View aft from inside Hunley. Note bench along right of image. Also chain drive, flywheel and pump at stern. Copyright Friends of the Hunley
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Scientists preserving the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley have started the tricky task of removing the bench where the crew sat to crank the sub into history.
The Hunley was the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship. Its 18-foot long bench, fashioned of three sections of wood, is badly waterlogged after sitting on the ocean floor for decades.
The first two sections have been removed but it may take several weeks to remove the final section, which extends to the pump mechanism at the rear of the sub, said Kellen Correia, spokeswoman for the Hunley project.
Scientists found three canteens beneath the bench sections already removed. They are hopeful that, beneath heavy encrustations found in that area, they will find other personal belongings of the crewmen.
"This is a potentially relic-rich region," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission. "I can't help but wonder what other items the crew may have decided to take with them on a mission they knew to be dangerous and life threatening."
The bench is fragile and about half of it is covered with a clear lead-based paint. Removing the bench is one of the final steps in preparing the submarine for conservation and display.
The 40-foot Hunley rammed a spar with a black powder charge into the Union blockade ship Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. The sub then sank.
It was found off Sullivans Island several years ago. It was raised in 2000 and brought to a conservation lab at the old Charleston Naval Base where it sits in a tank of chilled water
Lead conservator, Paul Mardikian inspects under the Hunley's wooden bench