Written by CTM on August 14th, 2009

Yes, it has been several days since our last update, but we’ve been busy.

We concluded this season’s efforts in Syracuse and transited the 90-odd miles south to Malta where we are once again at our operating base on Manoel Island across from the great fortified city of Valletta.


The ISIS and FORTALEZA are now side-by-side as we get ready for the next phase of our 2009 season of exploration. The next project is a detailed ROV survey of an area we previously worked at off the Island of Gozo. Additionally, at the end of our 2008 season we confirmed the existence of an ancient shipwreck at the base of a cliff nearby to the Gozo site and we plan to return to further document what appears to be a 5th century BC shipwreck; possibly the oldest discovered in the Maltese Islands.

Additionally, we have added to our capabilities when the project secured access to a Geometrics Magnetometer. This will help distinguish the ancient non-ferrous material from the more modern artifacts. We plan to put this new tool to use off Malta in late August.


Written by CTM on August 2nd, 2009
AURORA's Founders Craig Mullen & Ian Koblick - A couple Ancient Mariners Looking for Ancient Greek Marimers

AURORA's Founders Craig Mullen & Ian Koblick - A couple Ancient Mariners Looking for Ancient Greek Marimers

Searching in the harbor floor in Syracuse continued through the week without let-up, but also without any breakthroughs. In total, through Wednesday the 29th of July, our team has dove on 20 targets recorded during two years of side scan sonar and sub-bottom profiling in Syracuse Harbor. Between divers probing into and, in some ceases, excavating sizable holes in the thick, sticky mud of the bottom, we have idntified approximately 8 targets as modern artifacts (one was our hoped-for ship hull) and 8 as local geology.

Of the remaining targets 4 were not found at all with several teams of divers probing up to 2 meters into the harbor floor at their recorded positions. Having verified our navigation several times during out time here, we concluded these targets were out of range of our probes.

From our perspective there is a good news – bad news sort of thing in play here. On the positive side, we have confirmed there are targets where our sub-bottom penetrator data predicted. On the negative side, apparently the remains of the several battles fought in the harbor are not represented by large hull sections quickly buried under a couple meters of harbor sediments as speculated, but rather smaller artifacts and possibly buried deeper in the sediments.

We have decided to step back from our field efforts in Syracuse this year and investigate alternative technical approaches for a return in the future. Craig plans to research recent advances in mine hunting technology for new remote sensing options. Our local partners have indicated they will look into obtaining core samples of representative areas of the harbor floor to obtain actual data on local sedimentation.

Lastly, we’re happy to report no Borilla’s were encountered in the murk of the muddy harbor floor. What’s a Borilla you ask?? – Well, it’s a old diver term for something unexpected in the gloom that’s too big for a Bear and too ugly for a Gorilla, but generally flashes by with every potential of returning — hopefully not on your dive!



Written by CTM on July 26th, 2009

Our search efforts on the harbor floor continue. Thus far we has been searching for signs of ancient shipwrecks for about 10 days and have thus far, come-up empty handed. Our searching methodology is a combination of technology and tradition. The technology part comes from the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to place us precisely over the targets generated by our state of the art sensors. The traditional part comes from the use of SCUBA divers to probe into the mud of the harbor to confirm the presence of ancient artifacts.

“Is it man made or natural?” is the first question, followed quickly by if it’s man made, “is modern or ancient?” Thus far we have identified the remains of a harbor defense screen left over from WWII and an apparently naturally occurring rock formation. We’ve also investigated a number of targets whose burial depth may exceed our ability to hand probe.

Though we use GPS to establish a reference line fastened to the harbor floor (some 23meters below the surface) so the divers have a physical guide, there is no other clue on the bottom that suggests the presence of a buried artifact; the muddy bottom is uniformly flat and featureless where we have concentrated our efforts. To detect the presence of an object of interest, the diver must push a 2 meter long probe into the bottom in hopes of making contact with the target detected by our sub-bottom profiler.

The process is hampered by swirls of fine silt stirred up by the diver’s efforts working on the harbor floor obscuring all visibility and making it difficult to ensure a comprehensive search. The diver often must rise up in the water column to check his gauges and computer. We have reconfirmed our positioning data and feel confident in our ability to identify the targets which lie buried within 2 – 3 meters of sediment (calculated to be the probable depth of deposit since the 415 – 413BC battle took place). Could the estimate of deposition be wrong? This could be tough one for the team!! We’re thinking about some new technology solutions to this problem.


