Archeology may popularly conjure images of dusty bones, clay pot fragments, and ancient crypts. However, the Blackwater Pyrates are assisting two University of West Florida (UWF) graduate students, Chris Dvorscak and Andrew Derlikowski, with a different sort of archeological endeavor: researching shipwrecks of Blackwater River. The Pyrates granted Dvorscak and Derlikowski each $1,250 in a ceremony Tuesday at the Blackwater Riverwalk. Dvorscak said the research grant will aid examining the discovery of a sunken side wheel steamship dubbed "Killian," named after bricks found on the ship bearing name. According to Dvorscak, the wreck is just north of Oyster Pile boat ramp. Assistant Professor of Archeology Gregory Cook, said he was on the boat running a magnetometer when Dvorscak's boat, operating a sonar, erupted in laughter and shouting. He said someone immediately took a picture of the sonar screen and it was evident they found a shipwreck. Cook said, "The joke was, 'If you find a wreck, you get an A for the course.' Well, I would have to have given a few A's that day."
Derlikowski said he's investigating the City of Tampa, a two-deck steamer, which sank in 1921 after catching fire. Cook said the area where the Tampa sank was well known and Derlikowski came to him asking to complete his master's thesis on the Tampa. He said Derlikowski, like Dvorscak, was intricately involved in his wreck's discovery. According to Derlikowski, the City of Tampa sits at the northern end of the Yellow River and was partially visible above water until Hurricane Frederick of 1979, the reason Cook referred to finding the City of Tampa as a rediscovery.
Dvorscak said the monies will go toward travel expenses, costs for SCUBA gear, and other technologies like mapping software used in his research. Dvorscak said, "These are non-renewable cultural resources." He said his work will help protect against fishing that might accidentally disturb a wreck and looting. About the number of wrecks in the river, he said, "You could throw a stone and hit a couple."
According to Cook, the period of time of Blackwater wrecks starts around the 1800s to the 1950s, excluding canoes from earlier times and modern ships sinking through accidents and hurricanes. Cook said the H.M.S. Mentor, a sloop-of-war, is one of the earliest known European-made ships to go down in the Blackwater River sinking in 1781. To this day it has not been discovered. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Cook said, gave a grant in 2011 to UWF to search for the Mentor, which led to the discovery of other wrecks in the search.
Captain Fins-Up, Ken Ponsell, said he was captain of the Blackwater Pyrates for two years, from 2012 to January of this year; giving these grants was part of his legacy project. A tradition, he said Captain Hook 'em Dano, Danny Keiek started with the Blackwater River Shipwrecks historical marker. Ponsell said the money comes directly from the Pyrate members and the Pyrates' single, yearly fundraiser, the Great Milltown Duck Race.