Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Feasts and Forts

You know you've hit the big time when you get a corporate sponsor!

The good people at Somers Supermarket in St. George's have generously agreed to support our field school by donating food from the salad/prepared food bar - of which I've always been a great fan (love those Oxtails, curried goat and curried coconut grouper!). So for the past two days we've been feasting on a nice variety of dishes. I'm especially grateful for the carbs to replace what we burn in a typical day.

Thank you Mr. Ramatar, Somers Market management, and Chef Aroop! And readers, please support us by shopping at Somers Market. Stateside readers, I recommend highly you come to Bermuda specifically to shop there - if you in fact need an excuse to visit Bermuda, that is!

After a much-needed day off spent doing not much of anything, we hit the site with a vengeance today, primed to remove the rubble layer from the Oven Site house's destruction in at least a couple of units. We had three volunteers - Krystl, Chloe, and Sara - new to our site but a veteran of past Bermuda National Trust excavations at the Unfinished Church and Springfield. Upon arriving, we discovered that out shade tarps also make for ideal rain catchments - we found a veritable lake weighing down one side of tent and had to form a fire brigade line to bail it out.

We are also at that awkward stage where the units are too deep to dig comfortably kneeling, so it was fun watching the evolution of digging postures over the course of the day.

Sara, Leigh, and Chloe do battle with the rubble

Jonathan had perhaps the most awkward position of all, digging on the steeply sloping unit abutting the back wall of the house...

By the end of the day, we had brought two of the squares down through the rubble layer, which was tough going since it was highly compressed limestone fragments some six to eight inches thick. We started to find more artifacts, though - pipestems, bones, and a copper alloy hinge fragment, among others. At the end of the day, Chloe and Krystl were presented with Official 2013 Field School T-shirts (not available in stores!), which they earned by putting in three days of volunteering. And other fabulous prizes await if they continue...
We quit a bit early in order to do a surprise historical field trip. Students were told cryptically this morning to pack flashlights and left guessing as to what crazy boondoggle they'd be dragged on - entertaining to listen to their speculations at lunch. Through the kind offer of Officer Norman of the Bermuda Police Force and director of Bermuda's Outward Bound program, we were able to go across Town Cut Channel to our near neighbor, Paget Island, and tour three centuries of fortifications. 

We first visited Paget Fort, the first built in Bermuda in late 1612 and thus more than 400 years old. The half-moon battery commands the seaward approach to St. George's and stood ready to pour shot into any enemy foolish enough to invade at point-blank range.
Floor of (Lower) Fort Paget, with Smith's Fort in the background to the above left. This site was excavated by William and Mary and the Bermuda Maritime Museum in the mid-1990s
In the 1680s, a chain (or probably a series of logs linked by chains) ran across the channel from here to Smith's Fort to stop unauthorized vessels from entering and clearing. A line of trenches for militiamen to fire at passing vessels is also nearby.

Fort Cunningham, 1870s
Fort Cunningham, soon after excavation in 1990
Seeing these 17th-century fortifications first made the wonder that is Fort Cunningham stand out. Built on the hill above Fort Paget, this massive armored state-of-the-art installation was finished in 1875, ready to sink enemy vessels long before they even came close to Bermuda. When completed, the fort mounted some of the largest cannon in use in the world, including seven massive 38-ton, 12.5 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading cannon.
This afternoon, we did what no enemy was ever able to do in the past: we infiltrated the fort. We started by going down into the 25-foot-deep dry moat, where we found two of those massive cannon and a number of "smaller" (mere 18-tonners) lying on the moat's floor.

This big gun could fire one Krystl (or one 800-pound shell) 3 miles
We then entered a breach in the moat wall to get into the exterior gun loop rooms for strafing invaders who made their way into the moat. Here is where the flashlights were needed, since we had to navigate a maze of twisting tunnels to get under the moat and come up inside Fort Cunningham.

A friendly wolf spider, about six inches across
We finally emerged in the heart of the fort and saw the amazing (and amazingly expensive) Gibraltar Shields that protected the cannon when mounted: four layers of four-inch-thick steel plating, with layers of teak in between to absorb the impact of enemy fire.
Jonathan and I foolishly trying to lift an 800-pound shell

Layers of steel plating - my hand is XXL to give this scale

We also went atop the ramparts to see the commanding view that spotters had of approaching ships.
Note: Fort Cunningham is closed to the public and accessible only with permission and guidance of the Bermuda Government/Outward Bound program.

Thank you Mr. Norman for guiding us through this fantastic site (among the ones that earned St. George's UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2001). Hopefully we'll be back to Paget Island to try out your ropes course and zip line. Not at all historical, but lots of fun!

A 16-inch gray snapper, now fillets in the fridge
And to round out a demanding but wonderful day, I caught my first real fish in Bermuda up by Tobacco Bay!

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