Written by CTM on June 23rd, 2009

 The day started well enough and we made ready to transit to a site just off the Island of Santo Stefano where we had agreed with our diving – cinematographer colleagues to further document the this particular site because of its depth (shallowest (105M) of the 5 sites currently under investigation) and, based on previous experience with the ROV, the visibility would be conducive for great filming.  The plan was for the AURORA Team to deploy a down line at the site to facilitate the swift arrival of the divers at the prime area of interest.  AURORA would then deploy our ROV to the sea bed and await arrival of the divers.



Underwater Cinematographer Roberto Rinaldi suited up for the dive

The divers needed very special equipment to allow them to safely reach the seafloor, film the site and return to the surface. Two divers made the decent – one camera man and a support / extra lighting diver. They both wore specialize tri-mix (heleum – Oxygen & Nitrogen) diving systems which, at a distance, appeared very much like normal SCUBA equipment. Their cylinders,however, contained a special mixture of  breathing gases formulated for the 100M depth at which they would be filming. After spending 25 minutes filming at the site the divers would spend another 3 hours and 15 minutes decompressing as they drifted at various depths in the water column.

 Getting ready to head to the bottom

Getting ready to head to the bottom

Just as we began the second of our two assignments (deploying the ROV) we experienced a major leak into the Power Junction Bottle where 550Volt power comes into the ROV to run thrusters, lights, cameras, etc. One could say physics took over (electricity and sea water) and smoke rolled out of the bottle – all went dead. By the time we recovered the vehicle it was clear our portion of today’s mission was going to be limited to precisely marking the spot for the divers. Our next move was to call Seaeye – the designer – builder of our ROV – for spare parts. They got right on top of things and the needed parts are in route.


Written by CTM on June 23rd, 2009

Tuesday morning was cool by Ventotene standards and a bit breezy for the ISIS, however we plan, if the weather holds, to spend the morning over one or more of the wreck sites we’ve discovered doing photography and working with our Italian dive team colleagues. Shortly after an early breakfast we moved from a temporary berth where the car ferry normally resides to our normal Key-side berth at the head of the harbor. We picked up both bow anchors; did an180 degree turn in the small harbor and moved smartly to our appointed spot before the breakfast coffee turned cold.

Fortaleza along side the key, Ventotene

Fortaleza along side the key, Ventotene

Captain Aaron had everything under control and we are once again comfortably alongside. Hopefully the next entry will have some great images from the sites.


Written by CTM on June 22nd, 2009

Monday morning, the 22ed of June, found us at anchor having spent a restless night amongst roaming thunder storms and shifting winds between Ventotene and Santo Stefano. Those who have spent time at sea recall that a night at anchor with forecasted poor weather doesn’t make for a good nights sleep. Then there’s the anchor watches and worry about the anchor holding as the boat skidders across the sea as it’s blown about by the seemingly fickle and shifting winds. 

Illegal construction key-side fabrication Photo CM
Illegal key-side fabrication Photo CM

By mid morning it was calm enough to go a shore to continue preparations for the next phase of the project – documenting the wreck sites and the possible recovery of some of those ancient cargo containers – amphorae; something we’ve been lusting over oh, these past several years.

Since our little ROV currently doesn’t have a capable manipulator system, we are busily fashioning some home made tools to make recoveries possible. Jason, our cheerful and resourceful chief engineer, happily accepted the challenge (as well as the multiple suggestions on how best to design and build such device) and went to work with the materials at hand. First he was welding on the dock until the harbor master suggested that it was against the local rules and the effort retreated into the engine room of the Fortaleza; out of sight prying eyes. The resulting tools were certainly “unique” and will, no doubt, be up for public view when Jason completes his patent applications.

You say it needs a hole right here? 

You say you need a hole right here?

 Tomorrow we’re out with Roberto Rinaldi an Italian deep diving filming team and his colleagues’ to begin documenting our work in Ventotene, the wreck sites and create the film stock necessary for a follow on TV program. More on this tomorrow!!  

Written by CTM on June 22nd, 2009
Stormy weather on Ventotene Photo Eric Mullen
Stormy weather on Ventotene Photo Eric Mullen

The photo above was taken late Sunday afternoon when a particularly strong group of squalls associated with this weather system moved through the area. Craig had arrived back from Rome between blows when this funnel-waterspout moved down the NW side of the Island and Eric quickly captured the event. 


