April 12, 2018
Looming out of the gloom in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, the tug New Hope appears as a long forgotten crumbling relic. With the bow riding proud and a towering smoke stack, the tug sits on the seafloor as if still making way to the next port. Humble, yet powerful, tugs provide aid to vessels in distress, tow barges to move commodities to markets, and assist ships entering and leaving ports. New Hope is a well-preserved example of this vessel class.
On September 29, 1965, New Hope encountered the strong winds and high seas of Tropical Storm Debbie off the Louisiana coast. With the crew having trouble pumping water out of the hull, the U.S. Coast Guard received a distress call around 1 AM and dispatched an aircraft to deploy a backup pump. Also on board the aircraft was the latest in Search and Rescue technology: a floating radio beacon for use with a radio direction finder. In use, the beacon is dropped close to the distressed vessel to mark its position and to act as a drifting reference.
The seven-member crew boarded a life raft and abandoned the foundering New Hope at 3 AM, just as the aircraft arrived to mark its position with the beacon. Staying on scene until daylight, the aircraft vectored a Coast Guard helicopter to the raft to conduct a safe rescue of the entire crew.
Today, for the first time, archaeologists and scientists explored the wreck, documenting many features common to mid-twentieth century tugs and inventorying the marine life now making a home on this unique “island” resting on the muddy and desolate seafloor. On the wooden deck are found numerous bollards, bits, and fairleads used for handling lines in the every-day process of moving and towing other vessels. The pilothouse, a distinctive feature on tugboats, has collapsed leaving portholes, searchlights, and even a sink scattered among the debris.
Farther aft, below the towering smoke stack, holes have opened in the rusting cabin structure to reveal interior rooms; the work spaces and living quarters of the crew. Finally, as befitting a tug, a large towline leads off the stern across the gloomy bottom, suggesting New Hope may still have a barge under tow. We did not follow the line but the scanning sonar did not detect any ghostly barge-shapes.
While conducting the first scientific survey of the tug, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) team surveyed the site in a specific pattern for photogrammetry (a technique used with photo and video to measure distances between objects, which allows researchers to create 3D models of a site from the collected images). The video was "photobombed" by a type of sea cucumber in the genus Enypniastes and nicknamed "headless chicken monster."
Text contributed by Frank Cantelas, NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and Maritime Heritage Program, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.