Friday, July 08, 2005

 

Steamship Portland images will be beamed from sea floor

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Cap Cod Times
By Eric William
July 05, 2005


The still complete hull of the steamship Portland lies
on the ocean floor in the Stellwagen Bank National
Marine Sanctuary off Massachusetts.

PROVINCETOWN - Live images from the wreck of the steamship Portland will be beamed to the Provincetown Museum Saturday, using the Pilgrim Monument as a giant antenna.

''This will be the first time the public can get a good look at how much wreckage is down there,'' said Deborah Marx, maritime archaeologist at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

''We're able to use technology to give people a live view of what happens to a ship when it goes to the bottom of the sea,'' said Jeffory Morris, curator of collections at the Provincetown Museum. ''You're seeing the same thing researchers see.''

The video feed will originate from a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) prowling about the wreck. The ROV will be tethered to a University of Connecticut research vessel on the surface, controlled by a scientist wiggling a joystick.

The live video will be transmitted from that ship to a dish mounted atop the 252-foot-high Pilgrim Monument. From there, the broadcast will be delivered over cables into the Provincetown Museum.

In a tragedy billed by some historians as ''New England's Titanic,'' the Portland was lost at sea on the night of Nov. 26, 1898, battered below the waves by a powerful storm that raged along coastal waters.

It is believed that 192 passengers and crew perished when the Portland sank, although the exact number remains uncertain - the passenger list also went down with the ship. There were no survivors. Approximately 40 bodies were recovered, some washing ashore on Cape Cod beaches.

Researchers were able to confirm the location of the wreck in 2002, resting in more than 400 feet of water, 17 miles north of Provincetown in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

The exact location has not been revealed by authorities to deter pilferage.

''The main part of the Portland, the superstructure, was destroyed in the storm,'' said Ivar Babb, director of the National Undersea Research Program at the University of Connecticut. ''But it still sits high and proud up to the main deck level. So it is 20-some-odd feet up into the water and that represents a pretty major feature off the sea floor.''

Babb said visual access to parts of the wreck are obscured by snagged fishing nets. A couple of years ago, the camera-wielding ROV was caught up in a net, but eventually freed. ''It was a real knuckle-biter,'' said Babb.

The Portland is now home to several underwater species, said Babb, including shrimp and pollock. ''There's also a fair amount of sponge on the wreck as well,'' said Babb.


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