Sunday, January 01, 2006

Technology used in Hunley restoration may be used on another historical find

November, 2004

CHARLESTON - A maritime archaeologist hopes the technology used to restore the Hunley submarine can be used to preserve another Civil War era sub now resting on a deserted island near Panama.

James Delgado, executive director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, has identified the wreck as the Explorer, a submersible built in New York in the waning days of the Civil War.

Delgado hopes the sub can be brought to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, where it could benefit from the cutting edge technology being used to save the Hunley.

"I can't imagine a better place for it," Delgado said after a tour of the lab earlier this week. "If the funding could be found, it would be a great fit."

Officials at the lab say it will be years before its scientists will have the time or energy to tackle another project.

"It is an interesting parallel story to the Hunley," said Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist for the Hunley project. "It furthers our understanding of the evolution of diving technology.But they are two different things. The Explorer is an evolved concept of a dive bell, while the Hunley is a highly maneuverable, hydrodynamic stealth boat. In its case, it is the weapon."

Delgado, a former maritime historian for the U.S. National Park Service, discovered the Explorer during a cruise to Panama in 2001. Delgado went to the Isla San Telmo after Panamanians told him about a sub that had washed ashore.

When he returned home, he began to search for clues to date the submarine, eventually acquiring drawings of a sub built by a German immigrant, Julius Kroehl. An article accompanying the drawings in a 1902 journal said the sub had been abandoned off Panama in 1869.

Kroehl emigrated to America in 1838, where he studied to become an engineer.

During the Civil War, Kroehl worked as an underwater explosives expert for the Union until he was discharged with malaria. While recuperating, he came up with the idea of a submarine that divers could get in and out of underwater, from which they could set charges and disarm enemy torpedoes.

Kroehl knew the Navy wouldn't pay for the construction of such an experimental boat, so he joined up with the Pacific Pearl Co.

In 1864, while Kroehl was building his submarine, the privateer H.L. Hunley sunk the USS Housatonic four miles offshore.

By the time the Explorer sailed, the Civil War was almost over. The Navy passed on the boat, but the Pacific Pearl Co. was ready for business. After one dive, Kroehl became ill and died.

The future of the Explorer is uncertain. Exposed to the air, sea and intrepid tourists, its hull is deteriorating, and it has apparently fallen victim to looters.

Delgado says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has set aside money for a fact-finding expedition to Panama next year. Scientists want to find out if the sub, apparently made almost entirely of brittle cast iron, is too fragile to move, or if it can be saved.

Delgado says if the submarine can be salvaged, it could be put in a tank of cold freshwater to desalinate it until technology invents a way to preserve it for posterity.



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