Divers have always been drawn to the mysteries of the deep. But on at least one day a year, there’s even more to discover topside.
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras is gearing up to host the sixth annual Underwater Heritage Symposium to showcase a wide array of underwater and maritime experiences. The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will be held on April 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the museum. The speakers and topics are designed to be of interest to an audience that includes professional and recreational divers, underwater enthusiasts, maritime historians and anyone with even a passing interest in any of the above. The speakers select their topics based on what they’ve been doing throughout the year or over the course of a lifetime.
“The level of research they do is astounding. It’s top notch,” said Mary Ellen Riddle, who oversees educational programs at the museum. “They’re drawing on sometimes 40 or 50 years of experience.”
However, she added, “It’s important to know it’s not just for a professional audience.”
She said both layfolk and professionals can enjoy and follow the presentations.
Topics vary each year and can include dive safety, technology and various other subjects related to maritime culture. Speakers this year will discuss the forgotten wrecks off our coast, how a shipwreck is identified, the search for the blockade runner Sheridan, the expedition to the site of Bow Mariner, marine life on shipwrecks, U-boats off our coast and Truk Lagoon.
“We’ve been very fortunate that underwater archaeologists and professional divers are excited about it and willing to come far and wide to talk,” Riddle said, noting that this year’s lineup includes a first-time speaker at the event, one who has been at the podium since the inaugural symposium and others who have been on the program lineup at one time or another.
Marc Corbett has been presenting since day one. This year he’s sharing an update on his search for Sheridan. The blockade runner, which later became a blockader, ran aground on Bodie Island in 1866.
Corbett’s been looking to ID it for the past five or six years as part of his overarching interest in finding undiscovered near-shore wrecks along the Outer Banks.
“I’m looking for many, many more,” he said.
Sheridan, which was carrying very expensive cargo when it sank, is one of the more interesting ones, he said.
Jim Bunch, who has been involved with the museum for years, helped Riddle with the first year’s lineup.
Bunch, a diver and oceanographer who grew up in the Outer Banks and was diving on beach wrecks as a preteen in the 1950s, said they look for a good variety of topics — it doesn’t have to be dive-specific or a well-known wreck or site, just something that speaks to the maritime community.
He’s also part of this year’s speaker panel. His presentation will focus on U-85, the first U-boat to sink off our coast during World War I. Bunch, who has written multiple books on that war’s U-boat action off the coast and U-85 itself, remembers the first time he dove on it in the 1970s.
“At the time, nobody was really going out there,” he said.
So, he went out with a couple of other divers who knew where it was for that first fateful dive.
From then on, he said, “I was hooked on it.” The history drew him in, he said, and knowing it was “sunk right off my house here.”
He’ll share some of that history, as well as new pictures and information on U-85 at this year’s symposium.
“I felt I could put enough together to make a pretty interesting presentation,” Bunch said, adding it’s always an informative and interesting event. He noted the presenters’ enthusiasm, engagement and varied interests.
“It’s certainly worth the time and energy to go down there for the day,” he said.
Corbett agreed, saying he walks away each year learning something new during the symposium.
“It’s been really good,” he said, “and it keeps getting better.”
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located at 59200 Museum Drive in Hatteras. For more information on the 2019 Underwater Heritage Symposium, visit www.graveyardoftheatlantic.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The list of speakers and their topics follows below.
2019 Underwater Heritage Symposium Lineup
10: 05-10:45 a.m.: The Formation of a Graveyard: The Graveyard of the Atlantic and Its Forgotten Wrecks, Allyson Ropp
Allyson Ropp, an underwater archaeologist currently working at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum in Florida, will examine why the area off the Outer Banks has caused hundreds of ships to wreck, the natural and cultural impacts of these wrecks and the future of shipwrecks along the Outer Banks.
11-11:45 a.m.: U-boat War in North Carolina’s Coastal Waters 1942, Jim Bunch
Author and professional diver Jim Bunch is the leading authority on U-85 and has done more than 1,000 dives on the German submarine. He will share the story of the boats, ships and men who were caught up in the epic battle between 30 boats and the 80 ships they sank over six months in 1942. Bunch will be available to sign copies of his books including the latest: U-Boats off the Outer Banks, Shadows in the Moonlight, published by The History Press.
11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Truk Lagoon-Graveyard of the Pacific, Hal Good
On Feb. 17 and 18, 1944, the U.S. Navy conducted an air and sea attack known as Operation Hailstone on Truk Lagoon, then the location of Japan’s second largest Naval Base, destroying more than 40 ships and 250 planes. Today Truk Lagoon is a wreck diver’s Mecca. Longtime diver Hal Good will present information about the islands, the military operation and photographs both outside and inside several of the shipwrecks.
1:30- 2:15 p.m.: Beneath the Killing Sea – Life from Tragedy, Paul Hudy
Inspired by the 1979 Bill Lovin film about N.C. diving, Beneath the Killing Sea – Life from Tragedy, underwater photographer Paul Hudy will give an overview on how the ships who were the victims of storms, human tragedy and violence are now a foundation for the world-renowned variety of marine life found off the N.C. coast.
2:15-3 p.m.: Identifying A Shipwreck: Matching Wreck Observations and Historical Information to Solve the Mystery, Joyce Steinmetz
Nautical archaeologist and maritime historian Joyce Steinmetz shares her experience identifying four shipwrecks and the essential keys for a successful identification.
3:15 – 4 p.m.: The Search for Sheridan, Marc Corbett
Marc Corbett will update his search for Sheridan, a blockade runner that became a blockader before finally running aground on Bodie Island in 1866.
4:15 – 5 p.m.: Bow Mariner Expedition, Capt. JT Barker
Bow Mariner sank Feb. 28, 2004, after an explosion off the coast of Chincoteague, Virginia, with a crew of 27. Six survived, three bodies were recovered and 18 were missing. An expedition by a team of divers on April 17, 2004, to document the wreck, investigate and explore the wreck that rests at 260 feet followed. Licensed Captain and extreme diver JT Barker’s presentation includes details of diving this new wreck, the leadership, planning and how a team is picked for such a dive.