The Challenges: Under, Above – and Beyond.
Like the many obstacles faced by the men who designed, powered and died for the Hunley - the recovery team faced insurmountable challenges. While, fortunately they did not involve the ultimate sacrifice, the challenges faced during a Recovery project do present many dangers which may affect the integrity of the submarine, and the safety of the people involved.
The Recovery of the Past. For the Good of our Future.
Besides the conventional worries regarding weather, tides and unforeseen accidents, this type of recovery is something very new. Similar recoveries have been made, but none quite as challenging as the raising of the Hunley and her crew. For this reason - the raising of the Hunley and the Warren Lasch Conservation Center were both planned and designed with total FLEXIBILITY in mind.
Many questions must be asked before any action takes place and plans may change at any given moment during this challenge of historical proportions. As a part of our team, you will not only witness the first recovery and conservation of its kind in the world, but you will learn how this process will help our world in future applications. This is an adventure that will help us learn about history - and our future.
Successful recovery depends upon a realistic evaluation of the residual strength of the submarine's hull. The hull consists of a collection of disparate parts of unknown origin and properties. The parts, which are riveted together, may no longer by structurally connected. For example, the rivets, being made of either cast or wrought iron, may be weaker than the metal plates they hold together. A test proved that the metals were indeed sound enough to bring to the surface. But only as long as the submarine's structure was carefully cradled as it ascended to the surface - as shown in the actual RECOVERY PAGE.
Plunderers and souvenir hunters are very prolific. Even if an on-site monument was made in honor of the submarine, there are no guarantees that people would not make off with pieces of the vessel and anything preserved inside.
Visibility, Currents & Diving Encounters
Site documentation was difficult due to extremely low visibility of a foot or two. In addition to near-zero visibility and strong currents, divers also encountered a thick slurry of stinging jellyfish. Most divers wore ice-diving masks, which reduced exposed skin on the face to only the diver's lips. Even so, jellyfish tentacles would wrap around a diver's regulator and severely sting their lips. Later the divers switched to what is called an "Ultralite" helmet, which actually weighs 32 pounds and covers the entire head. The diver breathes from the air fed from "lifelines" fed to the helmet from the surface. The helmets also provide the divers with the ability to communicate to the topside crew.
The Unknown Structures of the Submarine
Already we are finding new things about the submarine that have not been revealed in any historical documents. The way the boiler plates "butt" together; the length of the spar and other discoveries had a major bearing on the way we raised the 14-ton Hunley to the surface.
Keeping The Sub In The Same Position
To ensure the integrity of the Hunley, inside and out, it is imperative that the sub is lifted so that it stay tilted in the same position that it has remained (impacted in the sediment) since sinking in 1864. Full of sediment, the Hunley laid at a 45 degree angle on its starboard side. If the sub were to tilt even 1 degree, her rivets could break and even the remains of the crew inside could easily be unsettled.
The Worry of Weather
Since 1871, approximately 45 tropical storms and hurricanes have affected the South Carolina coast (Department of the Army 1990). The most recent, Hurricane Hugo, made landfall just north of Charleston Harbor on September 22, 1989. If, during the recovery effort, a hurricane were to hit, the potential damage would certainly be substantial to the equipment - and depending upon the stage of recovery - damage could be incurred upon the Hunley as well.
There are no predominant wind direction approaches, but seasonal trends are apparent along the coast. South and southwest winds prevail during the spring and summer, and northerly winds are most common during fall and winter.
Finding The Hunley
Obstacles to Recovery
A Plan Evolves