Sunday, July 27, 2008

Did Chris Get Certified in a Pool?

Diving is an interesting adventure. I have always loved being under water. One of my favorite things to do in the pool in Columbus was to go swimming very late at night and see how long I could lay on the bottom of the pool looking at the stars.

Since Junior High school I have practiced holding my breath. A couple months ago I held my breath for two minutes. This is nothing to the free divers down here who regularly hold their breath for three minutes or even four minutes. But try it, I bet you can't make 30 seconds. I love snorkeling here are seeing how long I can stay under to swim with the fish. It is a few seconds of intense freedom.

Diving is like holding your breath under water for an hour. It is liberating to someone who loves being underwater. Yet, there is also something kind of disconcerting about it as well. It is not quite natural, and occasionally I get anxious underwater. Some dives are great. But sometimes small things get in the way. Last weekend I had a problem adjusting my left ear past 50 feet. When I tried to force an adjustment I became slightly lightheaded. This made my heart start racing, which caused my breathing to increase, which made it more difficult to get air, which creates anxiety, which makes your heart start racing...

One of the first lessons you learn is to slow your breathing down. You learn to practice and to concentrate on slowing your body down and relaxing. Staying in control is the key. Mitch Rollings, the dive instructor who we learned from, talked a lot about the zen of diving. Yesterday my dive was perfect. I was on the anchor site of the west wall of Grand Turk. We leveled off at about 70 feet and swam 35 minutes down the wall and 35 minutes back to the boat. Though I have questioned my diving abilities in the last few weeks, the other people on the boat could not believe this was only my 11th dive. Diving over an hour on one tank is very unusual for a new diver. This means that the diver was incredibly relaxed and used very little air.

I have found that focusing on work under water makes diving different. Today, I had two dives helping the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources with the Biorock reef project. This project involves moving damaged coral from the cruise center site to an electrified iron structure that allows the coral to grow and heal five times faster than in a natural setting.
The marine archaeologists I was with last week only work underwater. They never do recreational diving. Dr. Donald Kieth once told me that he does not even notice coral or fish anymore. But he loves a good shipwreck.

A 70 minute dive at 70 feet was a good accomplishment. I did nothing the rest of the day. When the crew was excavating the Trouvadore during the last two weeks they worked at a depth of 15 feet in three hour shifts. The archaeologists spent 6 hours a day working under water.
Diving is a new world and one of the perks that I was really interested in when taking this job. But come on, is this crazy cool or is it me?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Have Returned

I have returned to the house today. The water is off, the bathroom is torn completely apart, and this afternoon I ripped the kitchen apart. This weekend will mark nearly a whole month that Deneen and the boys have been off island. On days like today, I feel like life has not changed that much.

At other times, however, I step back and I am amazed at what life has become in the past year. Today I have just returned from spending the week on the Explorer II, a live-aboard dive boat. Last week I flew into South Caicos and caught up with Randy and Robert, two guys working on the Trouvadore expedition team. We had lunch off cracked conch and chicken wings. An hour boat ride later we were around South Caicos to East Caicos and onto the Explorer II. A half hour later I was 80 feet under water diving the EC.

The next day I was diving on the Black Rock Wreck, looking at the extent of the excavations that were completed over the last two weeks. All evidence points to the Black Rock Wreck as being the slave ship Trouvadore. This was a Spanish ship illegally bringing enslaved Africans to Cuba. The shipped wrecked on east Caicos in 1841. 196 Africans escaped to freedom and many stayed in the Turks and Caicos. Today, many people in the Caicos Islands are descended from this one wrecking event. The museum has been looking for the Trouvadore for six years.

In preparation for this week I have been working on getting my dive certification so that I could dive on the Trouvadore. Martin, Lucas, and I all did this together and completed our final dive on June 22. Since then, I have been trying to get dives in to get comfortable under water. I do well most dives. I have five dives this month and will do three more this weekend.

My job on the Trouvadore was unfortunately not to work underwater, but to facilitate many parts of the project from Grand Turk. We had great success in getting newspaper coverage with a double page story in last week's paper that included a page of diary entrees off the website.


