Through history, countless mariners and vessels have met their fate off the Outer Banks
of North Carolina, earning this part of the Atlantic Ocean the infamous reputation as
"Graveyard of the Atlantic." In these restless waters, fierce wind and waves have
arisen without warning to send the unfortunate to their doom. Perhaps the most
historically significant vessel to go down was the Civil War ironclad U.S.S. Monitor.
She was an unusual craft even by today's standards, and certainly unlike any of the
warships of her time. Designed for harbor blockade, she floated with only 13" of
hull above the waterline, protecting her crew and machinery below. Instead of
bristling with canons customary to broadside naval warfare, she was outfitted with
a revolving gun turret and two Dahlgren guns to engage the enemy.
Unfortunately, her curious design cinched her demise.
On New Year's Eve in 1862, less than a year after being launched, the Monitor was under tow in stormy weather behind the U.S.S. Rhode Island, bound for Beaufort, North Carolina. With her low profile and so little freeboard she stood no chance against gale force winds and pounding seas. She foundered and sank in the perilous darkness.
The Monitor now rests in our nation's first marine sanctuary. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1975 to protect and preserve the wreck of the U.S.S. Monitor, is under stewardship of the Marine Sanctuaries Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). On past missions to the wreck, her deteriorating condition has been meticulously documented and historical artifacts have been carefully recovered. On one mission, with Harbor Branch's own Tim Askew piloting the JOHNSON-SEA-LINK submersible, the Monitor's red distress lantern was brought back to the surface. It was probably the last sign of the Monitor visible above the waves on that fateful New Years Eve.
On this expedition, NOAA and the U.S. Navy will be shoring up the hull in an effort to prevent imminent collapse. Navy divers will remove lower hull plating and isolate the ships' engine in hopes of recovering it. Supported by Harbor Branch's R/V SEA DIVER, the Research Submersible CLELIA will undertake the photo and video documentation of the entire wreck site and the recovery of historical artifacts. CLELIA will shuttle NOAA and Navy mission personnel to the bottom, to observe first hand the efforts to reclaim a part of our past and ensure its place in history. The quest for knowledge, deep pride in our nations history, and the spirit of adventure drive us to brave the unpredictable seas and the uncertainty of success on the Monitor, 240 feet underwater in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic."
© 2000, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution