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Chatham Anchor

Repost of Content Compiled by Underwater Admiralty Sciences:

Original Content Located Here: http://www.nwrain.com/~newtsuit/uas/vancouver.html

Chatham’s Anchor:

It is always a matter of chaos and immediate action when a vessel loses its anchor. It borders on catastrophic when the vessel is thousands of miles from its homeport and is carrying no spare. This unwelcome circumstance assailed the Chatham, one of the two vessels of the Vancouver expeditions in the cold and deep waters off the San Juan Islands. That anchor, lost two hundred and ten years ago, almost certainly lies now where it was lost. Additionally it is the only empirical proof of Vancouver’s exploration and British claims in the Northwest.

To explain the circumstances for the loss of the anchor we begin with the departure of the HMS Chatham in England…

As loved one’s waved goodbyes and government officials eagerly encouraged the departure to grab lands in the New World, the Chatham left England on April 1st, 1791, as the Armed Tender to the HMS Discovery, the flagship of Captain George Vancouver. Both vessels were bound for the Northwest coast of America. In April 17, 1792 they reached soundings off the Cape of Mendocino in Northern California. Traveling north they would venture in close (but not too close as too close was often an invitation to disaster) to shore to explore, sound, map and observe the local fauna and topography. At night they would stand out to sea for safety. Safety from the tides, reefs, rocks and unfriendly locals. On April 29th they entered the Straits of Juan de Fuca. A few days later, at the suggestion of Lt. William Broughton, commanding officer of the Chatham, they anchored in a very large bay. Calm waters and an abundance of fresh water and game beckoned them to the first anchorage for the expedition and was named Port Discovery after the expedition’s flagship. It was later changed to Discovery Bay.

According to logs, for the next two weeks, Vancouver used this calm bay as a base from which he and his men, in open boats, explored the upper waters of what is now Admiralty Inlet as well as the total waterway of Hood Canal.

On May 18th Vancouver personally explored the large hill on Protection Island, which sits astride of the opening to Discovery Bay. From the summit of Protection Island one could see many islands – the San Juan Islands – to the northeast. Vancouver directed Lieutenant William Broughton, the commanding officer of the Chatham, to explore those islands while he and the Discovery explored the waters to the south.

Broughton set out on that reconnaissance on May 18th, 1792. He returned to the Discovery anchorage between Blake and Bainbridge Island on May 25th, 1792Vancouver made in his journal one brief entry mentioning Broughton’s exploration:

“Mr. Broughton informed me, that the part of the coast he has been directed to explore, consisted of an archipelago of islands lying before an extensive arm of a sea stretching in a variety of branches between the N.W. north, and N.N.E.”

Vancouver’s sparse entry leads one to believe that Lt. Broughton had accomplished little during his week of exploration. Fortunately, however, Lt. Broughton’s hand-written report of his exploration of those islands, (known today as the San Juan’s) is preserve and now located in the British Nautical Museum. The report reveals that the men of the Chatham were far from idle.

The existence of Lt. Broughton’s manuscripts has long been known. It was one reprinted by the Washington Historical Quarterly under the title; “Broughton’s log of a Reconnaissance of the San Juan Islands 1792.”

The British Hydrographic Office – in England – archives materials from the Vancouver expedition. Of particular interest is a hand-drawn chart by Lt. Broughton with only two places named, “Birch bay” and another Bay.” The first glance at the chart is puzzling; its features look completely unfamiliar. But, when you lay the hand drawn chart next to a modern navigational chart of the American San Juan Islands the similarity is immediate. Only a handful of the rough charts of the Vancouver expedition have survived to the present day. It was argued that without a doubt, the chart of Lt. Broughton was the first chart of the San Juan Islands, however scholars since have noted that Francisco Eliza and crew, aboard the San Carlos, a Spanish Brig, did the “first chart” of the San Juan’s the year before in 1791. Juan Carrasco was the mapmaker.

With the chart, and in conjunction with Broughton’s written accounts, one can easily reconstruct the course of the Chatham as it maneuvered through the tricky and unknown current and waterways of the San Juan Islands. After leaving Discovery Bay, the Chatham sailed almost North across the Straits of Juan de Fuca. On that passage Broughton observed the opening between San Juan and Lopez Islands and set his course for the southern gateway into the islands. Sending a small boat ahead to sound the waters of that turbulent and threatening passage, Broughton proceed with caution through Cattle Pass and into the broad expanse of water between San Juan and Lopez Islands. Using a dash line to mark his progress (as on the original handwritten chart of Broughton) the Chatham passed through Cattle Pass at the lower left side. Late that day Broughton sailed the Chatham in the Upright Channel between Shaw and Lopez Islands, anchoring at night off of Lopez Island.