After a quick couple of days on the Explorer II, I was off to my next big project - the Ft. George Collection. On Thursday I was on a small boat with Robert for a two hour trip back to Pine Cay and then on to Provo. I have been working all month trying to facilitate accepting a collection in private hands on Pine Cay. I met with the collectors on Thursday. On Friday I bought boxes and packing material and went back to Pine Cay to pack the collection for shipping. Late Friday afternoon Robert and I took the collection back to Provo to try and get it on the shipping container loaded with the expedition equipment going back to Grand Turk.

By the time we got back to the marina and shipyard, we had missed the shipping container. Missing the container would mean waiting on Provo with the collection until Tuesday, when I could get it on another boat. After much debate we decided to try and get into the secure storage at the larger commercial shipyard the next day in order to reopen our container and get the boxes with the collection stored for shipping. This was a huge problem in that the container doors were askew and would not close without some kind of mechanical assistance, which had been a big problem that the crew just delt with when they loaded the container at the marina.

This morning, which is Saturday, was spent trying to get into our container. This went ahead with much difficulty, but by calling the right person we managed to pull some strings and get security passes. Suffice to say, we got the collection securely in the container and I was on the next flight back to Grand Turk.

I will give you a quick aside that I have been thinking about this afternoon. The key to success or failure at getting into our container was trying to find someone in the shipyard to close our container with a forklift. After we got the doors open and our boxes packed inside, I walked out into the yard to find a forklift. Not far away a few guys were sitting around talking to other guys in a white pickup. I walked over to say that I needed help from the forklift. Sitting in the truck was a young guy from Israel that works as a construction supervisor for a large construction company on Provo. I can't ever remember his name, but three different times I have run into this guy accidentally when I have needed help on Provo. He was sharing orange juice with the guys around the fork lift. I spoke to him about a trip I knew he had taken to Israel last month. He told me he is going back in October to get a degree in architecture. The guy I needed help from said, "Hey is this guy your friend," and then told the guy on the forklift to go get me whatever I needed. Within a few minutes we had closed the container and were out of there. Three times... just like an angel or something.

This has been a huge couple of weeks. I am absolutley exhausted. The last three days has been a breakfast of coffee and Excedrin.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Explorer II

Today the Turks and Caicos Explorer II came into Grand Turk to load our underwater excavation equipment. The ship sailed from Provo where they have been working all last week.

What is great to report is that we have located the USS Chippewa, one of the two US Navy vessels that were in the Caicos islands on anti piracy patrol. The Chippewa sank in 1816 off of the northwest point of Providenciales. The ship was located from the trail of carronades that fell from the decks during the wrecking event. These are also diagnostic, meaning that they prove this is the Chippewa.

I had dinner aboard the ship tonight. I was a little hesitant to be on the dive boat, but now I am Jonesing. It leaves in the morning for East Caicos to search for the slave ship Trouvedore. I wish I was going to be on it. Tomorrow I have to work on press releases. Hopefully within the next 14 days I will be able to get onboard and participate in the search.

The Trouvadore search is a project that the museum and Ships of Discovery have been working on for the last year. The full details of the search are located at

RFA Wave Ruler

"You know, you sail around the world, you see hundreds of people. But sometimes you meet a guy who's just a real good guy."

OK, this could have been the alcohol talking. But I still took it as a compliment as I stood in the Officer's Bar on board the RFA Wave Ruler, on Monday night. Gordon has been blasting the Red Hot Chili Pipers all night. Now we are listening to Deep Purple played on the bagpipes. The bar closes at 11:00 so about 10:30 the songs began. "Scotland our home, we shall murmur, murmur, murmur." I sing along, "watermelon, watermelon, watermelon." What did you say? "Olive juice."

30 minutes earlier the conversation was even louder, talking about the intricacies of cricket. Something about scoring six points if the ball bounces once, one if the batters cross, something "murmur, murmur" the ball bounces twice, and all eleven batters are out when the ball hits the wicket. I think we were speaking English, but I swear I am only catching every other word.

"Why is it that the English can invent a game, teach everyone to play, and now they are all better than us," the Chief Petty Officer says. "We taught the Indians to play, now they play better than us. We taught the Jamaicans to play, now they play better than us. We taught the Aussies to play, now they play better than us."

I reply, "What, ya, exactly, mate!"
"There was one?"

