Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Rudder may hold clues to ship's fate

By Dan Scanlan
November 15, 2006

Jimmy Arvid, 5, and his mother, Vanessa Arvid,
examine a rudder that likely came from a merchant
ship from the early 1800s at the St. Augustine
Lighthouse and Museum Tuesday.
PETER WILLOTT/St. Augustine Record

Scientists will study the part in an effort to fill in the story of a wreck.

A lighthouse couldn't save the sailing vessel when it wrecked off Vilano Beach more than a century ago.

But a 12-foot, 4-inch wooden rudder from the mystery ship will be saved over the next year by St. Augustine Lighthouse archaeologists as they try to uncover its identity and when it sank. Then the conserved half-ton of wood and copper will go on permanent display at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Dozens of visitors and schoolchildren watched Tuesday as the huge rudder was placed on a temporary wooden platform next to the 132-year-old lighthouse.

"Is it the bottom of a ship?" asked Abbey Wensel, 7.

Then the Middleburg girl learned it was a century-old rudder on public display at the lighthouse for the next year while Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program staff work on it.

"That's pretty cool," she said.

St. Augustine resident Diane Mouhourtis said she can't wait to watch the conservation progress.

"I am glad to be here to see it brought to the lighthouse," she said. "I will come back and check on it every now and then."

Storm waves shoved the rudder onto Vilano Beach in early October 2005. Residents and marine archaeologist John Morris hauled it atop a nearby dune for safety. Partially sheathed in weathered copper, the rudder and the merchant ship it was attached to are estimated to date to the early to mid-1800s. The ship was at least 100 feet long, according to Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program Director Chuck Meide.

State officials gave Morris and St. Johns County officials permission to move the rudder to the research reserve, where it was stored for the past year. Trucked to the lighthouse Tuesday, it will be placed on a platform under a tent for conservation work.

Meide and his staff will also examine its construction and wood type to see if there are clues to its ship, and when it sank.

"We want to get as many clues as we can from very meticulous analysis, then go to the history books and hopefully have something to work with to narrow down possible candidates," he said.

Morris and the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program targeted dozens of shipwreck sites before finding the 1764 wreckage of the British sloop Industry off the lighthouse in 1998 and recovering a cannon and other artifacts. Meide and the new staff of lighthouse archaeologists will attempt to find the rest of the rudderless ship off Vilano Beach next year.

A summer mission to the Industry is planned to recover another cannon for display at 265-year-old Fort Matanzas, where Meide believes it was headed in 1764.


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