The next day Broughton sent out two long boats under the command of James Johnstone, master of the Chatham, to explore the northern area Johnstone charted what we now know today as Waldron, Skipjack, Spieden, Johns and South Pender Islands.

The next day the tireless Johnstone returned in the Chatham’s cutter to Cattle Pass to sketch the entrance through which the two vessels had passed between Lopez and San Juan islands. At the same time there was no wind, so Lt Broughton ordered that the two long boats tow the Chatham toward the opening between Orcas and Blakely Islands.

On the 21st the Chatham worked her way through Peavine Pass into Rosario Straits and on the following day Broughton sailed the Chatham across Rosario Straits to a protected cove.

All during this time the Chatham was among the islands, Lt. Broughton had been sending out exploring in all directions. By the 23rd of May 1792 he felt he had carried out his mission for on that date he sailed southward to rejoin Vancouver and continue the explorations of the water south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

After completing their explorations south making it as far as Commencement Bay in Tacoma, both ships headed north for the safety. The southern portion of Puget Sound was susceptible to SSE storms with abundance of severe currents and tides. It was during the northbound trip when the Chatham suffered the loss of her stream anchor.

The wind had failed and as the Chatham was crossing an unknown channel when, she was caught by the flood tide and swept helpless, to the northeastward. To slow her progress in the waters of unknown depth the stream anchor was dropped. When the vessel was brought to, the strain was too much and the cable parted. Moments later the Chatham let go of her bower and the vessel was stopped before potential disaster occurred.

This was a serious moment the potential for disaster was noted in the journal entry by Edward Bell, the young clerk of the Chatham:

“We found the tide here extremely rapid and endeavoring to get around a point to a bay in which the Discovery had anchor’d, we were swept to leeward of it with great impetuosity. We therefore let go the Stream anchor, but in bringing up, such was the force of the tide that we parted the cable. We immediately let go with the Bower with which we brought up. On trying the tide we found it to be running at a rate of 5 ½ miles an hour. At slack water we swept for the other anchor but could not get it, after several fruitless attempts to get it we were at last obliged to leave it and join the Discovery.”

And Archibald Menzies, the naturalist of the expedition, made the following journal entry:

” — the Discovery with the assistance of her boats was able to get into the East side of the opening near the entrance where she came to an anchor at 6:00 in the evening, while the Chatham was impelled by strong flood tides into an opening a little more to the eastward, in which situation as neither helm nor canvass has any power over her, all were alarmed for her safety and anxious to hear of her fate.”

On the following day Menzies journal stated:

“Next day a Boat came to us from the Chatham when we were informed that she was at an anchor in a critical situation at the entrance of an opening eastwards of us where they lost their stream anchor by the force and rapidity of the tide which ran at a rate of about five miles an hour and snapped the cable as they were bringing up, as often as the tide slackened they used their endeavors by every scheme they could think of to recover the lost anchor, but without success and the loss of it was more severely felt as is was the only one of the kind they has been supplied with.”

The ship carried other more laborious anchors but quite often the stream anchor was the anchor of choice after a long day in unknown waters – such luxury would be sorely missed.

It is regretful that better land references were not made of the lost anchor’s position but at the moment the critical nature and safety of the Chatham took priority. I am sure that none of the officers or crew would have ever imagined that 210 years later individuals would be reviewing their journals in an effort to locate the lost anchor.

The events and journals are the proof that Vancouver’s expedition vessel Chatham lost an anchor. Charts today can be examined and with relative ease the above information and actions can be tracked. The information recorded in the journals give us critical clues as to the location of the lost anchor.

Today technology, specifically a “Proton magnetometer”, can locate this anchor given the mass and the nature of the ferrous metal, in any bottom composition. Facts indicate – after trips to the site – that the bottom is rocky. More likely than not, the anchor became lodged in rocks and when tensions was taken up by the Chatham’s movement in the current the mass of the ship proved to be too much for the wedged anchor and cable to hold. The cable parted and the anchor remains on the bottom.

The renowned shipwreck archaeologist Jim Delgato estimates the anchor’s size somewhere between 6 to 9 feet in length – a square shank and weighing around 700 to 900 pounds. The fluke tip to tip is approximately 3 feet and the stock was made of English Oak, most likely, the marine wood boring organisms has consumed the stock.

For [218] years the only known artifact to have been left by Vancouver’s expedition is the lost Chatham Anchor. Its location and recovery will stir international interest and a legal battle over ownership. In the end, the Anchor will be preserved and be a modern reminder that we can capture moments from the past and allow them to be enjoyed by all.

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