The Kraken II returns from the deep…
September 20th, 19:45
Just as the sun’s pink and orange glow faded beneath the watery horizon to the west, a keen eye looking south might have noticed a faint white shimmer in the waves. Growing in intensity, the cool blue light seemed to almost bubble and boil as it approached the surface, ever so slowly, as if it was reluctant to leave the quiet vastness of the depths below. Breaking the surface with its yellow plastic shell, the Kraken II shattered the ethereal spell it wove with soft light and aroused its keepers on deck, inspiring them to ready themselves with hooks and chains. The Kraken (or any piece of equipment) never comes back easily; the waves, the wind, and gravity all fight to keep what we’ve thrown over.
Once on board we can breathe a sigh of relief and inspect the collection box. All day long, oblivious to the snide comments, cheers, and staring eyes of the ship’s peanut gallery, the crew of the ROV have been working steadily in their command “van”. The darkness inside the van, except for the electronic glow from about a dozen different screens, is very much like NASA’s “mission control” room; the potential for discovery or catastrophe is palpable and keeps everyone respectfully hushed except when they are compelled to speak by a foreign object on the screen (for more information on the ROV and van see Eric’s post on August 21st).
During an early evening visit to the van, I made an unexpected and fun discovery: a tiny hole in the western-facing side of the van acts like a pinhole camera, projecting an image of the sunset outside onto the wall inside, serving as a floating reminder that it is nearly time to change gears to nighttime activities.
And what did the dive yield you ask? In the unlikeliest and shallowest of locations for a wreck, after straining their eyes across sandy plains on the bottom all day, we gained patience and practice. We also got a healthy dose of humility and a good laugh. After seeing lots of squid darting in and out of the screen or hovering to cautiously inspect the bright lights of K2, swimming scallops (which reminded me of The Little Mermaid (see 2 min. 45 sec.)), scuttling hermit crabs, large (10cm.+) bivalve (unknown species) and razor clam shells, and the occasional starfish, something new entered the field of view…something definitively non-biological in origin.
Was it a broken bowl with an unknown glaze, perhaps a historical relic of the Atlantic’s rich maritime history? The peanut gallery in the dry lab thought that the missing piece was, by design, an ashtray of sorts.
Whatever its nature, after circling around for a while, searching for other artifacts in the same area, the archaeologists decided that their curiosity would forever haunt them if they didn’t take the opportunity to collect and identify the object when they had the chance. Cue “the CLAW” ! K2 crewman Mike McKee jumped into action using his navigation skills to rescue the prize. [Aside: Let me take a moment to mention my aversion to video games, and to point out that, in this rare instance, I could be convinced of the value of a childhood spent staring at computer /tv monitors while honing finger-eye coordination. In fact, Mike and Dennis agree that their love of video-games has certainly not hindered their experience driving and operating the ROV. But, Rudy is quick to point out that video-game playing is definitely not a prerequisite, as he never grew up playing games, but rather a boat. Everyone agrees that operating the ROV requires exceptional coordination and practice simultaneously moving multiple joysticks and lots of controls.]
K2’s collection box has multiple separate compartments that slide out in a drawer-like fashion to protect specimens on the ascent to the surface. Now on deck, it is from the first of these that Drs. Rod Mather and Jack Irion delicately lift out and inspect the object they’ve collected. What is it?!?! Everyone wants to know, and we wait anxiously for their initial responses… Dr. Mather carefully scraped away a small section of the surface, which is thickly coated with a bright orange colony of encrusting bryozoans and a few tube worms.
Flipping the object over, he gingerly scrapes and washes and re-scrapes bryozoans off the base of the “bowl”, looking for any sign of a characteristic ‘maker’s mark’ that might designate the location of origin for ceramics. SUCCESS !!! We’ve found one!
The good news is, if you want to share in the discovery of this artifact, you can order one (or a case of 48) yourself! The bad news is, this is just another piece of marine trash, carelessly thrown overboard from some passing ship, and not an archaeological artifact related to a shipwreck in the area. So, after a hearty laugh, everyone agrees that, while the dive didn’t yield any historical relics, it was nevertheless a success. The archaeological team learned much about the underwater topography and potential for historic sites in the area. In the future, they hope to return for additional exploration.