Remote Sensing to find Endeavour

Published by Kathy Abbass on Wednesday, 13th February 2019 - 12:00PM

Two 18th-century sites to the north of the Newport Bridge, shown on the NOAA sonar data. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.


© RIMAP 2017.

The following is a description of the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project study of the 18th-century transport fleet in Newport Harbor. It started with remote sensing technology that has improved exponentially in the past 25 years. Many of the following illustrations are quite detailed. If you wish to see the full report, please contact RIMAP at

The 1779 chart by British engineer Edward Fage that shows where the transports were scuttled in 1778. Graphic © RIMAP 2017.

In August of 1778 the British, then occupying Rhode Island during the Revolution, scuttled 12 transport ships in Newport's Outer Harbor. This was to protect the city from the French threat. Another ship was burned and lost in the same area, making 13 the total number of vessels for RIMAP to find.

This 1778 Pierre Ozanne drawing confirms the transport locations by showing where their masts stand proud from the water, as the French fleet sails past Newport. Graphic © RIMAP 2012

There are many historical materials that suggest where those ships were sunk. These include the journals and diaries of British officers and local citizens, maps and charts, and even contemporary drawings.

RIMAP's original Transport Fleet Study Area. Graphic © RIMAP 2013.

Using those historical materials, RIMAP identified the Transport Fleet Study Area, where we expected to find the remains of the ships. 

The shadows generated by side scan sonar show the shape of the object.

Then RIMAP conducted many remote sensing surveys in Newport's Outer Harbor to find the transports. This effort started in 1993, long before we found the documents that proved the LORD SANDWICH transport had been Capt. Cook’s ENDEAVOUR Bark. 

Joseph W. Zarzynski and RIMAP's first remote sensing effort. Graphic © RIMAP 1993.

In 1993 Joseph W. Zarzynski (of Bateaux Below, Inc.) conducted the first remote sensing survey for RIMAP, using side scan sonar loaned by Klein Inc. This survey covered the part of Newport's Outer Harbor from north of Goat Island to Coaster's Harbor Island. It located targets in the areas where the Fage chart suggested the shipwrecks should be.

The 1993 sonar image of a modern barge on top of an 18th-century ballast pile. This site to the north of Newport Bridge is Rhode Island historic property number "RI 2119." © RIMAP 1993.

In 1994 Vince Capone (then of Marine Search and Survey, now of Black Laser Learning) conducted a second side scan survey and confirmed a line of targets south of Newport Bridge. 

Vince Capone deploying remote sensing gear on the RIMAP research vessel. © RIMAP 1995.

The challenge of this early remote sensing work was navigation control. LORAN was not reliable on inland waterways like Narragansett Bay, GPS was in its infancy, and digital remote sensing data integrated with GPS navigation was not yet available. 

RIMAP volunteer Shannon Byrne (also an SAIC engineer) diving to ground-truth a target in 1993. © RIMAP 1994.

After 200+ years on the bottom of the harbor, the transports show a low profile that can be hard to recognize as the remains of a ship. Therefore, RIMAP volunteers made many dives to "ground-truth" each sonar target and determine its nature. Many targets were simple geology or modern debris, but over the years RIMAP volunteers slowly located the 18th-century shipwrecks. The speed with which this work was done depended on donations and grant funds to pay the project's basic expenses. However, without all the volunteers who shared their time, equipment, and expertise, this part of RIMAP's work would not have been possible. 

The NUWC-sponsored sub-bottom profiler north of the Newport Bridge. © RIMAP 2000

As financial resources allowed, RIMAP continued the remote sensing and ground-truthing of targets in the Study Area. Joe Zarzynski and Vince Capone returned to conduct further side scan surveys, and in 2001 the Naval Undersea Warfare Center shared with RIMAP a sub-bottom profiler to view what was under the silt. 

Contemporary drawing of HMB ENDEAVOUR at sea, but her remains would look very different after more than 200 years in Newport Harbor.

At the same time, RIMAP volunteer divers began to create the pre-disturbance maps of the sites already found, including two north of the Newport Bridge that were previously found local divers and watermen. Small test pits determined that both of these sites were surprisingly artifact rich, including metal (iron, copper/bronze, and lead objects), organics (textiles, leather, wood, bone), as well as ceramic pieces and stone ballast. Therefore, RIMAP discontinued all excavations until a proper conservation lab and storage facility can be created to house the resulting collection. 

