Diving Update July 2020 – 16th Century Wreck site

 In From the Field, News, Uncategorized

Image 1. A perfectly clear day. (P. Rouja)

We did not dive the Montana the first week of July; in fact we didn’t do any diving outside of the harbor in those first three days after diving was opened up. The wind did not cooperate to get offshore and on the water priorities shifted to checking boat moorings and inshore projects.  My first dive offshore, in fact, was on a much older site than the Montana, a 16th-century site that I finally, guided by a much more knowledgeable diver than myself, had an opportunity to definitively relocate. I have been there before, observed the ballast, and the impact scars left by a ship or an event long ago and recorded the location, but ballast and reef damage don’t tell you much of the story.

The story now lies in being able to link a collection of artifacts and diving stories from the 1960’s to a definitive spot. With a drone image of the reef, the chance to virtually reconnect what once defined the site can take place, an opportunity that the Bermuda 100 project and its unique assemblage of partners and capacities is especially well placed to attempt by gathering not just digital data of reef and artifacts but the stories from those who were there, who found and worked many of these sites some 40, 50, and even 60 years ago. Maybe we will be able to capture a human experience dataset that, like shipwrecks, is also continuously eroding. We are in a race to gather the human capital invested in the post-war 20th-Century era of discovery and exploration who first found and worked on Bermuda’s shipwrecks using the new invention of SCUBA (Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), an acronym that harkens back to the days of NASA when names were descriptive first and marketing tools second. Scuba meant nothing before the acronym, becoming the word describing itself.

Image 2. My guide to the wreck site encounters two of the three angelfish who were at once protective and engaged. (P. Rouja)

The dive itself was calm, easy and quietly stunning: 100 plus feet of visibility, 40 feet to the sand, and only 20 feet to the reef where the majority of the evidence for a shipwreck was first found in 1968. Three angelfish simultaneously territorial and curious, engaged with us as only they can. In photographs they seem like painted canvases that fail to convey the oddity of these colors on something alive, clearly  conscious and personally engaged with you. They look into your face binocularly, the way one only expects to be looked upon by a predator. They take you in face-on, so to speak, and in that pose one sees just how thick they are. They are not a two-dimensional flat painter’s pallet but have a thickness that holds their heart, spine, muscles – that which makes them irreducibly alive. It is its own revelation. This site has now been transformed by this experience; it is not just a place where a human story occurred across 5 centuries but is some other being’s home, a place where they live that I am visiting like an alien using my Aqua Lung for an hour of access.

So I am now able to share in the experience of a place with the people who first found this wreck 51 years ago when they discovered this site of a human calamity that took place 5 centuries earlier.  We will use our latest technology to make this happen in new, engaging and exciting ways, to hopefully, share with others who are interested in what this site represents. This is not incidental. Joining up people over time and across environments and cultures is important.

Image 3. River rocks don’t belong on a limestone Island. They can only be ship ballast.  (P. Rouja)

It is now not just a smattering of some evidence of an early shipwreck but a canvas onto which we can lay the dimension of human activity that once had many people obsessing about what they were transporting across the ocean – how this might change, even transform their lives. Much of what happens on ships is transitory, and never more than when a ship is lost and rediscovered. Covered over by sand and coral then found again centuries later, it is altered and transformed even more significantly. Connecting the site to the knowledge of what was found, adding the aspect of living memory, we will all hopefully, be able to share in the multiple dimensions that this shipwreck site represents.

How many other sites, other living beings, have I visited in only two dimensions?

We will be diving the Montana soon as the ocean is supposed to flatten out and the tide is right. Going through the photogrammetry images taken post Hurricane Humberto I found one that shows the bow of the Montana from afar. The hull itself is gone and dropped away, but the ships iron outer stringers, or rub rails, sit perched in mid-water — a rail with no ship’s sides to protect or hold together, no iron attached defining where there once was a bow. The skeleton of a skeleton if you will.

Image 4. The bow of the Montana 1863, Post-Hurricane Humberto. The Starboard side destroyed showing stringers suspended in mid-water with hull material now gone. The rocky shallow sand hole you see to the left was where we would do our next dive and move all the coral we tried to rescue – it is now full of coral pieces. I will position myself to photograph this rough soundhole so we can all have a look and see what corals have been added and how they are doing. (P. Rouja)


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Showing 6 comments
  • bats

    Ι couldn’t resist commenting. Perfectly wrіtten!

    • Philippe Rouja

      Thanks – so glad you enjoyed it

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      Glad you like it!

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  • Sandra Taylor Rouja

    Bravo Philippe, you have come a long way from those days out with dad on the reefs… four years old you, wearing full face mask and snorkel in the rubber ring attached to me, your brother on dad’s back…some of the happiest days of my life! And here you are……..sharing that joy with the world…..

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