Sites Midway Atoll
Posted by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Maritime Archaeology and
History Team Leader
Photos by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg
to the several phases of Midway's historical past, this
atoll is "target-rich" in terms of submerged cultural
resources. The historic anchorage of Wells Harbor contains
the remains of vessels such as the General Seigel
and the Wandering Minstrel. Unexploded ordnance line
the northern Atoll region, along with the remains of "reef
hotel." In the main south channel lie the wrecks of
the submarine rescue vessel USS Macaw, at Sand Island,
Midway's main island. These are some of the more well known
wrecks. We focused on ordnance, the Macaw, and the
Carrollton during our brief stay at Midway.
Macaw (ASR-11) grounded in 1944 during the rescue
of the USS Flier. On February 13th, during heavy
weather, the ship began to capsize on the reef. The captain
and crew abandoned ship in the middle of the night in 30-foot
seas; five died. The vessel was a total loss, and the decision
was later made to blast apart the superstructure in order
to clear the channel. Seventy-four meters of twisted wreckage
now lies along the bottom, though the bow in shallower water
is relatively intact. How to document such a huge site quickly?
We shot video from above and take measurements on the bottom;
images printed from these data will create a color wreck
jigsaw puzzle. Numerous fish and invertebrates find shelter
all over the site.
Carrollton sunk in 1906 while carrying coal from
Australia to San Francisco. Typical of wooden ship wreck
sites, all exposed hull and superstructure have vanished.
But the heavier elements (anchor, chain, stanchions, fasteners,
deck machinery, donkey boiler, lead scuppers, pintles and
gudgeons etc.) remain scattered in an area near the reef.
The closer we look into the holes and crevices, the more
artifacts we find. Photo documentation along with survey
tapes and slates give us a rough plan of this site in reasonably
short time. Again, the confused path of the anchor chain
on the bottom adds to the story of the wreck. The chain
locker, its wooden sides long gone, is now a fused mass
of iron almost indistinguishable from reef. The windlass
has grown corals. The ship remains will ultimately be "recycled"
as reef substrate in this fashion.
note: coal is scattered along the reef, and appears all
over nearby Spit island as well. The ship delivered its
cargo, but to the wrong destination.