Friday, December 28, 2007

The old anchor

I know I have posted photos of our old anchor several times, but I don't think I have ever gone into much detail about it. Several people have asked about it, so here's some additional photos and the story behind it. Well, not really THE story behind it. Just our little microscopic part of that story.

La Gringa and I love diving and exploring. The TCI is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen for underwater exploring. The water is always warm, and usually crystal clear. It's fun to look around the reef, and sometimes we find interesting things. Of course, the natural beauty of the reef itself is impressive enough:

But we have also found other things, including at least three sites of old shipwrecks. Not the rusting iron hull type of shipwrecks, although there are plenty of those around. We have found piles of stone ballast of European origin. There is really only one native rock here, and thats marine limestone. These ballast stones are granite, slate, and other rock. We have found pieces of hand-blown bottles, and both red and fire brick from ancient ships. We have found iron fittings.

One day we were boating over toward North Caicos in a 17 ft. Whaler. It was one of those crystal clear days when the water was as clear as water gets. The surface was a gently undulating mirror, the sky an indescribable blue. All in all, a nice day.

As we were motoring along, I was watching the bottom of the sea go by in about 15 ft. of water, out between the islands and the reef. We are accustomed to the normal limestone and coral features, but always keep an eye out. We spotted something out of the ordinary, and turned the boat around to take a look. It was clearly not a rock, but looked like some kind of structure from the surface. Something made of pipe or something. I grabbed a face mask and hopped over the side to take a look:

You can see how this stood out on the smooth sand bottom. A growth encrusted anchor, with one fluke stuck in the sand. The other fluke was sticking straight up. The ring at the top, and part of the stock were also buried. I knew it was old, just by looking at what I could see of it. I took off a flipper and fanned away some of the sand to see if it was intact, and if there was chain or anything attached to the eye. There wasn't. It was pretty exciting to find something this big just like that. Putting hands on it, I could not help but wonder who last touched it, and under what circumstances. A Royal Navy sailor, a long way from home? A pirate? Did it hold the ship in a storm? I will always wonder why they lost something this valuable, and in these waters back then, irreplaceable.

I put a line on it and used the bouyancy of the boat to pull it partially out of the sand. The dark iron is the part that was buried, in very compacted sand below the soft layer:

I had brief thoughts of the two of us trying to haul this thing up. NO way.

We were not sure what to do about it, so I took a bunch of photos, and we marked it on our little hand held GPS. I determined the position in which it was oriented, which way the ring was facing, in case there were more goodies about an anchor line distance away in that direction, and we continued on to the planned expedition of the day. But we couldnt stop talking about the anchor.

This is what it looked lying there after we managed to get it dislodged from the sand, except for the fluke that was still in pretty good.

Right where it's been for over two centuries. I wonder how many boats have passed right by it without seeing it. Conditions did have to be right. And you had to be in the right place. And you had to be looking.

All that night I thought of how we could lift it, with our very limited resources. Basically all we had was the little boat, and La Gringa and I. I came up with a plan. Figured if Plan A didnt work, we would go to Plan B. I still dont remember what Plan B was. I took several pieces of scrap 2x4 lumber from the Pine Cay dump and screwed them together. This made, essentially, a 4x4 about 8 feet long. I put a little block to use as a fulcrum about two feet from one end, and sawed a notch in the end to hold a line. I screwed a block of wood on the top of it to use as a cleat. It kinda looked like this:

We went out the next day with my makeshift wooden lever, some extra nylon line, and found the anchor again. I remember wondering if it would still be there... I went overboard and attached two lines to the anchor. One of the lines I ran back up through the notch in my lever, and took a wrap around the block. The other line we ran to a cleat on the boat. Then the work began. I could loosen my line, raise the lever, take a wrap on the block, and then push down the lever. I could get maybe six inches of throw on the line. It was nylon line. It stretches. It was like trying to lift a hunk of iron with two lengths of bungee cord. Anyhow, once I got the slack out, I would repeat this, and while I held the tension, La Gringa would tighten her line and hold it with the boat cleat. Then we would repeat it. It took a long time to break the anchor loose from the sand. Then I went back down to it and repositioned the lines so that it balanced better. It took all afternoon to perform. Late in the day, we had the anchor suspended from two lines hanging about 8 feet below the boat. We decided to move it. We motored in toward Pine Cay until the anchor hit the bottom suprisingly enough in 8 feet of water. We marked that position on the GPS, and called it a day.

