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Odyssey Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig
Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig
42 pdr cannon being raised
The 42-pdr bronze cannon recovered from the shipwreck site of HMS Victory being lifted from the water
The Odyssey crew brings the 42-pdr bronze cannon on deck of the Odyssey Explorer

Crew Talk - Recovering a 42-pounder Cannon

Hello fellow shipwreck enthusiasts. My name is Andrew Craig, Senior Project Manager aboard the 251-foot Odyssey Explorer, the research vessel which serves as Odyssey’s archaeological platform above shipwreck sites around the world.

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work on a number of exciting shipwreck projects, including the 1744 wreck site of HMS Victory located in the English Channel—the last Royal Navy warship to be lost at sea with a complete complement of bronze guns. Despite numerous search efforts for over two centuries, the Victory’s final resting place had remained an enigma…until its discovery by Odyssey in 2008.

The assortment of bronze cannon observed on the site, in fact played a major role in helping Odyssey confirm the identity of the shipwreck. In particular, recovering one of the 42-pounder guns bearing the royal crest of King George I was essential to our mission. However, retrieving a 250-year old, 4 ½-ton bronze cannon from the bottom of the ocean was no easy task and required quite a bit of ingenuity as well as some pretty nifty tools. Now, if you’re going to attempt this at home you’re going to need a few things: a big boat, a big ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), a large winch, strong ropes, a giant knitting needle, a paper napkin and a black felt tip pen.

As always aboard the Odyssey Explorer, ideas originate from a discussion around the mess table before, during and/or after meals. Tactics for recovering the cannon were no different. The stropping method, spreader bar, kneedle design and lift plan all germinated as indelible ink on a table napkin.

The plan for the cannon lift was to split the operation up into two sections: the first one to prep and rig the cannon and the second cannon to attach the lift line and recover it to the deck of the Odyssey Explorer. Before the dive, we tooled up the ROV ZEUS like a Swiss army knife. The spreader bar, kneedle and strops were all attached and ZEUS was flown to the bottom of the ocean to seek out and prep the chosen cannon. Upon locating the giant gun, we set about the task of clearing two small crevasses in the sand under the cannon where we would place the strops to spread the load during the lift. The kneedle was pushed through the hole we dug until it protruded out the other side and we were able to thread the strop through it. We then pulled the kneedle back through the hole and the strop was now around the cannon. The task was repeated again for the other lift line. The strops were then attached to the spreader bar and the whole rig was laid out on the seabed ready for the lift. In the meantime, ZEUS was then recovered to the surface deck to wait…

We had originally intended to wait until the currents were not quite as strong before attempting the lift, but with the wind barely blowing and the seas very calm, I decided that we’d have to take a chance on the underwater conditions for fear of missing our window of opportunity. So off we went again with ZEUS, this time equipped with a lift line attached directly to the tugging winch onboard the vessel. Much to our dismay, the current was now ripping and the visibility was horrible. After struggling to get to the seabed, we managed to maneuver ZEUS to the site and attached the line to the rig on the cannon readied for recovery. The cannon was then lifted off the seabed by the winch while ZEUS was parked a safe distance away. Once we knew the cannon was suspended off the ocean bottom, ZEUS’s work was done and the ROV was recovered back to the Odyssey Explorer.

Thus began the painstaking task of recovering the cannon to the ship. As it was slowly lifted closer to the surface, I was able to get a glimpse of it and began to appreciate the sheer size of this monster gun, over 11 feet long. I then started to get very nervous. If things were going to go wrong at this time they would go spectacularly wrong. If a line broke at this point with someone in the wrong place, it would probably cut them in two. Once everyone was moved to a safer location, the final part of the lift commenced. We had to get the cannon from the water onto the deck without permitting the 4-ton mass of bronze to put an enormous hole in the ship, or better yet, in one of us, or in the artifact itself. We waited until the set of waves passed by and the ship was relatively steady in the water. Lines were fitted to either end of the gun, and for the final few feet we had winch driver, line handlers, A-frame operators and deck hands all working in unison to gently place one of the rarest, heaviest and most historically significant cannons ever made onto the deck of the Odyssey Explorer.

The lifting of the 42-pounder cannon was a watershed moment onboard the Odyssey Explorer. I’d like to say that the whole experience was just another day at the office but I’d be lying. An awful lot of people were relying on this diagnostic artifact to serve as a definitive clue in identifying the shipwreck site.

Following the stress and exhilaration of recovering the cannon, our adrenaline rush finally came to a quiet lull, and the Odyssey crew at last had the chance to soak in the historical significance and irrefutable evidence sitting on the deck of our ship. We had indeed found the long lost wreck of HMS Victory and in the process had solved one of Great Britain’s most compelling maritime mysteries.

Click here to learn more about Andrew Craig

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