National Parks work with local divers to preserve 300 years of heritage

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Front– Tank Bay discovery of sunken three-hundred-year old vessel
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By Samantha Simon

[email protected]

In October of 2022, members of the University of Antilles, the Eastern Carolina University and the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks undertook the excavation of a massive sunken vessel that had been uncovered in 2013 during a sonar survey of the bays surrounding English Harbour.

At the time, they suspected that it belonged to one of two recorded wrecks, but after some investigation, a name was put to the wooden beauty beneath the seas. The Lyon, a French 40-gun vessel built in 1762, formerly belonging to the East India Trading Company.

This information was confirmed after testing of the wood and ballast found on the vessel were done by an independent lab in Switzerland.

The tests confirmed the wood to be French oak, and the washed cobbles, whilst inconclusive due to fire damage, are suspected to be granite.

Further measurements were taken, proving the vessel to be 47.5 metres from stern to bow, matching with details taken from a model made of the Lyon before it had been built.

The vessel was discovered during a check of the Tank Bay area, and scans are being done by members of a team from Eastern Carolina University, as well as local divers who are being trained in underwater mapping.

Based on historical records, this vessel came to rest in the Tank Bay area of Galleon Beach after it was captured by the British Navy returning from a blockade run to the United States during the war at the time.

After the bankruptcy of the East India Trading Company, the vessel was bought by a French Royalist who supported the American Revolution, and who converted the cargo vessel into a blockade runner.

They successfully delivered wool uniforms and cordage to the American Revolution, despite the French, at the time, outlawing support being given to the American effort against the British.

Upon arriving in the United States, many of the sailors deserted, but they continued on their mission, reloading with 1451 hogsheads of tobacco, each weighing approximately 1,000 lbs.

They attempted to return to Europe.

Unfortunately, due to being so heavily loaded, they were intercepted by the HMS Maidstone, and sustained extensive damage.

The Lyon was robbed of its cargo, which was auctioned for over £44,000 in the United Kingdom, where the Revolution had caused significant tobacco shortages.

At the time, Antigua was the only safe repair station of the British Navy, and so the two vessels came to rest in English Harbour. While the HMS Maidstone was repaired, due to what is believed to have been a shortage of materials, the Lyon was abandoned in Tank Bay.

Due to the vessel’s centuries-long rest beneath the salty waves of Tank Bay, it cannot be brought to the surface without significant care, as the salt crystals have made it brittle, and it could fall apart once it comes into contact with dry land.

Today, members of the Antigua and Barbuda National Parks, alongside a team from the Eastern Carolina University and local divers who are being trained in underwater mapping, have begun to do extensive recordings of the remains of this underwater piece of history.

Local divers can get involved by reaching out to the National Parks if they are interested in taking part in future mapping dives.

They will receive training to assist in these underwater explorative mapping missions.

Those who wish to learn more about underwater sites they may have discovered on their own, may do so by calling 481-5021 and asking for Dr Christopher Waters or Ms Desley Gardner.

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