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 August 2013 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

News

“K” Line and Ports America Deal on Strategic Partnership

KAWASAKI KISEN KAISHA, LTD. (“K” Line) is pleased to announce that “K” Line and Ports America have agreed to form a strategic partnership aimed at enhancing

New Tolls Structure at Panama Canal

The Panama Canal Authority has advised that a new tolls structure will be introduced when the expanded Canal opens. The proposal the Authority plans to present

Children’s Day at Gazprom Transgaz Saratov

On May 31 and June 1, 2014 . Over two thousand children from the Saratov, Tambov and Penza Regions took part in sports competitions, environmental quizzes and

Marine Science

Jinhai Heavy Industry Secures Another Invention Patent

Jinhai Heavy Industry of China has received patent rights for its large ship superstructure hoisting method after a state intellectual property review. The patent rights is for twenty years.

Huge Waves Measured for First Time in Arctic Ocean

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has a season of increasingly open water which is predicted to extend

Search for Flight MH370: Update

Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) says that a bathymetric survey of the 60,000km2 search area is well underway, with two vessels, the Australian-contracted

Coast Guard

USCG Cutter Waesche Home from RIMPAC Exercises

The Coast Guard Cutter Waesche has returned to port at Coast Guard Base Honolulu, after spending three weeks at sea participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014 exercises,

US Coast Guard Travelling Inspectors' Centenary

July 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the traveling inspection staff, originally created under the Steamboat Inspection Service. These travelers are highly

Pumps Reach Sinking Shrimper Just in Time

A commercial fishing vessel from Brownsville is slowly making its way back to port, thanks to some quick actions by its crew and Coast Guard units, informs the US Coastguard,

Government Update

MNZ Opens New Office in Port Taranaki

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) informs that for the first time in 5 years it has a permanent presence in New Plymouth on the opening of a new office at Port Taranaki

US DOE Approves Oregon LNG Export Project

The U.S. Energy Department said on Thursday it has approved Oregon LNG to export liquefied natural gas, as the Obama administration works through applications to

UK Oil Imports Exceed Exports for First Time in 30 Years

Britain imported more oil products than it exported last year for the first time in 30 years, an official report shows, and analysts say the country is likely to

Surveyors

ABS President Wiernicki Signs New MARAD Agreement

The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) informs that it has entered into a new Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) establishing the policies and procedures regarding the

Rosneft Starts Up Field Work in the Kara Sea

On July 24 this year, research vessel Geolog Dmitry Nalivkin sailed from Kirkenes (Norway) to the Kara Sea. In the next three months 2D seismic survey, will

Ocean Observation

Rosneft to Carry Out Ecologic Fishery Research in Laptev Sea

For the first time in history of Arctic Rosneft will carry out integrated ecologic fishery research on three licensed sites (LS) of Laptev Sea: Anisinsko-Novosibirsky,

BMT Oceanica Wins Major Water Corporation Bid

Marine and coastal environment specialist, BMT Oceanica (BMT), a subsidiary of BMT Group Ltd, is delighted to announce that it has won the bid to provide Ocean

Huge Waves Measured for First Time in Arctic Ocean

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has a season of increasingly open water which is predicted to extend

Subsea Salvage

Family Finds Sunken Treasure Off Florida Coast

A Florida family scavenging for sunken treasure on a shipwreck has found the missing piece of a 300-year-old gold filigree necklace sacred to Spanish priests, officials said on Tuesday.

Canaveral Shipwreck Search Permit Granted to Seafarer's Quest

Research and recovery of historic shipwrecks experts Seafarer Exploration Corporation says that Seafarer's Quest, LLC has successfully been granted a three year

Search for Flight MH370: Update

Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) says that a bathymetric survey of the 60,000km2 search area is well underway, with two vessels, the Australian-contracted

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Maritime Standards Navigation Offshore Oil Pipelines Ship Electronics Ship Repair 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: 0.3474 sec (3 req/sec)