Monday, March 20, 2006

Aussies to rescue Civil War sub


The Australian
By Mark Dodd
March 20, 2006

AUSTRALIAN experts have been called on to help salvage a rusting American Civil War hand-powered submarine -- one of the world's first submersibles -- 130 years after it was beached on a remote island off Panama.Before being identified in 2002, the rusting hulk lying on the tide line off the Island of Pearls was believed by Panamanians to be a World War II Japanese midget submarine.

The 18m Explorer was originally intended to be used by the Union navy and was built by an immigrant iron worker, Julius Kroehl, for $75,000 in 1865, a time when a mid-level public servant earned $200 a year.

The submarine came too late to play a decisive role in the Civil War and it was sent to trawl for pearls in the Gulf of Panama.

But after collecting 10 tonnes of pearl shell in 11 days on its maiden trip, the sub was abandoned after the divers on board succumbed to the bends, known in those days as "the fever".

The West Australian Maritime Museum's iron ship specialist Mike McCarthy, just back from visiting the wreck, said yesterday that after the submarine was abandoned the owners went bust.

"What's really interesting is it then enters the Pearl Island legend as a Japanese World War II boat," Dr McCarthy said.

Following its rediscovery by James Delgado of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, corrosion experts from around the world, including Ian MacLeod and Neil North from the Fremantle-based maritime museum, were invited to join a survey of the wreck to advise on its restoration.

Dr MacLeod and Dr North came to prominence with their cutting-edge 1985 conservation work to preserve a historic "trunk engine" used to power Western Australia's first coastal steamer, SS Xantho. That engine will soon be on display in Fremantle.

The same Australian expertise will now be applied in the restoration of Kroehl's Explorer.

Previous articles in this blog about this subject here and here.



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