Friday, October 08, 2004


Shipwreck project lacks funds


News Observer
State archaeologists can do little with what is thought to be Blackbeard's flagship

ATLANTIC BEACH -- The divers poking around Wednesday on a shipwreck near Beaufort Inlet didn't expect to find a pirate's trove of gold and silver or precious stones. Blackbeard took his loot when he abandoned the ship.

Seven years after the discovery of what is thought to be the Queen Anne's Revenge, the famous pirate's flagship, state funding for a Blackbeard expedition is also rare as buried treasure. State archaeologists who visited the wreck this week could do little more than check for damage from passing storms.

"That's all we can squeeze out of the existing budget this year," Richard Lawrence, head of the state's underwater archaeology division, said Wednesday after diving on the site.

With fishing trawlers and pleasure boats cruising nearby, divers Wednesday took turns dropping into the water near Beaufort Inlet to visit the pirate ship. They bobbed to the surface with descriptions of planks and artifacts on the sandy bottom.

Lawrence said currents have scoured sand from the shipwreck and divers are checking whether artifacts have been exposed or moved. Researchers also pumped sand off one area and found a variety of buried items -- ballast stones, corroded barrel hoops and other pieces of the ship.

Divers confirmed the discovery of another cannon, bringing the total at the site to 23.

There will be no excavation and recovery, Lawrence said, because of the expense of treating the artifacts to prevent deterioration. At least five cannon recovered in previous projects are undergoing treatment in state operated labs.
Thousands of artifacts ranging in size from a 2-ton cannon to traces of gold have been retrieved since a private company, Intersal Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., discovered the shipwreck in 1996 while looking for another wreck.

Blackbeard, whose real name was probably Edward Teach, preyed on French shipping in the 1700s. According to historical records, he captured a French ship, doubled its firepower with 20 cannon, and renamed it the Queen Anne's Revenge.

Blackbeard also terrorized the U.S. coast, blockading the harbor in Charleston, S.C., in May 1718. While continuing up the coast a week later, his vessel became grounded on a sandbar as it attempted to enter Beaufort Inlet, then called Topsail.

Another one of Blackbeard's vessels, what is thought to have been the Adventure, attempted to come to the Revenge's assistance but both ships sank. (The Adventure has not been found.)

However, historians say, Blackbeard did manage to get what is believed to be all the treasure off the Queen Anne's Revenge before escaping in a small sloop.

Although researchers cannot confirm that the shipwreck near Beaufort is what is left of the 103-foot pirate ship, they say there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. They cite the large number of cannon in the wreckage and artifacts that would be used by seamen in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Lawrence said the artifacts recovered from the wreck site date to the right time period. "Except for the golf balls," he said. "We've seen two golf balls so far."

Contemporary debris also indicates that the site has been alternately covered and uncovered by sand. Divers this week found a plastic fishing rod holder under a cannon 4 feet below the surface.

The wreckage lies in 22 feet of water about a mile and a half off the shore of Atlantic Beach.

State officials in 1997 said it was the most important underwater archaeology discovery along the North Carolina coast since the wreck of the Union gunboat USS Monitor was found in 1973. International media reported the find, and museums throughout the United States and Europe sought to display relics.

In North Carolina, boosters from coastal communities clamored for artifacts that would boost tourism.

But initial funding dried up, and no funding has been earmarked for the project since 2000. Mark Wilde-Ramsing, director of the state's Queen Anne's Revenge project, said there is still considerable interest in anything from the shipwreck. He said a museum in France inquired about borrowing relics. Representatives of the Smithsonian Institution examined artifacts this week for possible inclusion in a display.

He said retrieving artifacts was relatively easy, but caring for them after they are out of the water is time-consuming and expensive. He said the project needs at least $250,000 a year for basic operations.

This week, state archaeologists borrowed a barge from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to use as a diving platform. Private companies and state universities have contributed boats, people and equipment.

Local businessman Tom Bennett donated rooms in his motel for the workers. He said state and local leaders should do more to support the project. "It's an investment," he said. "This has great potential for Carteret County and for North Carolina."

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