More about the NC Maritime Museum

There’s a lot to learn about the NC Maritime Museum. In addition to the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort, there is also a Greenville facility, Queen Anne’s Revenge Conservation Laboratory, located just across the river from Beaufort, NC. This facility is part of North Carolina’s Underwater Archeology branch based in Fort Fisher, which is managed by the Office of State Archeology in Raleigh, which is under the Division of Archives and History in the Department of Cultural Resources.

Work on the wreck began in 1997, slow and painstaking, and then pretty much came to a standstill from 2000 to 2004. “We haven’t always had the funding,” he said. After the project stalled it was re-started through a federal grant, and “we were able to basically build and set up the laboratory in Greenville. In the first ten years we only excavated about five percent of it.”

A program called Dive Down is offered by Discovery Diving, located at 414 Orange Street in Beaufort. “That allows regular scuba divers and sport divers to come in for a two-day workshop where they are basically hammered with a number of lectures over two days. And they dive twice, the first time to one of the other shipwrecks in this area to make sure they know what they are doing and can dive, and the second dive is on the Queen Anne’s Revenge itself, taken down with people who actually work on the project and are familiar with the site.”

The lectures and the close supervision are needed so the divers will know what they are seeing, or not seeing, as the case may be. “There is no visibility down there. They can’t see anything, so you almost literally have to be led around by hand.”

Representative samples of the salvage items are on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, and many are on tour. The Museum of History in Raleigh took in quite a few of them on loan to make their “Knights of the Black Flag” exhibit. Some Queen Anne artifacts are on worldwide excursions, as they previously had been before spending nearly three centuries at the bottom of the ocean.

Other museum exhibits will likely be moved out as the Queen Anne’s Revenge slowly and inexorably moves in. The North Carolina Maritime Museum is nothing if not a crowd pleaser, easily the biggest draw in downtown Beaufort. The museum also has the highest visitation rate of any of its affiliate state museums — the NC Maritime Museum in Southport and The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.

A large auditorium just off the front lobby is rented out to community concerns and often used for watercolor classes. On display in the auditorium could be the watercolors painted by those classes or, in a six-month rotation, something else invariably nautical. Concerts are held here and educational programs for school children sometimes occupy the premises.

Boats of every description are on display throughout the museum, from Native American dugout canoes to “sharpies,” a type of sailboat with a pointed prow, to commercial fishing vessels. There are duck decoys and vintage instrumentation used in celestial navigation and aquarium tanks, some occupied by very large and venomous snakes. Also interspersed throughout the facility is quite a collection of diesel engines, outboard motors and lighthouses.

For the transient boaters who can’t stay away from the place, the museum maintains an extensive library, consisting of hundreds of volumes of maritime information, local marine biology and sailing magazines. The art of sailing may be centuries old, but new developments come in with each new wave, from navigation to life-saving techniques.

One exhibit that looks like it is from an old low-budget black-and-white movie is the life-saving car used by the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the precursor of today’s U.S. Coast Guard. Essentially it is an iron pod with a seat in it, and it looks like it would sink straight to the bottom at the earliest opportunity if it wasn’t for all those ropes rigged to it.

The museum puts on a number of special events, from sailing classes through the summer to marine ecology trips, tours of the state port and a fright night event for Halloween. The windows are round like port holes and on the roof, though the building is not an old one, is one of the greatest widow’s walks in town.

Today, when visitors, researchers, and visitors think about the NC Maritime Museum, they envision a complex but all-encompassing center that features a wealth of coastal North Carolina information.