July 27, 2004
Bradley Stevens, a diver from NOAA Fisheries' Kodiak, Alaska laboratory, led the team of volunteers who first discovered the wreck, but the remains of the wooden ship and pieces of the structure they found could not confirm the origins or name of the ship. Stevens subsequently conducted an extensive search of records, charts and maps trying to determine the identity of this wreck, to no avail.
An East Carolina University-led dive team from this current mission solved the mystery on July 15 when they recovered a brass object believed to be the hub of the ship's wheel with the ship's name clearly inscribed in Russian.
"It is extraordinary for underwater archaeologists to identify a 144-year old shipwreck this quickly," said Timothy Runyan, director of the Maritime Studies Program at East Carolina University and co-principle investigator on the mission.
The cold Alaskan water has helped preserve a good portion of the ship and researchers believe there may be other significant well preserved historic shipwrecks among the estimated several thousand that lie in Alaskan waters. This is the first professionally conducted maritime archaeological project in Alaskan waters and is also supported by NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program in Newport News, Va., the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, and several volunteers.
The 132-foot bark built in Lubeck, Germany, in 1851 departed Kodiak headed for San Francisco carrying 350 tons of ice when she struck an uncharted rock and quickly filed with water. Captain Illarion Archimandritof ordered the crew into the boats, saving all hands. The ice kept the vessel afloat for three days but attempts to tow the ship toward shore using rowboats failed and the Kad'yak drifted about six miles before settling to the bottom at Monk's Lagoon on Spruce Island.
The town of Kodiak was a center for the trading activities of the Russian-American Company operating under a charter from the Russian czar. Kad'yak is the only Russian-American Company ship ever discovered and will provide new information on the period of Russian control of Alaska prior to its purchase by the United States in 1867.
The shipwreck figures prominently in the history of Native Alaskans and is part of the oral tradition of the villagers of Ouzinkie. Russian Orthodox missionaries converted most of the local people, the most prominent missionary being Father Herman who established a chapel and orphanage on Spruce Island. Father Herman died in 1836 and was later canonized as St. Herman.
Before sailing on that fateful voyage, Captain Archimandritof promised to pay homage to Father Herman at his chapel, but he did not. Local tradition suggests that it was divine retribution when the Kad'yak hit an uncharted submerged rock and then drifted to Spruce Island before sinking to the bottom immediately before Father's Herman's shore-side chapel. The top of the mainmast and a yardarm stood above the surface forming a cross, the natives taking this as an admonition to the captain for his failure to hold the promised service before sailing.
A permit to investigate the site was issued to East Carolina University by the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, Department of Natural Resources. The state claimed the wreck because it lies within three miles of shore and the state historic preservation officer has declared the Kad'yak eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
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