Don's Diary

September 7, 2001


The survey crew assembles on the dive boat and makes the long ocean run from Florida to Haiti. The time is spent poring over old charts and accounts of the wreck.

As we enter the Gulf of Gonave, the magnetometer is readied and lowered into the water. The torpedo-shaped "fish" (actually a sensor) is slowly towed behind the boat in a series of overlapping straight runs that allow us carefully to survey every square metre of this shallow patch of ocean.

This tedious but necessary effort is rewarded by a series of peaks and dips on the strip chart, and when diver Mike Fletcher hits the water, he spots broken, coral-encrusted pieces of wood, brass spikes and metal sheathing.

It is a wreck, all right. But is it Mary Celeste ?

Early May

Back in Canada, the team unpacks the crate of samples we collected from a small test unit placed in the centre of the wreck mound. By collecting from this one, tightly defined area, we hope "surgically" to assess the wreck.

Coral-crusted wood and two ballast stones are carefully sectioned by saw and sent for analysis by other scientists. I end up with the crusty metal bits for my laboratory. Back into the freshwater tank they go, to be treated to remove all the salt.

Late June

Wood scientist David Etheridge's report arrives. Microscopic analysis of the deteriorated wood has yielded oak, pine, and - the clincher - yellow birch, the timber most commonly used by Nova Scotia shipbuilders, and hence the wood of choice when Mary Celeste first hit the waves as the brigantine Amazon in that eastern Canadian province in 1861.

The other American woods appear to come from 1868 and 1872 rebuildings in New York.

The ballast stones, the geologist says, appear to be from a formation of volcanic rock very similar to a prominent mass of stone near the Palisades in New York. This fits, since many of her journeys, including that final ill-fated voyage of 1872, were made from that port.


The laboratory analysis of the metal is ready to begin now that the salt is gone. Yellow metal, a brass composition used to sheath ships in the last quarter of the 19th century, is what the examination yields. That is nice, particularly since Mary Celeste 's last survey report shows her hull sheathed in exactly this material.

Another amazing fact - the metal is stressed from burning - and cleaning away coral reveals flecks of charcoal. I call a historian who has painstakingly worked on the ship's history. Was she burned after wrecking on that reef in Haiti? Yes, he answers.

August 9

I stand before an assembled crowd of eager media, samples spread before me, and join my colleagues in telling the world that our search, and laboratory work, has finally pinpointed the lost grave of the infamous Mary Celeste .

James Delgado is a maritime archaeologist, author and director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Canada.

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