Beaufort News

Civil War sub Hunley to undergo arduous rotation project

Scientists will soon see a new side of the Hunley -- the starboard side.

This week, a crew of engineers and scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center will begin moving the Confederate submarine, a complex series of steps that will end with the sub rotated to an upright position and out of the truss and lifting straps that have cradled it for more than a decade.

The process will begin Wednesday and should be finished by the end of next week.

This move, more than a year in the making, is largely about preparing the sub for the final stages of restoration. But an added benefit is the first look at the right flank of the hull, an area that has been largely covered by a series of 30 padded lift straps since it was recovered in 2000.

That will give archaeologists a chance to look for new clues as to why the Hunley sank in 1864.

"We will see what no one has seen since the crew did on the night it disappeared," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the state Hunley Commission. "You'll be able to see the Hunley unobstructed. It'll be a sight to behold."

When the Hunley was raised out of the Atlantic in 2000, it was brought up at a 45-degree angle -- which is how it was found lying five feet beneath the ocean floor. Scientists wanted to keep it at that attitude to keep from shifting the placement of artifacts inside the sub, and because no one knew how weak the iron hull was after more than a century in saltwater.

Since then, the sub has been excavated and had several hull plates, keel blocks and other pieces removed. It has changed the structural integrity of the sub, and made this job more complex.

Scientists developed a 3-D model of the sub, studied weight distribution and stress factors.

On Wednesday, workers will raise the sub -- still in the original lift truss -- three feet off the floor of its holding tank. Then a track and keel blocks, built and donated by Detyens Shipyard, will be put under the sub.

The 30 padded lift straps holding the 40-foot hull will be replaced by 15 new straps that will allow workers to slowly rotate the sub clockwise, an inch at a time. That step begins next week when all safety measures are in place to protect the hull. Lasers will make sure the Hunley does not warp in the move, and load cells on the new strap will provide stress data.

Ultimately the Hunley will be lowered onto the track and held in place with lateral supports. Every surface that touches the hull will be moveable, allowing access to every inch of the sub.