Project Report

R/V Kellie Chouest

Navy divers on their stage

Cambrian divers deploying from the platform

Artifact believed to be an officer’s head

For the past 4 years (including this year), the Cambrian Foundation has put together scientific expeditions to the Monitor. These expeditions are typically one week in duration. However, this year we also participated in a one month long, historical joint effort with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the US Navy and NURC at UNCW (National Undersea Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington). This was the first time a civilian organization was allowed to dive along side the Navy and NOAA divers off of their vessels.

During phase I of this project, the Navy, NOAA and the Cambrian Foundation were diving from the Kellie Chouest, a leased DSRV support vessel, 300 feet long, on a four point mooring directly over the Monitor. Phase II was conducted by NOAA, NURC and the Cambrian Foundation utilizing the NOAA vessel Ferrell, a 140 foot vessel anchored within about one quarter mile of the Monitor, and the 54 foot UNCW research vessel, Cape Fear. The overall objectives for this project were to collect data for an engineering study for stabilization and selective recovery efforts and to map, photograph, video and recover small artifacts that might be destroyed during the stabilization. Our objectives for both phases were to train some of the NOAA and NURC divers, to provide qualified personnel to the NOAA team, to help NOAA validate this new style of diving (untethered deep scuba diving) and to act as diving supervisors for the NOAA/NURC/Cambrian Foundation team.

The Navy’s operation was separate from ours and was similar to how NOAA divers had had to dive in the past. Their divers were lowered down over the port side of the Kellie Chouest, two at a time on a stage (a large, metal basket that can hold two standing divers), where they would step off the stage right next to the wreck and walk over to it. Their helmets were tied to the surface with an umbilical that contained a communications cable, a hot water line for their suits, a "pneumo" tube for determining depth and their gas supply line. Their longest bottom time was 37 minutes, and they consumed about 1000 cubic feet of bottom mix (heliox 14/86) on each dive. Also, they were doing surface decompression or Sur-D diving. This means that after about one hour of in water decompression, at their 40 foot stop, they would be quickly removed from the water, stripped from their gear and hurried into the chamber, where they would spend another hour and one half. In order to accomplish this type of diving, the Navy had at least 16 divers on the surface for two bottom divers – hoist operator, umbilical line tenders, gas supply technicians, communications operator, safety diver and tenders, chamber operator and tender and a dive supervisor. They spent the majority of their time working on the removal and recovery of the prop and shaft, but they also recovered two deck plates and a support beam.

In contrast, during phase I, our teams were lowered on the DSRV platform or did a giant stride into the water where they swam over to a downline that was affixed to the stern of the Kellie Chouest. During phase II, we did liveboat operations off the Cape Fear and used a downline attached to a large Norwegian ball. The divers would swim down this line to near the wreck and then over to it. Being untethered, we were able to travel the entire length and width of the wreck to collect our data and artifacts. Our bottom times ranged from 15 to 40 minutes with between one and two and one half-hours of in water decompression utilizing EAN36 and O2. The divers would consume around 150 cubic feet of bottom mix (trimix 18/50). Support for our bottom divers (we could have up to 10 in the water at one time) required 6 other personnel – two in water support divers, one standby diver, one safety diver, a chase boat operator and the dive supervisor. The support divers were diving air on their backs and would each carry one stage cylinder of EAN36 and one of O2. The standby diver also had air on his back and two stage cylinders and was located in the chase boat (an Avon or Zodiac inflatable) while the safety diver was on deck with trimix on his back and two stage cylinders. We were able to place several markers, take engineering measurements and recover some small artifacts.

The Educational Expedition (Phase III)


All of our separate diving expeditions on the Monitor require a permit from NOAA. There are two kinds of permits that NOAA can issue, a research permit or a special use permit. With the special use permit, divers are allowed to view the wreck, however, they can make no physical contact. A research permit is issued only after submitting a plan for the research activities to be done on site. NOAA and the North Carolina government must approve the permits. Terrence Tysall, president of the Cambrian Foundation, has held a research permit for four years that has allowed team members to dive the Monitor. John Broadwater, the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary manager for NOAA, assists each team. Over the last two years, the teams have placed and surveyed station markers to help track movement and deterioration of the wreck. The teams have also searched for and brought up artifacts while documenting the wreck with still photographs and video. And lastly, members have been involved in cleaning the wreck of garbage that had either drifted into the wreck or been left over materials from previous expeditions like PVC measuring tubes and measuring tape.

When entering a National Marine Sanctuary, boats are not allowed to anchor. There is, however, a subsurface marker buoy floating and attached near the wreck. An additional downline was placed closer to the wreck, attached to a large anchor in the sand near the turret. The boat captain motored to near the buoys and estimated the current. Each day, a crewmember snorkeled or dove to the new buoy and attached a 100-foot line with a large Norwegian ball on one end and 30 pounds of weight near the other end. The weight carried the line down the buoy line and brought this line parallel to the main buoy line. The divers used this line during their ascent. The divers all had to be completely suited up, with mask, fins, doubles and stage cylinders. When the captain yelled, "DIVE, DIVE, DIVE!" the divers went over both sides of the boat, one after another, like paratroopers leaving an airplane. The divers drifted into the buoy line while descending and pulled themselves down that line hand over hand to the bottom. Most of the divers were using trimix on the bottom. The Cambrian Foundation core dive team typically used bottom mixes with higher than normal ENDs on the Monitor as training for more demanding expeditions that the Foundation conducts. Bottom times were typically 25 to 30 minutes, which when using EANx and/or O2 for decompression, had the divers out of the water in 100 to 120 minutes of run time.

Ascents were made up the buoy line to the separate float ball line that had been attached. When the last diver had reached this line, it was unhooked, and the divers drifted with this float as a reference. The boat simply followed the float and picked up the divers as they came to the surface.

The permit allows for no more than 12 divers on the wreck at one time, however, we rarely put more than 10 in the water at a time. On each of the last two expeditions, the conditions on the first day have not been favorable to dive the Monitor and we have done a tune up dive on a nearby wreck. In 1997, the sea conditions were exceptionally rough all week but we had good visibility and current conditions on the bottom. However, this year, we had more favorable sea conditions, but the visibility on the bottom was usually around 10 feet. Last year twenty-four station markers were placed and secured, and measurements between these points were obtained. We attempted to verify some of these measurements again this year. This survey data is invaluable in tracking the deterioration of the wreck and greatly assists divers in retrieval of artifacts. When artifacts are found, they must be located where they are on a site map and are usually drawn and photographed prior to retrieval. Determining direction and distance from two or more separate station markers, an artifact can be triangulated to its exact location. Some of the artifacts recovered on these expeditions were a broken lid to a small container, the top of a broken glass bottle, an intact glass bottle of hair restorative, a brass rifle stock butt and the officer’s head (toilet). The head is significant because it was the first below waterline marine flush toilet. Excellent digital video of the current state of the wreck and the location of the station markers was obtained in 1997, however, because of the poor visibility this year, we did not get any good video or still photographs. Lastly, a tremendous amount of trash was removed from the wreck last year. This consisted of nets, long line fishing line, soft drink cans, a coffee mug, an old shoe, PVC pipe and fiberglass measuring tape.

The work that we have been able to do on the Monitor has been very rewarding – knowing that certain artifacts have been preserved and can now be seen by people that would not have had the opportunity before. We hope that our work will continue on the Monitor, working with NOAA on larger scale projects as well as on smaller expeditions designed for our members.

Comments are closed