Shipwreck exploration on St. Eustatius

Project type: Expedition
Dates: 27 July – 4 August, 2019
Project language: English
Minimum age: 18

About the project and the island

St. Eustatius, a tiny island in the northeastern Caribbean, was the busiest port in the Americas in the late eighteenth century and played an instrumental role in supplying arms and ammunition to the rebels during the Revolutionary War. The island is believed to have the densest concentration of archaeological sites of any area of comparable size in the New World, and is dotted with the remains of sugar plantations, cemeteries, old warehouses, fortifications, and marine structures. The waters surrounding the island are home to an estimated 200 shipwreck sites. In its heyday, over 3,000 ships a year dropped anchor on the island’s roadstead. Nowadays St. Eustatius is relatively quiet and undeveloped. It has a population of some 3,500 people. There are no large resorts, casinos, night clubs, or crowds of tourists. Instead, the island is a hidden gem with friendly people, little to no crime, beautiful national parks, and a laid-back atmosphere.

The leeward side of St. Eustatius, where most shipping activity took place in the colonial period, is a vast area that encompasses a relatively shallow submarine bank which extends for several kilometers offshore. This remote area contains many uncharted regions. Bathymetric data indicates there are several large reefs that have yet to be explored. Moreover, ancient lava flows that are now covered in corals and sponges are places where there is a high chance of finding shipwrecks and historic anchors. These lave flows, surrounded by a sandy bottom, were the places where anchors would get stuck and ships would founder or lose equipment. The aim of this project is to venture far out into the corners of the submarine bank to map, record, and explore undocumented reefs, historic anchorage areas, and possible shipwreck sites.

The Expedition

The expedition will comprise an 9-day program focused on the exploration of remote and undocumented archaeological and natural sites, for a total of 72 hours of fieldwork (including 9 dives), lab work, training, workshops, lectures, and tours. As this is an exploratory expedition, there will be a heavier focus on underwater photography and photogrammetry (3D modeling) than the field school held prior to this program. Participants can either sign up for both the field school and the expedition, or join just one of the two programs. The expedition includes the following components:

Underwater fieldwork

  • Surveying techniques
  • Underwater photography and videography
  • Photogrammetry and photomosaics
  • Site reporting
  • Recording cannons and anchors

Presentations

  • Maritime archaeology of St. Eustatius and the Lesser Antilles
  • Underwater documentation using the latest imaging technologies
  • Advanced underwater photography and videography
  • Photo and video editing
  • Documenting cannons and anchors in their context

In the lab

  • Processing of fieldwork data
  • Editing photos, videos, and 3D models

Tours and excursions

  • Archaeological island tour
  • Fun dive on the impressive Charles Brown wreck

Dissemination of results

  • Presentation of research results to the people of St. Eustatius
  • Making a short documentary-style video / making a journal article

Venue

Accommodation will be at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, a spacious building in a quiet part of town. It features two bedrooms (bunk beds) and adjacent bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, office and laboratory facilities, a living area, Wifi, weekly maid, washing machine, and a large porch. Here we will also be conducting our presentations and workshops.

Food

We believe that good food is key to a successful and productive project. Food and drinks will be provided for the duration of the project. We will ensure the fridge is always stocked with a variety of foods for breakfast and lunch. For dinner we like to mix things up: we will visit several different restaurants throughout the course, and might organize a barbeque or get take-out once in a while. Restaurants on Statia serve a variety of foods, including delicious local seafood and local meat, Western cuisine such as burgers, pasta, and pizza, and some of the best Chinese food in the Caribbean. Every restaurant we go to also has vegetarian options.

Requirements

  • Participants to the expedition are required to be certified scuba divers and hold at least a PADI Advanced Open Water certificate. Scuba diving courses can also be taken on the island prior to the start of the field school (not included in the price).
  • Participants are required to be certified to dive with enriched air (nitrox). A short half-day nitrox course can also be done during the expedition (not included in the price).
  • Participants are required to have dive insurance for the duration of the course. Our recommendation is DAN (Divers Alert Network) insurance.

Cost

The total course fee is USD 2,200. This includes:

  • 9 nights accommodation
  • Food and drinks based on three meals per day
  • Airport pick up and drop off
  • All transportation on island
  • All training, presentations, and workshops
  • All diving activities
  • Full dive equipment rental
  • All other activities, excursions, and park fees

How to apply

This expedition is limited to 8 participants. It is possible to apply for just this expedition, which constitutes a fantastic program on its own, but it is also a great follow-up to the field school which will be held right before. Our programs tend to fill up quickly so it is advised to apply as far in advance as possible. An application form can be downloaded here, and once filled out, emailed to info@theshipwrecksurvey.com. Once the application form is received, we will send you the payment instructions for a deposit to reserve your spot.

How to get here

Getting to St. Eustatius is easy. There are several direct flights into St. Maarten (airport code SXM) from US and European cities. From St. Maarten, take a short 18-minute flight to St. Eustatius (airport code EUX) with Winair (www.fly-winair.sx).

Partners

The field school is carried out in cooperation with the St. Eustatius Center For Archaeological Research (SECAR). Their staff will be involved in the workshops and presentations, and the SECAR headquarters will be our laboratory where we will be conserving and analyzing artifacts. See their website www.secar.org for more information.
Scubaqua Dive Center is our local partner when it comes to all diving activities. See their website www.scubaqua.com for more information.