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Preserving wood from Blackbeard’s vessel has become challenge

GREENVILLE, North Carolina (LOG News Service) — Blackbeard’s plunder has become a precious bounty for preservationists.

Since the remains of Queen Anne’s Revenge were found 22 years ago, state conservators have recovered thousands of metal parts from the pirate’s sunken ship, including cannons and a 12-foot-long anchor.

But they are dealing with a bigger challenge: Preserving the vessel’s wood.

Storms, strong currents and shipworms have destroyed all but a few remaining pieces of the famed ship, which sunk 300 years ago.

“There isn’t much wood left,” said Sarah Watkins-Kenney, director of the Queen Anne’s Revenge laboratory based at East Carolina University’s West Research Campus near Greenville.

“What we do have is very precious.”

Divers have found 35 pieces of ship planks, 11 frame fragments, a 1,600-pound sternpost and other tiny wooden bits. The longest plank is just over 13 feet. The sternpost, which is the bulkiest, will one day be a featured piece of the Queen Anne’s Revenge exhibit at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, N.C.

Blackbeard’s vessel originally was a French slave ship, La Concorde. The first record of it shows up in 1710, said curator Kimberly Kenyon. Blackbeard commandeered the ship from the French in 1717, renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge and terrorized the North Carolina coast before running his vessel aground in the summer of 1718.

Intersal Inc. found the remains of Blackbeard’s ship off Beaufort, N.C., in 1996 and later turned them over to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Preservation of every artifact requires years of work, but wooden objects are the most fragile.

“You have to keep them wet,” Watkins-Kenney said.

Over years, water replaces the cell structure of submerged wood, Watkins-Kenney said. The lumber looks fine at first, but begins to deteriorate soon after it is removed from the water. Every piece must be submerged in a tank quickly.

“Our task is to stabilize them,” she said. “That gives us time to do research.”

It may take decades before the recovery and preservation of the entire site is complete, Kenyon said.

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