Exploring the Helen B
By Elizabeth Bush - Daniel Island News
You can only see it at low tide. And even then, the 200 year-old timbers poke ever so slightly above the pluff mud, a nurturing, oxygen-free blanket that protects in near perfect preservation what’s left of the vessel below the surface.
"You have to use a little imagination,” said certified sport diver Douglas Boehme, a Summerville resident who discovered the site some 15 years ago.
The football-shaped impression, a little more than 60 feet long, sits just off the Daniel Island shoreline north of I-526 near Governor’s Park, and has been the subject of much curiosity among those who have spotted it.
Is this mysterious structure, which consists only of the lower third of a boat, the shipwreck of a Jeffersonian-era gunboat ?
That is one possibility, according to Boehme, who named the site “The Helen B” after his daughter.
Boehme discussed the wreck while serving as guest speaker at the March meeting of the Daniel Island Historical Society.
When coming over I-526 at a time when you know it’s going to be a really low tide, if it’s visible it should be readily apparent,” he said, while showing his audience photos he and his diving partner, George Pledger, took of the site.
You’ll see that football shape. It’s hard to miss. It’s a really cool wreck.
The day after discovering the site, Boehme notified the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) to officially register his find. Working with the SCIAA and another archaeologist, Boehme and Pledger would later begin their own volunteer investigative project to help uncover more information about the vessel.
A small dredging effort conducted at the site revealed pieces of ceramics, “200 year-old corncobs,” broken glassware, and evidence the heavy-timbered boat may have been burned, said Boehme.
Whether it was a vessel that burned, or whether it was a vessel that was abandoned and they burned it to clear for navigation, we don’t know, and probably will never know,” he added.
The best guess Boehme has at this point as to the origin of the boat is that it may have been built at the former Fairbanks Plantation on Daniel Island.
The 18th century plantation was owned by Paul Pritchard, an acclaimed boat builder who is credited with crafting Jeffersonian Gunboat No. 9 on Daniel Island in 1805.
He also operated a larger shipyard on nearby Hobcaw Creek, where he constructed other vessels for the U.S. Navy.