By Janet Tappin Coelho in Brazil
Archaeologists have uncovered the buried remains of a British ship that ran aground on a beach in Brazil after typhoon winds destroyed it more than 120 years ago.
The wreckage has been identified as The Kestrel, a clipper which floundered on Embaré Beach in Santos, south east Brazil, on February 11 1895.
Stumps of wood and pieces of metal from the vessel appeared for the first time in low tide in August this year after the shoreline was hit by huge waves and sand erosion.
Archaeologists are now waiting anxiously for the Brazilian navy to authorise excavation of the ancient craft.
Scientists were stunned to discover the almost intact relic of a century-old boat measuring approximately 50 metres long by 12 metres wide.
The ship, once rigged with three masts, also contains an iron object submerged deep inside the bowels of the boat, which is believed to be the storage box for coal used to fire the steam engines.
Professor Manoel Gonzalez, the archaeologist leading a team of researchers made up of architects and historians, said: “This has been a really exciting find. It’s unprecedented to discover an entire vessel buried like this in our country.
“The remnants of the wreckage appeared on the beach because we’ve been having some stormy weather recently and massive tides swept away a lot of sand.
“A group of city employees, responsible for cleaning the beach early in the morning, were the first ones to spot the stubs jutting out of the sand.
“They noticed the shape of the rubble resembled that of a ship’s hull and they immediately alerted the local authority. Officials then got in touch with us.”
Inspection of the emerging form soon confirmed it was the deck of a ship and the rest of the vessel was submerged deep down.
Along with the metal object buried inside, which researchers estimate is about six metres long, three wide and two tall, there is likely to be other items and products that can throw light on the daily life of the vessel.
Identification of the ship was narrowed down to four boats with similar characteristics to the wreck, all of which had stranded in or near the location between 1890 and 1910.
Samples of the wood were sent to experts in Portugal who specialise in European vessels constructed in the 19th century.
Prof Gonzalez said: “The team were crucial in helping to identify the sailboat. We don’t have this expertise here.
“In Europe they have huge underwater archaeological knowledge and they were able to point us in the right direction.”
The research was supported by archived reports from three newspapers that covered the destruction at the time. All confirmed a ship with the ‘English flag’ was battered and marooned after a storm in the stretch of waterfront previously called Boqueirao Beach.
According to reports, the Kestrel was anchored off the coast in the Santos bay when a typhoon struck in the evening.
The skipper, named as Captain Cochrane, and his crew were all ashore apart from three shipmates, a cook, steward and a sailor.
The Rio News Journal wrote: ‘the wind… blew with such violence the anchor chain parted and the vessel went ashore.’
A tugboat called ‘Rapido’ offered to pull the vessel out of danger before it beached but the help was apparently refused said the Santos Commercial Journal.
The ship was left stranded in about a ‘foot of water’. Those on board survived to tell the tale.
Over the years, the Kestrel sunk into the sand and faded from memory until another storm, 122 years later, revealed its whereabouts.
The British ship was built in December 1871 and transported cargo between Europe and America, bringing many items from England to Brazil.
To analyse the structure, Prof Kestrel conducted geophysical tests on the stricken vessel.
He used a magnetometer which detects the presence of metallic objects concealed in the ground and surveyed the wreck with electrical resistance probes which injected currents into the sand using electrodes to map the subsurface archaeological features of the Kestrel.
The professor said: “Together, the two processes allowed us to discover what is under the ground and detect the actual dimensions and depth of the vessel buried below.
“We now know the bottom of the vessel, which was grounded at the time, has not been removed and the pieces of the ship are joined by long metal stakes, which act as joints. We are discovering new information on a regular basis.”
However, the Brazilian navy is yet to grant authorisation for excavation.
Researchers warned the delay could lead to the destruction of the historical remains which are exposed to the environmental elements and wildlife.
“The longer it is exposed the more damage will occur,” said the archaeologist.
“The process of destruction has already begun, with the exposure of the material to the sun, the movement of the tide and the impact of the waves.
“We want to remove it as soon as possible because we could run the risk of something happening to the site,” he explained.
Once the navy gives the green light, Prof Gonzalez predicts it will take up to two months to completely extract the sailboat from its resting place.
Around two million reais (some £500,000) is needed to carry out the work. Funds are expected to come from government bodies and businesses.
Fabiana Pires from Orla authority said: “The municipal administration has cordoned off the area for safety purposes to protect bathers from going into the area and harming themselves because the wooden remains are protruding out of the ground.
“Security cameras are monitoring the area, around the clock, and this is supported by police patrols,
“We’ve also installed signposts warning the site has been recognised as a cultural heritage zone. Whoever tries to tamper with the remains will
be charged with a criminal offence,” she added.
The Kestrel wreck will be placed on public display once it has been excavated, analysed and preserved said archaeologists.