Parks Canada 2010 Arctic Surveys

Notes from the Field

Project Update: HMS Investigator Rediscovery Project

August 2010

Ryan Harris and Jonathan Moore
Underwater Archaeologists
Parks Canada


Archaeological study of the wreck of HMS Investigator continued for the balance of the project, despite persistent ice cover over Mercy Bay and strong northerly and southerly winds. After a break of two days following the wreck discovery due to ice cover, the team was able to record additional detailed side-scan sonar images of the wreck.

The next step was to make visual observations and this was kicked-off with a snorkelling inspection of the wreck by Ryan Harris and Jonathan Moore. Although the Underwater Archaeology Service team did not bring diving equipment on the project (mainly due to weight limitations for flying in gear) the team came with dry-suits and snorkelling kit, including hoods, mitts, fins, masks and snorkels. For the first time, the snorkelling visually confirmed the wreck’s outstanding level of preservation. A project highlight was when the team took Minister Prentice to snorkel over the wreck, with ice floes still dotting the bay. He donned a dry-suit and other gear and while holding onto the inflatable boat, the team was able to take him over the wreck twice and he obtained excellent views from bow to stern. Diving on the Investigator by Parks Canada underwater archaeologists will have to await an anticipated follow-up survey.

Next a series of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives were completed over the course of two days covering the entire wreck. These dives captured remarkable images, highlighted in the video clips on this website. Of particular note are images of the Investigator’s stern showing draught marks, rudder attachments and copper hull sheathing as well as images of the wooden ice chocks and iron plating protecting the bow. Minister Prentice and the rest of the project team were able to review the video images back on shore and share the findings of the ROV dives with the rest of the project team. Interestingly, Ryan was further able to compare the ROV imagery with digital copies of colour plans of the Investigator held by the National Maritime Museum in England. These detailed plans were completed in 1848 by Royal Navy shipwrights prior to the Investigator sailing in 1850, showing its modification for Arctic exploration.

A final archaeological step was completed near the end of the project. With a blanket of ice steadily advancing back into Mercy Bay, the UAS team carefully surveyed the seabed surrounding the wreck with side-scan sonar. This latter work was in search of detached wreck sections, rigging, and the ship’s anchors and aimed to delineate any broader debris field.

Parks Canada team during a storm at the end of the project: (back row standing on boat, left to right) Ryan Harris, Jonathan Moore, Thierry Boyer; (front row, left to right) Mervin Joe, Joe Kudlak, Henry Cary, John Lucas, Letitia Pokiak
Parks Canada team during a storm at the end of the project: (back row standing on boat, left to right) Ryan Harris, Jonathan Moore, Thierry Boyer; (front row, left to right) Mervin Joe, Joe Kudlak, Henry Cary, John Lucas, Letitia Pokiak
© Edward Eastaugh

During the last two days of the project the camp was hit by gale force winds, first from the north and then from the south. This threatened to blow down all tents; these were secured with all manner of heavy materials, including stone-filled barrels, outboard engines, heavy sonar equipment, and the boat’s anchor. The wind finally abated and the team was ferried by helicopter to Polar Bear cabin, where they were picked-up by Twin Otter on August 4, 2010.