Monday, November 07, 2005

 

Mote scientist searches for history He leads a team into Charlotte Harbor to hunt for shipwrecks.

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Herald Tribune
By Sara Lubbes
November 05, 2005


HARBOUR HEIGHTS -- Archaeologist J. "Coz" Cozzi's eyes search the shoreline as his tiny brown boat crawls down the Peace River.

"We've got to find something sexy today, guys," he says to two other scientists hunched around equipment used to search for objects hidden underwater.

One of the men, prehistoric archaeologist Michael Faught, laughs at the use of the word "sexy" to describe what he's doing as he ducks his head back under a blue tarp used to block the sun from his computer screen.

The men are professional shipwreck hunters.

They are hoping to find a piece of Charlotte Harbor's history in the black water.

Cozzi, a lanky, middle-aged man sporting a ponytail and a blue-stone earring, mastered the maritime history of the harbor and won grants for the search for historical treasures.

If he finds nothing, the mission will be over. He will run out of money.

This particular Thursday on the Peace River, Cozzi has a target in mind. Somewhere they are sure to find -- something.

The crew hits the water at 8 a.m. in Harbour Heights Park and heads for nearby Liverpool Island, a small triangle of land at the Charlotte and DeSoto county line. It was once home to a railroad line and a phosphate shipping center.

Cozzi has been searching the harbor for two weeks now. He is just sure he'll find a sunken ship.

Up ahead, he spots two fishermen. A clue? He stands up, nearly straddling the small boat and shouts to them."Hey!" he says. "You guys ever snag your line on anything?"The men -- noticeably baffled by Cozzi's question -- point to a bend in the river and a mangrove-covered shoreline.

"Yeah, right over there," one says.

It's a tip.Trolling for historyCozzi, 49, a nautical archaeologist with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, specializes in locating and examining historic shipwrecks. He's been doing the work for nearly 25 years.

He was on a 1996 expedition off the Texas coast where he and others made a rare find: a 300-year-old skeleton so preserved by the sand that its skull still had brain matter inside.

But in Charlotte Harbor, Cozzi is hoping to find boats once used by American Indians, turn-of-the-century phosphate workers or perhaps even Spanish explorers, all of whom once sailed Charlotte Harbor.

No one has ever searched the harbor this way before, and it's a project Cozzi's been itching to complete, especially because he was delayed by hurricanes Charley and Wilma.

If he finds something worthy hidden in the dark water, Cozzi will return next summer to excavate the site.

Still, there's no guarantee he will find something historic. He could find a discarded modern boat or worse -- he once found a pizza oven. But, nine times out of 10, Cozzi doesn't find anything.

"It's that one other time that you find something really good," he says.There is a lot riding on today's trip to Liverpool Island.

As Cozzi and his team painstakingly examine water near the island's grassy shore Thursday, a few objects appear on the sonar. The device creates a rudimentary picture of the bottom of the river that looks like nothing more than black spots on a sea of orange pixels.

But to Faught, an image pops up that could be something important.

"Mag hit?" Faught asks. He wants to know if the magnetometer -- a device used to find iron objects -- is seeing what he's seeing.

"Nah," says Michael Krivor, the third archaeologist on the trip. "You got something?"Faught frowns slightly.

"Oh, it turned out it was just the edge of a sand ripple," he says.

The search goes on.

A few minutes later, Cozzi spots a familiar site, the remnants of the phosphate plant that once lined Liverpool's banks.

More than 50 brick pyramids sit on a concrete wall along the beach. Some are falling into the water because of heavy erosion.

Cozzi explains the bricks were probably anchors for docks more than 100 years ago.

Where there's docks, there's boats, Cozzi says. Maybe a barge carrying phosphate sank here?

"We're not leaving here until we find one," he says.

Finally, a hitHours later, the team is still on its slow trek around the island. The scientists make their third pass at the brick-covered shoreline, each time going a bit farther out.

Suddenly, Faught spots a square object on the sonar. It's long enough to be a barge.

"Woo!" Krivor yells.

Cozzi rushes to see. It's exactly what he was hoping to find here: a reason to come back. He theorizes the barge is from the turn of the century.

It's enough hard evidence to ask for more grant money.

Cozzi's also hoping to raise $100,000 to buy the sonar and magnetic equipment for himself.

Today's trip is possible because Krivor and Faught's company, Panamerican Consultants of Memphis, Tenn., provided the technology.

"This is my ace in the hole, right here," Cozzi says after they pass over the barge.

For all three archaeologists, finding the ship is a big payoff. It could help answer questions about the people of Liverpool Island.

But it's still not enough to satisfy their leader.

"I'd like to see five or six more of those," Cozzi says.


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