The Hamlet

Our dives today were focused on a shipwreck named Hamlet. The Norwegian oil tanker MV Hamlet was transporting a load of crude oil from Beaumont, Texas to Liverpool, UK in 1942 when it was struck by a torpedo from the German U-boat U-753 in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with the CP Baker, it's one of the historically-significant wrecks we're investigating - and another one associated with the oil and gas industry.

This photo is from a reconnaissance last year, when the
visibility was much better. Check out the corals on that gun!
The dive on the Hamlet did not go perfectly, I have to admit. For a start, the visibility was horrible. We had actually encountered the "murk layer," as Evan calls it, during our dive on the hard-bottom site earlier that morning. It was impossible to see anything unless it was directly in front of the vehicle. Just brown, turbid soup. 

We found the shipwreck thanks to the magic of sonar and approached it from the stern. Of course, we didn't know we were at the stern until we were right on the stern - thank the visibility for that. The vehicle ascended to the top deck and began to survey an impressively-sized gun. Archaeologists are always fascinated with guns on the top decks of ships. I was of course more focused on the coral living on the barrel, and I think I've actually identified it: Oculina tenella. Oculina is one of few reef-building corals that can survive with or without algal symbionts, and I strongly suspect the reason they're able to live down here in the mesophotic zone is because they're not beholden to the sunlight. I was pretty excited to see a true hard coral on one of our wrecks. 

We flew the ROV along the starboard side of the Hamlet, and I noted organisms as we went on our way. Wire corals and hydroids and those same black corals from the day before. One thing that there were a lot of - bearded fire worms (Hermodice carunculata). I honestly don't even know if I've ever seen two of them together, and there were a ton on the shipwreck. They like to eat branching corals, so maybe they were there to munch on Oculina. Seriously, there were so many fire worms. 

As we made our way along the starboard side, we eventually came to a break in the ship. The Hamlet was struck by a torpedo, remember, so it was split pretty much in half. The two pieces sank together, but there's a slight gap between them on the seafloor. As we transited into the gap, we noticed the ROV was having a hard time making headway. The pilot turned the vehicle around to investigate, and sure enough, the ROV's tether was caught on a piece of rusty metal. Hang-ups are every pilot's nightmare, but this one actually wasn't even that bad. It took about a half hour to resolve by driving the ROV forward and back, taking up slack from the tether on surface, and carefully maneuvering the ship. Actually, if the ROV had a manipulator arm, we could have resolved it in a few seconds by just gripping the tether and dislodging it from the wreck. As it was, the ROV team and captain did a great job coordinating. The team was all visibly relieved when the ROV was free, and we recovered it from the sea before anything else could go wrong. 

[By the way, if anyone's wondering about my rather blasé attitude toward a tangled ROV tether, I've seen two ROVs have complete catastrophic failures before, and I've even lost some equipment of my own. Things go wrong in ocean science - it happens.] 

It was a challenging dive on the Hamlet, but we collected very valuable data. I am grateful for another successful day at sea!