I delfini d'argento - The Silver Dolphin Award


  I delfini d’argento – The Silver Dolphin Award
Marevivo Silver Dolphin Award in Rome

Marevivo Silver Dolphin Award in Rome

While the shipboard team was riding out the beginning of the blow, Craig Mullen had the honor of representing the AURORA Trust in Rome for the receipt of the “I delfini d’argento” or the Silver Dolphin Award for our work at Ventotene. The award was presented by Rosalba Laudiero Ciugni, the President of Marevivo, a highly regarded organization which promotes environmental awareness, education and good stewardship of Italy’s sea coasts, to Annalisa Zarattini, the Superintendent of Lazio responsible for underwater Archeology and the AURORA Trust .  The award is a great honor for the Trust and symbolizes the progress we have made in carring out our mission of  ” Ocean Exploration and Education”.  Craig also concluded his Italian needed a brush-up. The back drop for the award was a series of photos of our discoveries off Ventotene which, hopefully, we will be able to share with you once the Minister of Culture makes them public early next week.

 The predicted blow arrived about on schedule; however, in anticipation of its arrival the Fortaleza was moved to an anchorage between Ventotene and Santo Stefano to ride out the strong NW winds that are predicted to generally hamper our operations until least Tuesday of the coming week. Although sheltered from the winds and seas coming from most directions while in the modern port of Ventotene, the predicted NW winds would have pushed the Fortaleza against the concrete key possibly damaging her. The conclusion was that it was much safer riding out the blow in the anchorage between the Islands. 


Written by CTM on June 17th, 2009
Our little ROV and the Ventotene ferry share the harbor Photo CM

Our little ROV and the Ventotene ferry share the harbor Photo CM

While the survey team was off finishing up the balance of the search area, the ROV was being prepared for the documentation phase of the project. A high quality 35mm digital still camera and strobe were mounted to complement the color video camera already fixed to aid in piloting and documentation. The ROV was then launched into the harbor of Ventotene to check connections and trim. The passengers of the large ferry that arrived just before the test were quite curious and the testing maneuvers drew quite a crowd.


Written by CTM on June 16th, 2009
The village of Ventotene climbs up from the ancient Roman harbor Photo CM

The village of Ventotene climbs up from the ancient Roman harbor Photo CM

Meanwhile, as the AURORA team departs the modern harbor of Ventotene, the ancient village of Ventotene begins another day as it climbs the vertical face of the cliff formed when the Romans excavated the ancient harbor from the solid volcanic rock that makes up the Island core. The ancient harbor is still very much in use and the subject of a future entry in this Blog.

Underway for day 2 of the 2009 AURORA Trust Ventotene Project Photo CM

Underway for day 2 of the 2009 AURORA Trust Ventotene Project Photo CM

Another perfect day greets the survey team as they set out to complete the survey grid on the NW side of Ventotene. All systems are working well and the topographic map of the seafloor is following the charted contour lines of the nautical chart almost precisely. Several interesting targets presented themselves in the data collected with yesterday’s efforts and the ROV is being readied for the next phase of the operation – the video and photographic documentation phase of the 2009 Ventotene Project. This effort will allow AURORA to confirm the sonar targets are, in fact, ancient shipwrecks and document each site to allow archeologists to better understand the approximate age of the wreck and some understanding of the cargo the vessel contained when it sank.


Written by CTM on June 15th, 2009

Paul prepares the sonar for today's survey work

Paul prepares the sonar for today's survey work Photo CM



Monday morning at Ventotene preparations began early to continue the off shore survey begun last year.  The survey craft Isis has been tied up a short distance from the Fortaleza in the Ventotene Marina and it was a short walk to board her. It’s a clear, warm day to work off shore the team will spend the day expanding the survey area on the NW side of Ventotene in hopes of locating ancient shipwrecks.


The primary survey tool we are using is a Klein model 3900 dual frequency side scan sonar integrated with our GPS navigation system. Our approach is to rely on the lower frequency of this sonar to build a seafloor “map” and record both natural and potentially man-made targets of interest in the survey area. The Isis will be piloted through a preplanned survey grid allowing the sonar to completely record the seafloor topography.


Since the wooden portion of ancient shipwrecks is almost always gone leaving only the non-organic cargo (amphorae, stone objects, ceramics, etc) to mark its final resting place we will be looking for target patterns having regular, uniform sizes and shapes that often signal man made objects. Having discovered such a target, the team will return using the “high frequency portion of the sonar to further refine the target information. Tonight we’ll learn how they did.       

Isis departs for today's survey

Isis departs for today's survey Photo CM