Friday, July 6, 2012

Sidetracked by a Shipwreck...

No, not our work boat, thankfully, but a long-deferred visit to the OTHER archaeology field school this summer in Bermuda - the Texas A&M excavation of the Bermuda Company Magazine ship Warwick, which sank in a hurricane in October 1619 in Castle Harbour. It was utterly fantastic!

I had planned to take the U of R students to visit the site to learn about underwater archaeology and how it differs from what we were doing at Smith's Island. We had even scheduled a trip for the Infamous Sunday when the sudden storm called at Smiths Island - it was a good thing that we called it off due to rough seas, since the TAMU dive barge flipped over that day - its more exposed location left it open to 5-7 foot waves. Thankfully, they got it righted and got back on track within a week - and even got some hard-won insights into how the Warwick might have broken up and its remains spread out as it sunk in 1619.

Project Director Piotr Bojakowski was sorting out some tanks issues so didn't go out, but his wife and co-director Katie did, along with a small team. My daughter Charlotte also accompanied us and snorkeled over the site, which at 20 feet deep is fairly visible from the surface. We met the dive team at Tucker's Point Dive Shop to run out to the wreck site, on the north side of Tucker's Town peninsula, right against the 20-foot cliff-lined shores. (The approximate location is just above the "land" in "Generall land" in lower left corner of the map, to the west of King's Castle.)
I had thought that my field school had some nice quarters and surrounding workspace, but I was overwhelmed by the splendour of Piotr and Katie's field school: Tucker's Point is a jet-setters' playground and their dive site is surrounded by some of the most exclusive and expensive mansions in Bermuda. One of Ross Perot's houses looms on the horizon, Silvio Berlusconi's palace lies just to the west, and the MacGraw family's impressive mansion Golden Eye sits right atop the cliff under which the Warwick lies. I understand from the students that Ross regularly takes them out for rides on his Very Fast boats, and we saw him fly by later in the morning.

Perot Family Compound (1 of 2 such compounds, in fact)
The dive barge under Golden Eye
The wreck was really well preserved and was an odd combination of mid-16th century framing and state of the art 1610s rigging. Earlier in the season, the field school brought up one of the few cannon that hadn't been salvaged at the time and has since found LOTS of ordnance - round shot, sliding anti-rigging shot, and spike shot, designed to stick in an enemy's hull and set it on fire. It would seem that it was fitted out to cruise against the Spanish after leaving Bermuda - or to lie in wait there and attack Spanish vessels as they passed (Bermuda's Gov. Nathaniel Butler penned a prospectus to this end in 1626 - a copy of which is in the British Library), had it not sunk in the hurricane.

A conjectural reconstruction of the Warwick (BUEI)

examples of 17th-century shot

Rather than post lots of images of the various parts of the shipwreck, the most effective virtual visit would be to view the video I took as I snorkeled the length of the wreck...

A big thanks to Piotr and Katie for having us out and sharing their latest findings! Maybe next year they can come out to Smiths Island and survey the sea floor off the 1758 whalehouse? Those of you interested in learning more should check out their very extensive 2010 blog of the first field season at:

and the current season's blog:

And thanks to Josh for coming out today to dig at Smiths Island, trading his scuba gear for a trowel - more on this tomorrow!

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