A couple hours ago I was on the flight deck at a very nice cocktail party for the Governor. The guest list had been 122, but only about 40 people came. But all my new friends are here; Ensign James, Tard, and Officer Cockburn.

"Tard, are you serving drinks tonight, or drinking drinks tonight?"

"I've been drinking since the minute I started serving," is the reply.

Seven members of the crew spent the day at the museum cleaning brush from the back of the National Arboretum. They arrived at 9:00. By 11:30 they had most of the brush cleaned and trash raked up. My goal is to get this area cleaned out, so that the neighbors stop using it as a dump. The crew built a compost pit for the leaves. We also began lime washing the garden walls to remove the tagging (Eventually, Joseph and I painted 20 gallons worth of lime wash this week). Most of the crew have been scratched and cut to pieces by the thick thorns of the underbrush.

At 11:30 I went to get Poop Deck chicken. I had told them I would provide the best fried chicken in the world and a case of beer. They agreed I was spot on about the chicken. By 12:30 the beer was gone and I had to get a second case. The crew received a VIP tour of the museum, and spent the rest of the day snorkeling.

A few of them wanted to see the pirate canon collection, so I took them into the lab. One of the older guys, a crewman named Mick, saw that we had ships insignia badges and wanted to have a look. Royal Navy ships occasionally present a ship's badge to the Governor's office when they call to Grand Turk. We have 42 of them in our collection. Mick new most of the ships and organised the collection by ship type. He gave me quick stories that I attached with sticky notes. I have been trying to organise and make sense of this collection since I have been here. what I could not do in 8 months, Mick did in 30 minutes. Two of our badges are significant, in that they are from ships that were sunk during the Falklands War in 1982. Mick was visibly moved at recognising one that he witnessed the sinking of.

Three of the guys who came to work at the museum had been part of the detachment that took the Museum Kids Club through the ship on Saturday. We took 5 kids on board for a one hour tour on Saturday morning. 15 kids had signed up for the program, but only 5 showed up. They had assigned 5 crewmen and Ensign James to our tour. Because our numbers were so small, each child basically received a personal escort. Everyone went out of there way to show the kids exactly what they did on board the ship. We toured the Rasco, and the bridge, and each kid sat on the 30MM canon and turned it around like a theme park ride. Our hour tour turned into a two hour tour and ended with refreshments and biscuits in the Officer's Bar.

Last week I was in Pine Cay and Provo for most of the week. Right before I left, I received a phone call from the Governor's office that a Royal Fleet Axillary ship was to be in port over the weekend. These ships are crewed by civilians but serve Royal Navy warships. The Wave Ruler is in the Caribbean on hurricane patrol. And among other things, carries relief supplies. This was last minute because of security, but the ship was interested in giving some tours and they wanted to know if the Museum's Kids Club would want to come on board. The Governor's staff thought that they might be able to free up some crew for a work detail at the museum as well. I had staff put together a last minute radio announcement for Kids Club and told them I would be back on Saturday to take care of whatever happened with the ship.

I told the Governor's staff that the museum would do whatever we could to make this a good stop for the crew. Whatever I did, they told me, "make sure you provide beer because English sailors like to drink in port."

This was a very busy week, but I thought it would be fun to get on board and see what the ship was like. You never know what can happen here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pine Cay

The Trouvadore project begins this weekend. On Friday, dive crews begin flying into Provo. On Friday my family also flies out of Provo to go home for nine weeks. I would mourn this loss, but I have the feeling that the time is also going to fly starting on Friday.

Tonight I am on Pine Cay staying at the Meridian Club. I was here in February looking at a historic site called Ft. George. Today I have come to Pine Cay with one of our trustees to look at a private collection that may be of interest. I have been taking loads of pictures and writing descriptions that my archaeological friends would be proud of. I.E, "Creamware with green glazed scallop edge and feather molding."

This is all part of a bigger story, but I will save you from the details. What I will say is that working on Pine Cay is tough stuff. I am almost blinded by the stars tonight. And while I was at dinner someone came into my room and stole all the pillows and bedspread. I was going to complain, but someone said that this was called "making down the bed." I am from Ohio and not use to all this fancy shamcy...

Anyway, here is a picture of Dr. Keith and myself hard at work in Pine Cay.

I have to go..the pool closes at 10:00.