The anchor sat there until we could mobilize some help. We got our friend Preacher, and another friend, Fox, who had a 22 ft. catamaran. They also had a cable hoist, or 'comealong' winch. We went back to the anchor with both boats, and with Preachers help in the water, were able to winch it up until it was hanging just under the surface below the bow cleats on Fox's catamaran. Then we took it right into shallow water just off the landing at Pine Cay. We took it in at high tide, and got it as close to the shore as we could. We waited until low tide the next morning so that we could get a vehicle close to it. This is the first day this iron has been in direct sunlight since those long-dead sailors cast it overboard the century before last:

We asked Duke of the Pine Cay staff for help, and he broughtover a front end loader, and I waded out and attached a heavy line. One end to the anchor:

(Closely supervised by Dooley the Demented Dog, of course. Hey, if there's an opportunity to get wet, he's all over it.)

And we attached the other end to the bucket:

Then it was just a matter of Duke backing up and lifting the bucket:

All I had to do was keep it from swinging while we got it to solid ground:

And set it down so we could get two lines on it. Originally we thought we would just transport it like that, but it was swinging too much. So we wrestled it into the bucket where it was secure. Then Duke simply drove it to the house. It looked like this coming down the road:

Duke dumped the anchor in front of the house and La Gringa and I started cleaning the growth off of it. It is in very good shape under the marine growth.

I started researching anchors on the internet, and found out this is what's called an Admiralty anchor, made in England. We also found out that the design of it helps us date it. The large ring was to attach a hemp anchor line to it. The English went to chain in the mid 1800s, so this is older than that. It also has a stock that could be pushed through the shank and secured alongside the shank for flat storage on the boat. We are guessing this dates from about the time of the War of 1812. This makes perfect sense, as the Loyalists had a fort on Ft. George Cay, and English ships would have been in the area around 1800.

The ring still has several wraps of tarred twine on it, which would have been chafing gear to keep the hemp anchor rope from getting worn through by the iron ring:

While this anchor started at a foundry in England some date prior to 1800, there's no real reason to claim it came to its final position on an English ship. It could well have been taken from an English boat by a pirate, and dropped in a hurry if someone needed to get underway for some reason. These anchors were in wide use during the 1700s. And the old bottle fragments we have found not too far from here (but a totally different site) are early 1700s.

The anchor partially cleaned, and starting to look more like it did when it was stowed on the deck of a wooden boat two centuries ago..

To try to keep it from rusting apart (as these things do when you take them out of the ocean and expose them to an oxygen rich environment) I found this stuff that turns rust into a hard plastic-like seems to have encapsulated it fairly well..

After we got it cleaned up and several coats of encapsulating stuff on it, Harry from Pine Cay and I moved it over a small wall to a better spot. I am guessing it weighs something around 300 lbs. or so. We were pretty proud of ourselves pulling this thing up with two ropes and a piece of wood in a 17 ft. boat.

The stock is bent, and split at one end. My thinking is that the split was done so that it would not be able to fall out of the hole in the shank. Kinda like a big cotter pin.

And the bend in the end is so that it could be folded up alongside the shank for storage. Pretty crafty, those old blacksmiths...

The other side of the stock has a shoulder that is larger than the hole in the shank, to keep it from coming loose in that direction.

So, for those who asked, that's most of the story behind the photo I originally just posted without much explanation, La Gringa the Anchor Wench!!:

La Gringa and I have discussed what to do with this. We talked about moving it to the new house. But we think we have a better idea. There have been plans announced to establish a new Maritime Museum on Providenciales, and I think I recall reading that land and some funding have already been allocated. It is our intention to offer this anchor to the museum as a donation if they want it.

(We just want a little plaque with our name on it as the people who found, recovered, and donated it. That would be pretty cool. We already have the fun part of it behind us.)


Anonymous said...

Way to cool of a find.Hve ya'll flushed it with fresh water?I am sure there are alot of salt still in it.Donating it will be supper cool too!

La Gringa said...

Congratulations on your 100th post!!

Don said...

A shrimper frend of mine found an anchor like that (except the stock was wood) at then mouth of the Rio Grande River.

Anonymous said...

hey, that's amazing! Ive been reading loads of your blog and am very jealous - i think it is great you are sharing! thank you!

La Gringa said...

Hi Joe,

I have to say that I'd be jealous too! It didn't happen overnight and it would have been fun to do it 20 years ago, but the road to paradise has been worth it!