Hunley on a slow roll

CSS Hunley

By Brian Hicks - Post and Courier

The H.L. Hunley was never a fast boat, but it probably never moved this slowly.

On Wednesday, engineers and scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center began rotating the Confederate submarine into an upright position -- 3 millimeters at a time.

The pace was plodding, the progress barely visible, but then speed wasn't the objective. The idea was to right the sub without putting any stress on its iron hull.

This was accomplished by slowly adjusting the 15 straps that cradle the Hunley, and keeping a laser sight running from stern to bow that would detect any twisting of the hull.

"We're just trying to be cautious," said Paul Mardikian, senior conservator on the Hunley project. "The movement was very smooth. The laser was perfectly aligned."

Barring any complications, the rotation should be finished sometime today.

This is a major step in the Hunley project, one last engineering puzzle before conservators put the sub through the restoration process.

The move attracted the attention of myriad people who have had a hand in the project, from State Archaeologist Jonathan Leader to former Friends of the Hunley Chairman Warren Lasch.

"This is the culmination of a lot of work by a whole lot of people," Lasch said.

The Hunley has rested on its starboard side since it was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean in 2000.

Archaeologists wanted the sub lifted in the position it was found to avoid moving artifacts inside the sub.

The Hunley has remained in that position ever since.

But now the entire hull needs to be exposed so that conservators can remove the crusted sand and shell that covers the hull in preparation for the Hunley's restoration.

For more than a year, engineers and scientists worked on the plan. Basically, the straps used to lift the sub were replaced, one at a time, with new slings with load cells and handy controls that allow for minute movement.

The idea is to lower the port side, allowing the port side to drop slowly until the sub is standing upright.

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H.L. Hunley Warren Lasch Conservation Center Mike Drews Clemson University