NOAA Finds Lost 19th Century U.S. Coast Survey Steamer

MarineLink.com
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
In 1852, W.A.K. Martin painted this picture of the Robert J. Walker. The painting, now at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va., is scheduled for restoration. (Credit: The Mariners' Museum)

More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, government and university maritime archaeologists have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA.

The Walker, while now largely forgotten, served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast ‒ including Mobile Bay and the Florida Keys ‒ in the decade before the Civil War. It also conducted early work plotting the movement of the Gulf Stream along the Atlantic Coast.

Twenty sailors died when the Walker sank in rough seas in the early morning hours of June 21, 1860, 10 miles off Absecon Inlet on the New Jersey coast. The crew had finished its latest surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and was sailing to New York when the Walker was hit by a commercial schooner off New Jersey. The side-wheel steamer, carrying 66 crewmembers, sank within 30 minutes. The sinking was the largest single loss of life in the history of the Coast Survey and its successor agency, NOAA.

“Before this identification was made, the wreck was just an anonymous symbol on navigation charts,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “Now, we can truly honor the 20 members of the crew and their final resting place. It will mark a profound sacrifice by the men who served during a remarkable time in our history.”

Built in 1847, the Walker was one of the U.S. government’s first iron-hulled steamers, and was intended for the U.S. Revenue Service, the predecessor of the United States Coast Guard. Instead, the Walker and some of its sister steamers were sent to the U.S. Coast Survey.

Admiral Robert J. Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, said that Walker represented the transition from sail to steam for government vessels, “reflecting the enduring need of the United States to harness the power of new technology to promote its maritime interests.”

“Coast Guardsmen are always saddened by the loss of life at sea and especially so when those lost were working to make the lives of other mariners safer by charting the waters of the United States,” Papp said.

The U.S. Coast Survey is NOAA’s oldest predecessor organization, established by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 to survey the coast and produce the nation’s nautical charts. In 1860, as the Civil War approached, the Coast Survey redoubled efforts to produce surveys of harbors strategically important to the war effort along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The New York Herald, in reporting the Walker’s loss on June 23, 1860, noted that a “heavy sea was running, and many of the men were doubtless washed off the spars and drowned from the mere exhaustion of holding on, while others were killed or stunned on rising to the surface by concussion with spars and other parts of the wreck.”

The Walker wreck site initially was discovered in the 1970s by a commercial fisherman. The wreck's identity has been a mystery despite being regularly explored by divers. Resting 85 feet underwater, the vessel’s identity was confirmed in June as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers; Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archaeology student at East Carolina University; and retired NOAA Corps Capt. Albert Theberge, chief of reference for the NOAA Central Library.

While in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys after Hurricane Sandy for navigation safety, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson sailed to the wreck site and deployed its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems. Hydrographers searched likely locations based on analysis of historical research by Vitad Pradith, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

A NOAA Maritime Heritage diving team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship, which was found still pointing toward the Absecon lighthouse, the final destination of a desperate crew on a sinking vessel.

“The identification of Walker is a result of excellent collaboration with the local community,” said James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “We look forward to working with our local partners to share Walker’s story with the public in a manner that both promotes educational dive tourism and protects this nationally significant wreck and gravesite.”

NOAA’s intent is not to make the wreck a sanctuary or limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand the wreck and the stories it can tell.

“We want to enhance the dive experience and support the dive industry with enhanced access to this wreck,” Delgado said. “New Jersey is home to some of the most accomplished wreck divers who not only understand history and wrecks, but who have also been in the forefront of wreck exploration. We look forward to working with them on the Walker.”

noaa.gov
 

  • Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

    Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

  • NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)

    NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)

  • After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)

    After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)

  • Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

    Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)

  • Observations from NOAA's Maritime Heritage program's diving team confirmed the identity of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)
  • NOAA is able to confirm the identity of the Walker using various criteria, including the ship's unique paddlewheel flanges. (Credit: NOAA)
  • After a ceremony last month on board NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, Ensign Eileen Pye lays a wreath over the waters where USCS Robert J. Walker sank. (Credit: NOAA)
  • Surveyers onboard NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson produced this multibeam sonar image of the Walker wreck. (Credit: NOAA)
Maritime Reporter November 2013 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

News

Libyan Rebel Refuses to Hand Over Oil Ports

A former Libyan rebel leader, who seized oil ports in the past to campaign for eastern autonomy, said he had turned down an offer to join an armed group challenging

Krishnapatnam Port Wins Seatrade CSR Award

Widely recognized for excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility, Krishnapatnam Port Company Limited was declared winner of 2014 Seatrade Maritime Awards in

Brazil Setting-up Solar Parks

Brazil finally entered the solar power sector on Friday, granting contracts for the construction of 31 solar parks as it tries to diversify its sources of generation

Marine Science

DNV GL bags Two Lloyd’s List Awards

DNV GL was recognized for its leadership and ability to innovate when it received both the “Classification Society” and the “Innovation Award” at the 2014 Lloyd’s

Royal IHC Bags Dredging Package Order

Royal IHC (IHC) has secured a new contract with the Chinese shipyard, Jin Hai Heavy Industrial Group, for the delivery of a dredging installation package for a trailing suction hopper dredger.

Study Shows Oceans Arrived Early to Earth

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life.

Coast Guard

Italy Ending Med Sea Rescues

Rights groups warn of risk of more deaths; EU mission Triton will have more limited scope. Italy said on Friday it would close a sea rescue mission that has saved the lives of more than 100,

Delta "T" Hooks for Offshore Customer

Gaining further ground into the offshore crane market, Delta "T" Systems supplied Cranston Eagle hooks to crane manufacturer Appleton Marine, Inc.   These cranes

Libyan Government: Ports, Oil Fields Safe

Libyan oil ports and fields are safe and under government control, the country's interior minister said on Friday after visting the eastern Brega port. "This

Government Update

Italy Ending Med Sea Rescues

Rights groups warn of risk of more deaths; EU mission Triton will have more limited scope. Italy said on Friday it would close a sea rescue mission that has saved the lives of more than 100,

MARAD Tests Alternative Power for Ships

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) is testing state-of-the-art, environmentally efficient technology onboard the Training Ship (TS) Kennedy.   The National Defense

St. Lawrence Seaway Workers Extend Strike Deadline

The union that represents workers on the St. Lawrence Seaway, the waterway that links the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, has extended a strike deadline to Monday at 5 p.

Surveyors

Braemar Hosts Insurance Experts

Braemar (incorporating The Salvage Association) welcomed an invited group of marine insurance professionals onto its specialist port and shipyard familiarization

DEA’s New 82-foot Survey Vessel Commissioned

David Evans and Associates, Inc.’s Marine Services Division commissioned its new 82-foot hydrographic survey and scientific vessel Blake in a ceremony held in the vessel’s homeport of Gulfport,

EnQuest Selects Technip for Mega Subsea Contract

Technip was awarded by EnQuest earlier this year a large(1) engineering, procurement, installation and construction (EPCI) contract for the Kraken development located in the North Sea,

Ocean Observation

Class NK Eyes Singapore Renewable Energy Facility

ClassNK has launched a feasibility study for a new marine renewable energy testing facility to be built in Singapore.   The announcement was made at the 2014

Study Shows Oceans Arrived Early to Earth

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life.

Transneft Cites Weather, Suspends Some Liftings

Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft has suspended oil loadings through all Russian ports except for Makhachkala due to bad weather conditions, RIA news agency said on Monday.

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Offshore Oil Pipelines Port Authority Salvage Ship Repair Ship Simulators Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2381 sec (4 req/sec)