They say they’re now $70,000 into proving that an old anchor they pulled up off Whidbey Island was from a ship in Captain Vancouver’s historic exploration of the Northwest in 1792. An expert who examined the relic is doubtful, but Scott Grimm and Doug Monk are not giving up.
He thought he had found the only surviving relic from Capt. George Vancouver’s historic 1792 voyage into Puget Sound.
It was a barnacle-encrusted anchor in 45 feet of water just offshore in Admiralty Bay at Whidbey Island.
That was eight years ago, and since then, trying to prove the anchor’s authenticity has been a costly journey for Doug Monk, 57, a commercial diver out of Port Angeles.
“I hate to think about it. $50,000 to $70,000. It’s tough to swallow. But when you’re that far into it, how do you say that’s enough?” he says.
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One top expert says the anchor couldn’t be from the expedition.
Another says there is a case to be made, but nothing definite — “circumstantial evidence.”
The anchor now is stored in Monk’s shop. He says his wife, Li, is happy about that. The anchor can’t be adding up more costs just sitting there, and she just doesn’t want to go bankrupt.
Monk earns his living with such work as diving for derelict nets and harvesting sea cucumbers, the marine animals found on seafloors, and used in Chinese cuisine and Asian folk medicine. He says he gets $4 to $6 a pound; by the time they reach China the price is exponentially higher.
If only there was definite, definite proof that this was the important artifact from a region-defining voyage.
Capt. Vancouver named Mount Baker after his third lieutenant, Joseph Baker; Mount Rainier to honor his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier; Vashon Island for his friend, Capt. James Vashon. And on and on.
Monk was diving for sea cucumbers in “fairly strong currents” that pushed his air hose to the bottom. He crawled along the bottom to follow the hose when he came across what he believed was just a piece of metal covered with barnacles.
Then he saw that there was a chain attached. It had to be an anchor.
Monk began researching what this old anchor could be.
In 2010, someone told him to contact Scott Grimm, 57, a Seattle medical-equipment salesman and an amateur historian, and the two have been working together since.
They’re local guys, they say, and this is history that matters to them.
They believe that the anchor was from the HMS Chatham, an armed tender to the HMS Discovery, the expedition’s flagship.
It was while crossing a then-unknown channel that the Chatham was caught by a rising tide and “swept helpless.” The stream anchor, a lighter-type anchor, was dropped to slow the ship’s progress.
One of the Chatham’s crew members would write in his journal that “such was the force of the tide that we parted the cable.” It had snapped.
The crew tried “every scheme” to recover the anchor, a valuable piece of equipment so far from England, “but without success.”
There are skeptics that Monk found the Chatham’s anchor.
Wrong location, for one.
Historians believe the anchor was lost in Bellingham Channel.
But Grimm studied explorers’ journals, court records and other documents from centuries ago and concluded they had the right anchor.
He says, “What bugs me the most is that the local historians have no interest in looking at the evidence from a different angle. I’ve been dismissed by some of these historians because I don’t have an alphabet soup behind my name in the field of history. But you don’t have to have a degree in history to recognize what the data is telling us.”
Grimm has a PowerPoint presentation he’s putting together. He offers detailed explanations.
For example, “Historians claim it was lost in Bellingham Channel, 22 miles north of her last known anchorage off Point Partridge. She lost her anchor three hours later. With a NNW wind that was described as light and variable, it would have been impossible for the Chatham to have made it to Bellingham Channel, especially given that square-rigged ships sail poorly into the wind and the tide was only in her favor for an hour or so. We found the anchor 8 miles from her last known position and to the eastward.”
Grimm is planning a trip to England to research the anchor and find records of where it was built.
“You know the Brits; they don’t throw away anything,” he says.
The costs for recovering the anchor would have been double that $70,000 high estimate if legal fees were included, says Monk.
It took years to go through the legal process of acquiring ownership of the anchor under the law of finders. Monk says that Seattle attorney Alan Foe, now retired, waived his fees.
In June 2014, the 10-foot anchor was finally pulled up.
Monk and Grimm would end up putting it on a flatbed truck, wrapped in burlap, in a tank into which they used a bilge pump to recycle fresh water onto the anchor so it wouldn’t dry out and start cracking.
It took them 37 hours to drive 2,300 miles to Texas A&M’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation in College Station.
It is world-renowned for its work in preserving such relics.
The anchor spent two years there. At first the crust on it was knocked off with a mini jack hammer the size of a Sharpie pen, says lab manager Jim Jobling.
That took a few days.
It spent a longer time in a steel vat undergoing electrolytic cleaning in which direct current went through it. That was to remove corrosive salt.
Then the anchor was coated with tannic acid that inhibits corrosion and painted black.
The lab gave Monk and Grimm a special deal: about $12,500.
But Jobling also gave them not-so-good news.
At 2,425 pounds, says Jobling, it’s about 1,000 pounds heavier than anchors used in those years.
He says an anchor weighing that much would have been used in the 1820s, not in 1792. Grimm says that in the 1820s there was little, if any, ship traffic here.
There are other questions, too, about the type of chain on the anchor and whether it was the kind of chain used in Captain Vancouver’s time.
Says Jim Delgado, director of Maritime Heritage for NOAA, about Monk and Grimm, “I do think they have a case.”
“The challenge is how to deal with circumstantial evidence.”
Delgado says that even if it isn’t the Chatham’s anchor, “It’s still a powerful artifact. It speaks to a growing global economy. Great Britain, a young United States, Russia and other powers are all converging on this section of the world that has tremendous resources. It starts with otter pelts and continues to other commodities like lumber.”
Grimm says he has no idea what the anchor might be worth if it is from the Chatham. “It’s what somebody is willing to pay for it,” he says.
The two men say they’d eventually like to see the anchor in a museum or some kind of historical display.
Meanwhile, their quest to prove they have the Chatham anchor continues as it sits in storage.
Says Grimm to doubters, “We have shown very strong evidence this could be the anchor. You show me the evidence that it’s not. They can’t do that.”