RIMAP divers Greg DeAscentis and Jon Faucher prepare to search for more sites in 2000. © RIMAP 2000.

In 2005 Rod Mather (University of Rhode Island History Department) conducted RIMAP's first remote sensing with integrated GPS. These targets were in the same general locations as RIMAP's earlier efforts, but the improved navigation data allowed more efficient ground-truthing by RIMAP volunteer divers. 

The 4 shipwrecks and one historic anchor confirmed south of the Newport Bridge. © RIMAP 2005.

The Mather data confirmed the 4 shipwreck sites and the historic anchor that had been seen in the earlier remote sensing surveys. These, plus the 2 sites to the north of the bridge, meant that RIMAP had found 6 transport sites by the end of 2005. That was almost 50% of the 13 known to have been lost in the Outer Harbor in 1778. 

Kozak's 2007 digital sonar images in real time. © RIMAP 2007.

Two years later in 2007, Garry Kozak (of Klein, Inc.) conducted RIMAP's last remote sensing survey of the Study Area. This time the sonar data were integrated with GPS and Kozak's technology had the capability of real-time digital imaging to produce immediately a chart of the target locations.  

The 2007 Kozak chart of the Study Area south of Newport Bridge, showing targets as red dots. © RIMAP 2007.

RIMAP divers ground-truthed the Kozak targets and confirmed them as:

  • 6 ballast piles (2 west of Goat Island, and the 4 previously known to the south of the Newport Bridge) 
  • 5 modern vessels
  • 2 torpedoes (the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Demolition team later determined them to be inert test torpedoes)
  • 5 abandoned ground tackle
  • 2 geology
  • 1 unidentified

These 6 ballast piles south of the bridge, with the 2 to the north, meant that RIMAP had found 8 of the of the 13 transports by the end of 2007. 

The Kozak data for RI 2394. Could this be the remains of the ENDEAVOUR? © RIMAP 2007.

In 2008 RIMAP participated in the Office of Naval Research AUVfest that demonstrated the most recent technology for unmanned remote sensing equipment. Some of the AUV (automated underwater vehicle) equipment was on display outside the RIMAP office, at the time located at Pier 2, Naval Station Newport. 

AUV equipment on display outside RIMAP's office in 2008. © RIMAP 2008.

It took many years for RIMAP to complete preliminary site maps of these 8 sites. Then by 2014 NOAA had posted its multi-beam data for Newport Harbor on its government website. The NOAA data show potential targets overlooked by earlier remote sensing efforts. RIMAP ground-truthed one of these targets west of Goat Island and confirmed it to be another 18th-century site. This was mapped in 2015, bringing the total sites found to 9 of 13.  

The new NOAA target west of Goat Island. Graphic © RIMAP 2017.

In 2016, while doing further work on three sites in a row south of the Newport Bridge, RIMAP volunteer divers discovered yet another previously unknown 18th-century shipwreck. This site is so subtle that it was not noted by any of RIMAP's previous remote sensing efforts, and it does not appear as a discrete object in the NOAA data. This site will be mapped in 2017, and its discovery brought the total number of shipwreck sites found in Newport's Outer Harbor to 10 of the 13. 

The 10th site (in the red circle). Graphic © RIMAP 2017.

The remote sensing technology that most people identify as marine archaeology has been only 2% of the work in Rhode Island. RIMAP divers and non-divers have done the other 98%.

RIMAP volunteer divers on the transport sites in 2016: (L-R) John Cassese, Kerry Lynch, and Caroline Cassese, and Nigel Erskine (of the Australian National Maritime Museum). © RIMAP 2016.

After the remote sensing surveys and especially the confirmation of targets by diving volunteers, RIMAP can report that the transports are generally to be found where the Fage chart showed they were scuttled.

RIMAP's 10 transport locations placed on the Fage chart, and overlaid on a modern Newport map. Graphic © RIMAP 2016.

To see what these sites look like today, please go to: "Find the LORD SANDWICH ex ENDEAVOUR® - Map the Sites."

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