Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Wreck off coast targeted - Pompano group to search for ship


Sun Sentinel
By Lisa J. Huriash
April 24, 2005

The underwater conservation group that discovered a historical anchor buried underneath the ocean will soon be embarking on a new project off the coast of Pompano Beach.

Vone, a nonprofit, all-volunteer group based in Pompano Beach, specializes in underwater archaeology and does everything from looking for shipwrecks to discovering coral reefs to picking up trash to finding lost divers.

On April 12, the Pompano Beach City Commission gave tentative approval to expand its rules on scientific activities to allow Vone to start its next major endeavor late this summer: digging for a shipwreck thought to have happened in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

The project is known informally as the Canadian wreck, not because the ship originated in Canada but because of the man who discovered it, Vone founder and president Stephen Attis said.

A Canadian was vacationing in the area in the 1970s at the same time a governmental agency was installing sewer outfall pipes, which take treated sewage and pump it into the ocean, Attis said. He thinks when the crews were digging for the pipes, they cut into the wreck. When the Canadian man was wading in the water, "a stone's throw from the beach," he found timbers with spikes on them that look like arrowheads.

"This gentleman picked some of the wood fragments up and he kept them for a long time," Attis said. "In the late '90s, he kept one and gave the others to the Marine Archaeology Council. He knew they might be significant.

"Attis said experts don't know anything about the ship yet but think there's potential for a great discovery. Years after applying for the state's Department of Environmental Protection and city permits, he is close to setting the date to begin excavations. He's still waiting for permission from Broward County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and final approval from Pompano Beach, which could come as early as Tuesday.

Using machines that clear the sand, he'll have to dig a hole straight into the sand, probably about 6 feet deep."There's no gold or silver," Attis said. "The treasure is in the story of the wreck and what we can learn."

Dan Hobby, executive director of the Pompano Beach Historical Society, said it would be quite a find if divers can locate that ship like they have others.

"It's a fascinating part of our history that's very little understood, in part because people can't see the remains," Hobby said. "It really pushes the history of this area back considerably. And if you put yourself in the place of the sailors and the drama and probably terror that accompanies the sinking of the ships, it's really the stuff that novels and movies are made of."

One of Vone's greatest finds was several years ago when it found a rotting anchor that is displayed in a Pompano Beach city park and is possibly from the Gil Blas, a ship that wrecked in the 1800s.

Divers went digging into the wreck in 1997 and think they found the famous ship.

The Gil Blas, a 200-ton, twin-masted brig, was transporting Cuban cigars and sugar from Havana to Spain on her maiden voyage when it went aground during a hurricane in September 1835, a mile north of the Hillsboro Inlet.

Eventually Vone will also be hunting to find the anchor of the L' Athenaise, as well as the shackles used for its prisoners.

L' Athenaise, under British control, was transporting French prisoners back to Europe at the time of the 1804 wreck. As told through historical research, the ship was caught in a storm while the captain was drunk. Anchors were thrown out, but eventually the ship would wreck on the northern coast of what is now Broward County.

"What's really cool is when you get to hold something in your hand that's hundreds of years ago and you get to preserve it for future generations long after we're gone," Attis said. "This area is so rich with history people don't realize."


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