2000 Monitor Project

Divers getting ready to deploy from the R/V Cape Fear on the Monitor site.

The Monitor lies on the sandy ocean bottom sixteen miles off Cape Hatteras at a depth of 240 feet. The hull lies upside down on top of its displaced gun turret. Built by John Ericsson and launched in early 1862, the Monitor is most notable for its battle with the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) at Hampton Roads in April 1862. Monitor was rounding Cape Hatteras on December 31, 1862 in the tow of the USS Rhode Island when she sank in a storm in the early morning hours with a loss of sixteen crewman. Visit the Monitor web site for a closer look at this vessel’s colorful history.

John Broadwater and Frank Cantelas discuss the day's plan with the crew while on the way out to the Monitor.

Stabilization plans call for removing heavy elements of the ship, including the propeller and engine, to relieve the hull of weight where it is supported by the turret. The Navy recovered the propeller in 1998 and it is now undergoing conservation treatment at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia. This year the Navy will install grout-filled bags under the overhanging hull near the turret to support portions of the hull that continually hang lower and lower. Following this the Navy will attempt to remove the engine, an effort that may take more than one year to complete.

This year fieldwork will be completed in three phases. Phase I, completed on May 12, involved the combined efforts of the Monitor Sanctuary, ECU, Cambrian Foundation, NURC and UNC-W in an eighteen-day operation staged from Hatteras, NC. Goals for this phase included collecting information about site conditions and hull integrity needed for the Navy’s work this summer. Bottom elevations near the stern were needed to construct the engine recovery structure scheduled for deployment on site in June or July. Divers tested the hull above the engine room for soundness in case hull plates have to be removed to make the recovery. Finally, after removing large marine growth the engine was documented on digital video before any disturbance takes place.

Posing for a group shot are members of the Cambrian Foundation, Monitor National Sanctuary, ECU, NURC, and UNCW.

Captain Dan on the R/V Cape Fear

During spring and summer of 2000 the Maritime Studies Program is participating in the Monitor Project at the invitation of the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. This year’s work is part of a long-term preservation plan to survey the vessel’s condition, stabilize the hull and recover important artifacts. The other participants in this year’s ambitious schedule are the Cambrian Foundation, National Undersea Research Center (NURC), UNC-Wilmington, the Mariner's Museum , and the US Navy.

The Monitor site following the removal of the propeller in 1998.

Since its discovery in 1973 a significant portion of the hull has deteriorated and this rate has accelerated in recent years. As a result NOAA developed a long-range stabilization and recovery plan, which continues to be implemented this year. Much of the stabilization effort is concentrated in the stern as a result of how the Monitor came to rest on the bottom.

While sinking the Monitor turned over and the heavy gun turret broke loose falling the bottom before the rest of the ship. The hull, now upside down, came to rest on top of the turret. Today the turret rests under the engine room propping up the vessel’s port side as much as eight feet above the ocean floor. Except for the small area of hull directly above the turret the rest of the port side is unsupported and subject to collapse as structural elements of the hull slowly decay.

Grant Graves and Kyle Creamer set up oxygen fill station at the Hatteras Coast Guard Station.

Phase II will take place in June and July when the US Navy installs grout bags under the hull and begins engine recovery. Follow-up work and site documentation will take place in July and August when NOAA, NURC, Cambrian Foundation, UNC-W and ECU return to the site during Phase III.
This year team is operating from the UNC-W vessel R/V Cape Fear. Captain Dan and his mate J.D. have refined the complicated procedure for deploying and recovering Monitor divers to an art form. During Phase I weather and sea-state allowed us to spend seven out of eighteen days diving on the Monitor; a good average for spring on Cape Hatteras. Bottom team size ranged up to ten divers with bottom times of 20 to 25 minutes. Because of the great depth, 240 feet, all divers used tri-mix gases composed of oxygen (18%), helium (50%) and nitrogen (32%) and spent up to 90 minutes decompressing following a dive.

Watch for Project updates later in the summer and visit the Cambrian Foundation and Monitor National Marine Sanctuary web sites for more information on the Monitor and the 2000 Monitor Project.