French Fleet Media Day!

Dense fog, unusual for late summer, enveloped Ponce Inlet as we departed for French Fleet media day.

Dense fog, unusual for late summer, enveloped Ponce Inlet as we departed for French Fleet media day. Image courtesy of the Search for the Lost French Fleet of 1565 Expedition, NOAA-OER/St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum. Download high-resolution version (491 kb).

August 16, 2014

Shannon O’Neil
Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program

Very few things in life are worthy of a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call on an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning. Among the adventures on that short list, however, is the opportunity to share all of the hard work our archaeology team is doing on the Lost French Fleet Expedition.

And so it was that in the pre-dawn hours this very morning, a caravan of lighthouse staff and media folks slipped through the quiet streets of Daytona Beach to meet our seafaring chariot, the Sea Spirit, just north of Ponce Inlet.

It was no small task to coordinate the logistics of getting a six-person documentary film crew, TV reporter, newspaper reporter and camera man out to the remote location of the French Fleet expedition. But to tell the story of the search, we had to put the journalists right into the action. They had to experience the expedition in person to truly understand what an incredible collision of science, history, and determination it takes to find a 450-year-old shipwreck beneath the ocean’s surface.

Roper basks in the early morning sunlight, awaiting our arrival.

Roper basks in the early morning sunlight, awaiting our arrival. Click image for credit and larger view.

Our captain and crew aboard the Sea Spirit were wonderful hosts for our day-long excursion. As we motored out of Ponce Inlet, a dense fog was wrapped so tightly around us that we couldn’t even see our sister lighthouse watching over the harbor. We pressed on, escorted out of the inlet by a fleet of anxious sport fishermen ready to reel in the day’s catch.

As we traveled south toward the expedition site, the fog slowly lifted and before long, we could make out the bobbing silhouette of the faithful R/V Roper awaiting our arrival. The Roper's four-person crew (Chuck, Brendan, Olivia, and Starr) greeted our arrival in much the same way I think astronauts greet a new ship arriving at the space station—eager to see new faces and share their latest discoveries.

Over the next few hours, each of our media crews got to spend time with the archaeology team going through every facet of the search. From the survey work with the magnetometer, sidescan sonar, and subbottom profiler to the meticulous process of diving, probing, and dredging on the ocean floor, the media absorbed all aspects of the process.

Jessica Clark, reporting for Jacksonville’s First Coast News, interviews Assistant Conservator Andrew Thomson about the process of artifact conservation.

Jessica Clark, reporting for Jacksonville’s First Coast News, interviews Assistant Conservator Andrew Thomson about the process of artifact conservation. Click image for credit and larger view.

Andrew shared a few artifacts recovered by our archaeology team from a 1782 shipwreck off St. Augustine’s coast so that the journalists could get a feel for what happens once artifacts are located in the ocean and need to be cleaned and protected for future exhibitions. Though we have not recovered any French Fleet artifacts yet, our conservation staff is ready to help if needed!

Between interviews, we also had a chance to do a little deep-sea fishing. The Sea Spirit crew was kind enough to filet a few of the small sharks we caught so the Roper crew could have dinner after we departed.

It was bittersweet to say goodbye to the crew, but we passed on good luck wishes and positive vibes in the hopes that the last few days of the expedition would yield a new discovery!

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