Navy launches 5th trip to find John Paul Jones' ship


By Earl Kelly - Home Town Annapolis

Four Naval Academy midshipmen and a professor, along with Navy scientists, are getting the chance of a lifetime as they head to the North Sea on Wednesday to search for the remains of Capt. John Paul Jones' ship, Bonhomme Richard. 

This search for one of the most famous ships of the American Revolution will combine oceanography, historical analysis and naval engineering, and will employ cutting-edge technology. A multibeam sonar, for example, will give researchers three-dimensional pictures of objects on the ocean floor, and a gradiometer, a mine-sweeping tool, can detect objects buried under sediment.

Midshipman 1st Class Jesse Marder, an aerospace engineering major from Silver Spring, said he is excited to be going on the mission because of Jones' historical significance. The chance to work with the technology is another draw.

"I'm not sure exactly what (duties) we'll be doing, but we are going to train in how to read the (sonar) screens, how to identify underwater objects, how to steer (unmanned) underwater vehicles without running them aground," said Marder, who hopes to be a submarine officer when he is commissioned.

If Marder and his colleagues on this two-week expedition find the remains of Jones' ship - which sank while taking the fight to Great Britain's shores 231 years ago - they will have solved one of history's great mysteries.

Jones, now commonly called the father of the U.S. Navy, was a master at sailing in directions no one expected, which saved him time and again from the British Navy. But his nautical skills have made it difficult for historians to determine where he went after the battle and where his wooden ship sank.

In the battle of Sept. 23, 1779, fought off the northeastern coast of England, Bonhomme Richard and the more heavily armed HMS Serapis pounded each other with cannons at point-blank range for about four hours.

This is the battle where Jones answered the British demand to surrender along the lines of, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

"Both ships looked like Swiss cheese," said Dr. Peter Guth, the Naval Academy oceanography professor leading the midshipmen on the expedition.

After the battle, the Bonhomme Richard, which had been a gift to the Continental Navy from France, limped along for 36 hours before it sank. By then, Jones was aboard the Serapis, which had surrendered to him.

"There is three-quarters of a day (following the 1779 battle) we don't know which direction they were sailing … or how fast they were going," Guth said.

The other mids joining Guth and Marder are Midshipmen 1st Class Mollee Strutt, 21, of Lake Arrowhead, Calif., Patrick McMann, 22, of New Albany, Ind., and Alexander Buck, of Lisle, Ill. Only Marder was available to be interviewed.

This will be the Navy's fifth attempt at finding Bonhomme Richard.

Guth said the ship is believed to be in an area of about 900 nautical square miles where the water is less than 200 feet deep.

Because the water is not terribly deep, he said, fishing nets likely have snagged parts of the hull and rigging during the past two centuries, scattering the pieces across the ocean floor.

The expedition, Guth said, "is the sum of all the things I teach."

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