Stonington — A Navy research boat and staff from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution accompanied local divers Charlie Buffum and Craig Harger of Colchester, this morning out to what they believe is the 201-year-old wreck of the Oliver Hazard Perry’s ship the Revenge, which they have discovered on Watch Hill Reef.
The Navy boat, led by Buffum’s boat, left the Wadawanuck Club dock in the borough at 8 a.m. on what is expected to be a two-day expedition to survey the wreck site using a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle from Woods Hole that is equipped with sonar, a magnetometer and a video camera.
Before the boat left this morning, George Schwarz, an underwater archeologist with the Naval History and Heritage Command, said the goal of the trip is to not only use the AUV to map the wreck site found by Buffum and Harger but possibly expand the site by locating nearby pieces of the ship.
He said divers would return at a later date to explore the site and then an archeological investigation would be done to determine if it is indeed the Revenge.
Once that is done, it would be deemed a protected U.S. Navy site and no artifacts could be removed from it.
While the wreck sits on the rocky reef, he said it is possible that the ballast could be pinning some of the hull to the bottom.
Schwarz said that as someone who studies early wooden shipbuilding and nautical archeology, the chance to explore a 201-year-old vessel is very interesting.
Buffum who owns Cottrell Brewing in Pawcatuck and Harger who lives in Colchester, have spent six years looking for and exploring the Revenge. They said they have been looking forward to the trip that could confirm their belief that the ship is the Revenge.
“It’s been a long time coming but it’s been a fun process,” said Buffum, about Monday’s trip which could confirm the ship’s identity.
“We hoped to do this in the warmer months but we’ll take what we can get. The people from Woods Hole said the robot doesn’t care how cold it is,” said Buffum whose brewery recently released Perry’s Revenge Ale, to celebrate the discovery.
Still, this morning’s calm, clear conditions offered excellent visibility for the group, especially since the wreck sits in just 10 feet of water.
“We’re just tour guides. We’ll show them where it is,” said Harger. “We have as much experience on that reef as anyone. We dive it so much.”
So far they have located six cannons as well as an anchor. Because the Revenge belongs to the Navy, the two men are not allowed to salvage any items from the wreck.
The Revenge was a 14-gun schooner that sank on the reefs off Watch Hill on Jan. 8, 1811, while surveying southern New England harbors, including New London.
Perry faced a court martial over the wreck but was eventually exonerated as blame fell on the ship’s pilot. Because of the incident, however, the formerly fast-rising captain could not get command of a ship battling the British along the Eastern seaboard. He had to settle for the less glamorous position of commanding a fleet of warships in the Great Lakes.
Under his command in 1813, that fleet defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie, a major naval confrontation during the War of 1812.
Aboard Perry’s ship, the USS Lawrence in Lake Erie, was a battle flag bearing the now-famous saying, “Don’t give up the ship.” The battle is seen as a turning point in the war and helped change the course of U.S. history.
In his post-battle report to his superiors, Perry wrote another saying that is now famous: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”