to do the work. They brought the two dredge heads and hoses up, clipped them to the surface line, but when I pulled them up, we only had one dredge, two lift bags and one 19 cu ft bottle used to fill the lift bags. Either we broke a clip or line or caught a clip just right on the line to unclip it, or one of us didn't clip something right. None of us can figure out how it happened but we dropped one of them. Maybe it will show up tomorrow. When we got back to the building the GPD showed up with a 700 pound mooring bit they pulled up, another port-light, part of a musket, and an encrusted shoe. The French dive club brought up a running line sheave block. The archeologists just rolled their eyes. Now they have to spend a huge amount of money to conserve the artifacts, only a few of which are really choice artifacts. Tomorrow will be the last dive of the project and we have to clean-up the site, bring up the excavation frame and unfasten our mooring. It is a heavy job and there should be four of us in the water to do it self included.
Friday June 21, 2002 - This was the last day of diving and basically we needed to clean up the site and remove all of our equipment and moorings so the US Navy ROV that is scheduled to photograph the site in July will not get tangled in the moorings . Four of us dove. Mark and Curt dove and put a harness on the 60 lb stainless steel excavation grid and the old PVC pipe grid and brought them up with lift bags to 40 feet where Bill attached a line and Gordon hoisted them into the boat. They found one of the hoses we lost the day before and brought that up too. Jason and I were to remove the mooring. I've never had to cut our mooring line while our boat was still on it and then try to do a decompression on the same line. In a moderate wind I know I have pulled my anchor up pretty shallow as the boat drifts in the wind. It sounded like an accident waiting to happen. To do it I made a 25 lb weight out a weight belt then planned to tie it into the mooring line at 70 feet using a pressic knot like mountain climbers use. That would give us a stable line to do our decompression. It was a perfect day for it since we had very little wind so I wasn't nearly as worried about it as I was when the weather forecast was for moderate winds. We passed Mark and Curt on their way up with the grids as we headed down. After I fastened the weight Jason and I continued down to the bottom. Jason coiled up the loose hose and tied it to the mooring line above the bottom. I removed the keeper line from the mooring line, pulled a loop into the line so I could hold it in one hand then cut it near the cannon it was tied to. That way I could put my knife back into the sheath with the other hand so I didn't lose it. When I let go I knew we were in for a bit of a ride but I wasn't sure which direction it would go. I guessed with a light wind it would be across the bottom and I wanted to make sure our line didn't snag anything on the wreck and damage it. I got to see a little more of the wreck as I glided over it. The bottom is mounded up around the wreck and a school of about one foot fish were using the mound to shelter them from the current. As I coiled the line which I planned to tie to the weight I realized Gordon had forgotten to open the valve on the air hose at the surface (our mooring had a line and hose tie wrapped together) so the hose was still filled with air and was very buoyant and I eventually had to let it go It floated to the surface. I was really glad I had tied off the weight at 70 foot. We all had a a very comfortable decompression and got all the pieces back into the boat. Finally a successful diving day -- all tasks completed successfully. When we got back to the workshop we saw more artifacts that the French divers had brought up. Then Gordon hired a crane to lift the mooring bit and put it in the marina temporarily to keep it wet while he had a box built for it. It was time to start breaking down equipment and doing the final clean-up. That night we had a party with the French dive club which ended up at the music festival that was going on in the streets of Cherbourg. It was great fun.
Saturday June 22, 2002 - Dry and Pack day. I took the overnight ferry to Portsmouth England to see the historic ships they had there.
Sunday June 23, 2002 - I toured the Mary Rose the 15th century British galleon built by King Henry VIII which was discovered and brought up in the 1980's. It is still undergoing conservation now. They also have the Warrior, Britian's first iron warship and the Victory, Admiral Lord Nelson's flag ship. It was an interesting, but too short a visit. Portsmouth was very different from Cherbourg. Portsmouth is the home of the largest naval fleet in Europe. It was much more industrial. I took the Fast Cat ferry, the high speed catamaran, back to Cherbourg in time for dinner, packing, updating my website and snapping a few final photos of Cherbourg. Tomorrow we haul all the gear to Cherbourg Maritime and head to Paris where we depart Tuesday for home.
Monday June 24, 2002 - We finished inventorying and loading gear in the morning and managed to get over to Cherbourg Maritime a few minutes before the noon cutoff for lunch. That meant we could get on the road to Paris earlier so we would have time to do a little more touring on the way. We stopped to see the St. Mary Iglese church and World War II museum. It was nicely done and the church stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary and the US paratroopers were impressive. Paratroopers, a gift from heaven, was kind of a statement of the times. After our last French dinner we were on the road again. When we arrived in Paris we tried a bit of car touring. What terrible traffic and us in a van didn't help. I was glad Curt was driving and not me. We made a few passes trying to see some of the sights and managed to see a few before we dropped off Jason and his wife who were staying for a few days of sight-seeing before they left. Curt and I made it to the hotel near the airport and turned in the van that night so we didn't have to deal with it in the morning.
Tuesday June 25, 2002 - After a very long flight from Paris to Houston and Houston to Minneapolis I'm home again. Now the real work begins to try to get my boat ready for the charter season.
It took a couple of weeks to get my biological clock back to Central Time, but I eventually got there. Lost my AC adaptor for my laptop somewhere in the process so I didn't get back to finishing the story until August while we were on Lake Superior shipwreck hunting on a calm day. Now that I have the photos uploaded I'll put them on a page as soon as I get a chance.
Hope you have enjoyed the unfolding story.
Post Log: - Gordon summarized the July project effort with the US Navy research equipment in an email. "We finished up around the end of July with about 1800 digital images of the wreck site. No ROV positioning...camera and lights were less than satisfactory and the weather was 60% BAD......IMAGINE THAT." But he is already talking about going back ... IMAGINE THAT.