Scientists finally ready to right the Hunley

By Brian Hicks - The State

After sitting in the same spot for 10 years, the H.L. Hunley is finally ready to move.

Well, a few feet anyway.

This summer, the team at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will take the 19th century submarine out of the lift cradle that’s held it since 2000 and set it upright for the first time since 1864.

It sounds pretty simple, but it’s a significant step in the project — and an ordeal that has taken nearly as long as it took to recover the sub from the ocean floor.

“We’re almost done with the final plan,” said Mike Drews, who manages the lab for Clemson University. “We sent it out for review to the (Hunley) Commission and the Navy. They looked at the preliminary plans and found nothing I would call red flags.”

The rotation, as the scientists call it, will set into motion the final phase of the sub’s rehabilitation — and may answer lingering questions about its disappearance in the dark days of the Civil War. People have waited a long time for those answers, but the crew at the Lasch lab has moved cautiously because, well, they don’t want to drop it.

Since the sub was delivered to Warren Lasch in 2000, archaeologists and conservators have removed several pieces of the sub and emptied it of sediment, crew remains and other artifacts. That has potentially changed the strength of the sub and created new stress points. But computer models show that the plan to slowly inch the sub upright and to the floor of the tank it sits in will work flawlessly.

The planning for this has been more than simple engineering. Maria Jacobsen, senior archaeologist on the project, has been mapping the intricate pattern of sand, shells and sea life stuck to the sub’s hull — a chore that had to be finished before the sub could be moved.

Because the Hunley was taken from the spot where it sank in 1864, that concretion holds the only record of the sub’s 130-plus years on the ocean floor.

The concretion also serves as an extra level of strength and protection for the sub, so it’s to the scientists’ advantage to leave it on through the move. But once that’s finished, all the concretion — and evidence recorded in it — will be removed.

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