SEPTEMBER 7, 2009
AUE IDENTIFIES THE VALLEY CITY (FORMERLY THE USS VALLEY CITY)
The end-of-summer Labor Day Weekend found AUE onboard our dive boat ENDEAVOUR off the Florida Panhandle. The plan for the weekend was to collect some deepwater Oculina varicosa coral samples for genetic analysis to determine its relationship to the same coral found on Oculina Bank off the Florida East Coast. We were returning to an area we dived several years ago and initially documented dense Oculina coral habitat on the 40-fathom break, the first time the species was documented in any abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.
After motoring out almost 80 nautical miles into the Gulf and successfully collecting the needed coral samples, we jumped in on the wreck of the USCGC ZINNIA on the way back to the dock. The former coast guard buoy tender was sunk as a target by the USAF, and now is seldom visited aside from fishermen due to its remote location off Cape San Blas.
A couple views of the ZINNIA'S superstructure.
(l) the skeletal interior; (r) SURPRISE! The bronze helm stand still in place on the bridge.
The following day we motored out to try and dive a wreck in 340 feet of water we believe to be the schooner RED WING, lost in 1896. After marking the wreck and shoting the wreck, three of us descended below. Unfortunately, the hook was off the wreck and we found ourselves on the bottom in about 3-5 feet of visibility. We knew we were close due to the swarming amberjack, but due to the depth, limited time, and low visibility, we aborted the dive after realizing our unfortunate situation. After an abbreviated decompression, we motored north to an unidentified shipwreck on which we had a working hypothesis. The dive confirmed my suspicions, and based on the wreck's machinery, dimensions, construction, and position, we have tentatively identified the wreck of the steamer VALLEY CITY. The VALLEY CITY was a 138-foot long schooner-rigged steamer built in 1859 by T. Birely at Philadelphia. In 1861, she was purchased by the US Navy, and commissioned as the USS VALLEY CITY. She served in several campaigns off North Carolina and Virginia, and assisted in the evacuation of Washington, DC. During the siege of Elizabeth City, Quarter Gunner John Davis being awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism. The notable event was documented in the publication Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy":
Served on board the USS VALLEY CITY during action against rebel fort batteries and ships off Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on February 10, 1862. When a shell from the shore penetrated the side and passed through the magazine, exploding outside the screen on the berth deck, several powder division protection bulkheads were torn to pieces and the forward part of the berth deck set on fire. Showing great presence of mind, Davis courageously covered a barrel of powder with his own body and prevented an explosion, while at the same time passing powder to provide the division on the upper deck while under fierce enemy fire.
After the explosion the commander of the ship, Lt. Chaplin, found Davis seated calmly above an open barrel of powder to keep the fire out while passing powder to the upper deck!
After her service in the Civil War, she reentered merchant service. In January 1882, she was caught in a violent gale off Florida, which resulted in her eventual sinking. The entire crew evacuated the ship and landed safely in Pensacola.
(l) single capstan marks the bow; (r) rock ballast over timbers stretch along the centerline to the aft machinery.
(l) a view of the single boiler and vertical, single-cylinder engine; (r) the square-bladed screw, which is missing one blade.