The Search For Columbus' Santa Maria Off Haiti
We returned from Cap Haitian, Haiti today 35 years ago from a diving expedition to find what was thought to be Christopher Columbus' vessel the
Santa Maria entombed beneath a finger coral mound on the barrier reef five miles offshore from Le Cap. The location was uncertain from what
records existed for many reasons. Many efforts had been expended over the years including extensive towed magnatometer surveys.
Trouble is this is a wreck rich environment, I recall a large sunken steel vessel near the mouth of the harbor and lots of wrecks from almost
five centuries salted over the barrier reef in the area.
A depiction of the grounding of the Santa Maria. The vessel was later salvaged with components used to construct Navidad.
Columbus' own sketch of the location of Navidad or the temporary fortification constructed within a reported lombard cannon shot from the
wreck of the Santa Maria. Part of the trouble is Haiti has been an tectonically active area for a very long time. There have been major sea level
changes related to tectonics altering coastal contours in 500 years. I recall Le Cap suffered one major rock slide covering most of
the town and another partial one triggered through earthquakes a couple of centuries back.
We were working on the barrier reef outside the harbor east of Pointe Picolet. I was impressed with the major winds that came
in sideshore from the east each afternoon. We almost struck the reef in roiling waves awash over a poor passage through the reef.
We were heading back to harbor and the strong winds and subsequent waves pretty much came out of nowhere. Little did I realize
what a boon these thermal winds would be for some next door in Cabarete, DR in windsurfing in a decade or so and almost
twenty-five years later in kitesurfing.
I am extracting the core barrel to then run it over to the support boat where it can be opened and the contents inspected and classified.
Had more hair in those days, thinner too! You can see the diver operated hydraulic core head on the bottom to the right and the dreaded
"monkey-on-a-stick" hand hammer on the left. Lots of memories of driving rebar stakes into the bottom with the 35 pound hand hammer is all seas
and conditions on a few projects. It is sort of a consensual torture device. Papa Doc would have loved it.
We were preforming diver rock cores of the Porities mound with a hydraulic core drill to see if we could recover indications of the wreck.
The water was as shallow as two feet on top of the mound, perhaps six feet or so on the periphery where we anchored off. So all the work
was done with free diving gear, pipe wrenches, NX core barrels and AW rod. I brought a Nikonos II along with a Subsea 150 strobe, I think
the camera flooded on this trip through internal o-rings, a sad thing.
I was able to capture quite a few intriguing images of the island in Kodachrome 64 slide format using the Nikonos. I liked the surface
images it shot as well.
Greg brought a Bolex "Wrecking Ball" hand crank UW 16 mm movie housing. Although built like a tank with a cam locked gasket seal
it shot nice movie quality, I liked it. No worries about batteries either, just crank that puppy up and shoot away.
I recall a variety of Rebikoff UW gear was brought along including his housed 16 mm housed cine camera with the Ivanoff-Rebikoff
correction underwater lens. I think Greg McIntosh, Bill Raymond and Capt. George Doyle may have even brought a Rebikoff remora
surface power supply DPV along. They had bought a bunch of Rebikoff gear in a storage sale of assets formerly owned by Real Eight,
the treasure salvage company run by Kip Wagner. They got three remoras DPV units and a ton of cameras in various states of functioning.
The remora wasn't used while I was down given that we were pretty focused on drilling the coral mound at that point. The Santa Maria
Foundation had been blasting, air lifting and otherwise disturbing this mound off Haiti for some years previously on the quest to find
the remains of the wreck.
More at http://www.rebikoff.org/
A bunch of Rebikoff gear in signature cylindrical aluminum housings. Dimitri Rebikoff, a Ft. Lauderdale resident for a time, was a
unique character and leader in his own way in the development of underwater technology.
A great deal went on, we didn't find the Santa Maria, I think, but did find a good deal of adventure and brought home a lot of great
stories. Just a few show up here.
I would pop the roughly 90 lb. ten foot core barrel on my shoulder and run down off the coral mound into deeper water and up
to our support boat holding my breath. It was a nice cardio workout and before we worried about such things by name anyway.
I would plant one end in the bottom and heave it up the side of the boat as hard as I could. Hopefully someone grabbed, otherwise it
would fall down, dragging me to the bottom, doh! Primitive but it worked, most of the time.
Gene Shinn a famous coral reef geologist using a slightly larger hydraulic diver core drill several years later off Florida.
Bebe Doc with Papa Doc Duvalier on display. Papa Doc encouraged belief that he was the key voodoo loa, Baron Samedi to help repress
his people emotionally. The Baron was master of the dead and giver of life through resurrection. Oh, he was also the loa of sex,
busy guy and not real nice. The trend seemed to run in the family
Bebe Doc Duvalier still held sway then with the Tonton Macoutes, militia aka secret police from his daddy's time, on the prowl. The lady
shown above was Papa Docs right hand person and was the warden of the reported "death dungeon."
The ruins of the Sans Souci palace
Haiti was an even poorer place than today, armed conflict with the DR was still an issue, excavated Napoleonic artifacts could still be
found in the street and a good deal more. Napoleon suffered his first defeat on Haiti, prior to Waterloo as I understand it, during the slave
revolt there lead in part by King Christophe. Christophe set up a feudal hierarchy on the island and constructed the now ruined palace
Sans Souci and impressive mountain fortification, Citadelle Laferrière above Cap Haitian.
I rode a moped halfway up to the Citadelle on
my half day off from the drilling project until I ran out of gas, broke my sandel and realized I had left my cash in the hotel?!
We all had traveler's diarrhea (King Christophe's Revenge), with attendant sleep loss, diahydration and related malaise by this point.
So, our brains weren't really working 100 % either. Kids, anyway, I had enough Haitian coins to buy a couple of coke bottles of gas
to be able to ride back to town.
At the time of my visits to the island in 1975 and 1976, the going wage for labor was $0.10 per hour and $10.00 could hire an army.
It was a poor, oppressed time on the island for many, sadly like so much of the last few centuries. The desperate escape of so many
Haitians to the Bahamas and USA by fragile wooden sailboats was just about to start.
This was shot in Hallandale, FL in 2007, the boat lift is still going on even today.
Our group was stranded on the island for an additional four days as 9 of 11 Mackey Airlines propeller aircraft were disabled with mechanical
problems. We didn't know that for almost four days either, neither did their office in Le Cap. We found out through a friend's high seas
radio on a freighter in the harbor. It was an exciting, interesting time.
Just came across an article from the Palm Beach Daily News, August 4, 1977 about the expedition. I headed down with Ocean Research & Survey.
I have a ton of slides and stories from the expedition. I should put a narrative of the trip together. There was a lot more to the trip than this.
Last edited by RickI; 09-22-2012 at 09:35 PM.
Thanks, I may do just that!
Cap Haitian - what a place
Rick that is just incredible!
My trip to Cap Haitian in 2009 inspired my social business working with Haitian immigrants in Cabarete.
What a place..... and if you want to check out Cap Haitian I have a gallery on my Facebook here is the link
Tell us more Rick!
I didn't know that you were doing that, well done Laurel! It is a good thing you are doing with www.kiters4communities.org .
I was struck by how little was thrown away when I was there. Everything was reutilized over and over again. Your concept for recycling kites into sewn goods fits right in.
I am impressed by how at least the quality of the clothing has improved substantially since I was there. Pretty much everyone was in homespun at that time, I see no longer fortunately. I have added a few more photos and background to the account above.
Nice shots in your gallery Laurel (see above). I could have spent a year shooting the place. Things were so harsh and dire in Cap Haitian and the countryside so wild to look at.