Description of the Placement of Concrete Cannon Replicas at the
Wreck Site of the Henrietta Marie
Corey Malcom, Director of Archaeology
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society
200 Greene St.
Key West, Florida
In accordance with Permit FKNMS-058-98
This project was completed only through the generosity and assistance of others outside of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society. As with all maritime projects, even a simple idea requires more planning, personnel and resources than originally envisioned, if it is to be seen to completion.
Advice was sought for the process of casting and molding concrete cannons, and those who were eager to share hints and techniques from their similar experiences were Mr. Oswald Sykes, National Association Of Black SCUBA Divers, who learned a great deal about concrete in the marine environment with his earlier work in placing the
Henrietta Marie Memorial; Mr. James Levy, Bureau of Archaeological Research, Florida Department of State; Mr. James Haring, Mermaid Design, Inc.; and Mr. Richard
Those donating materials for fabricating the replicas were Scotty’s Building Materials, Inc. and Frank Keevan and Son, Inc. of Key West.
Mr. George Robb, Jr. of RPM Specialist Corporation, New York, provided the use of the M/V
ROBO, her crew, and equipment to facilitate the actual placement of these guns. Mr. Pat Clyne of Paradigm Video, Inc. of Key West provided photographic and videographic services during the field operations, as well as transportation to the site for MFMHS staff.
A sincere and heartfelt thanks is given to everyone involved in this effort to make the
Henrietta Marie dive experience live up to its potential.
The Henrietta Marie, an English Merchant-Slaver, was lost in 1700 through unknown circumstances on remote New Ground reef approximately 34 miles West of Key West, Florida. The site was discovered in 1972 by Armada Research, Inc. during the search for the Spanish galleon
Nuestra Señora de Atocha. Excavations took place at the site intermittently from the time of discovery through 1991 (Moore, 1997). The artifacts recovered from the wreck are now a part of the permanent collection of the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society (MFMHS), which has guided much of the research on the wreck and worked to resurrect the story of this long-lost ship. In 1993 the National Association of Black SCUBA Divers (NABS) placed a concrete and bronze monument at the
wreck site, dedicated to Africans forced to sail on slave ships. A traveling exhibition focused around the Henrietta Marie is currently on a five year tour of the US, where it is having a tremendous impact, especially with Americans of African descent.
The known wreckage of the Henrietta Marie is spread over 550 feet, in a North-South pattern on the southern side of New Ground reef, at water depths ranging from 10 to 30 feet (figure 1). The shallower, northern portion of the site is fully covered by extensive hard and soft coral formations. Moving toward the South, the water depth increases, and this growth becomes more and more intermittent with, at a depth of 25-30 feet, a sand bottom becoming the predominant feature. The monument is located at 24°40.387´N latitude, and 82°22.395´W longitude at a depth of 25'. It is slightly to the NNW of where the southern cannon was originally positioned.
With the placement of the monument and the success of the traveling exhibition, there has been an increasing number of visitors to the site. Many members of NABS, as well as others, are viewing these visits as a "pilgrimage" to one of the few tangible vehicles that participated in the forced migration of enslaved Africans to the New World. In view of this, it was the desire of the MFMHS to restore the site to an approximation of its appearance when it was discovered. The most obvious way to do this was to replace two iron cannons recovered during earlier excavations, with concrete replicas. It was thought that by replacing the cannons, which were visible originally, visiting divers would be better able to envision the area as a
wreck site. Because the Henrietta Marie site lies within the boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a proposed project outline was submitted to sanctuary staff for review,
resulting in the granting of educational permit FKNMS-058-98.
A reusable, two-part, fiberglass mold was created from one of the original iron cannons. Two concrete casts, reinforced with fiberglass rods, were poured in the MFMHS laboratory. They are made of solid construction, with 3 inch diameter "false" bores that extend to a depth of only 6 inches, giving the guns added weight and strength. When fully set, each weighs just under 300 pounds. The surfaces of the guns were left unfinished to allow for rapid colonization by marine organisms. It is hoped that such growth will soon give the replicas the same appearance as the originals at the time of their discovery.
On August 7th, 1998 the cannons were transported to the site for placement on the bottom. To avoid the shallower, reef zone, the FKNMS permit allowed them to be placed only within a 50' radius of the monument. First, divers marked specific points on the sea floor to position the cannons. Sandy areas, roughly 10' NNW and SSE of the monument, with no plant or animal growth, were chosen to minimize any impact on the natural environment.
The cannons were put into the water one at a time. While they were still tethered to the boat, a lift bag was attached to make the heavy guns more easily
maneuverable. Two divers swam each one down, and then walked it to its position. Once they were put into their final resting spot, they were attached to the bottom to help prevent them from moving in the event of a major storm. Stainless steel U-bolts were epoxied into the underside of each gun and an 18" lanyard of 1/2"
diameter polypropylene line was spliced into it. A loop spliced into the other end of the line was attached to a rebar hook that was driven into the
sea bottom (figure 2). The position of the guns was triangulated relative to the monument to create a plan of the new monument/replica cannon complex (figure 3). The entire process was videotaped and photographed.
The placement of these cannons was covered extensively in the press. Stories ran locally, regionally and nationally on television, newspapers and the internet.
Though the Henrietta Marie is one of our nation’s more remote historic sites, determined visitors are making their way there. The exhibition of materials recovered from the wreck is much more easily seen, and it dramatically conveys the story of the ship and her times, but a visit the site where she sat for nearly 300 years offers a profound experience of exceptional force. It is hoped that this project will serve to enhance that feeling, and contribute to an understanding in which visitors can easily see a direct connection to the past.
1997 Moore, David D.
Site Report: Historical and Archaeological Investigations of The Shipwreck Henrietta Marie. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, Key West.
archaeology for more information.