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Friday, 21 November 2014

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US Navy searches for John Paul Jones ship

The US Navy has launched a search for a ship involved in a legendary Solway sailor’s most famous battles.

John Paul Jones, who launched his maritime career in Whitehaven, and is now regarded as the founding father of the US Navy, was the swashbuckling hero of a clash off the Yorkshire coast at Flamborough Head in 1779 – one of the key battles in the American War of Independence.

Jones, who was born near Dumfries, was captain of the Bonhomme Richard when it engaged the British vessel HMS Serapis.

The British ship was much more heavily armed and, after dozens of Americans were killed, its commanding officer then called on Jones.

Jones replied: “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!”

Jones managed to lash the two ships together, nullifying his opponent's greater maneuverability and eventually the British ship was forced to surrender.

The Bonhomme Richard was so badly damaged in the battle that it sank 36 hours later but Jones was able to sail the captured Serapis away for repairs.

The wreck of the Bonhomme Richard – gifted to the Continental Navy from France – has never been found. Now a team from the US Navy, in conjunction with the Ocean Technology Foundation and the French Navy, is taking part in yet another search.

The oceanographic survey ship USNS Henson, operated by the Military Sealift Command, with a survey crew from the Naval Oceanographic Office, is the primary platform for the search.

State-of-the-art underwater survey technology will be used to map the ocean floor and a free-swimming underwater vehicles will conduct underwater searches. A French Navy mine hunter will join the search to dive on any artefacts which require closer inspection.

The expedition is expected to last 10 days.

Any artefacts found would be expected to include cannon, cannon ball piles, heavy ballast and depending on the nature of the sea bottom where the Bonhomme Richard came to rest the possibility of wooden hull remains, leather and pewter tankards or even textiles.

Searches in recent years have included those backed by Ocean Technology Foundation and led by Dr Bob Neyland, who is head of the underwater archaeology branch of the US Navy’s Historical Centre in Washington DC.

He was the man who supervised the recovery of the American Civil War submarine Hunley off Charleston Harbour just over 10 years ago.

One of the difficulties facing searchers is that Jones was a master at sailing in directions no one expected, which saved him time and again from the British Navy.

His nautical skills have therefore made it difficult for historians to determine where the ship went down.

A spokesman for the US Navy at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi said: “The Battle of Flamborough Head was a turning point in the American Revolution, giving hope to Continental forces and encouraging French support for the American Revolution.

“If found, Bonhomme Richard would be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in US Naval history.”

He added: “It would shed new light on the historic battle, life aboard a ship of the Continental Navy, and information about the construction and armament of the ship itself.”

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