Sharing the stories of The Superyacht Gathering 2020
While COVID-19 may be preventing us from coming together in person and sharing our stories at The Superyacht Gathering, we are making sure we can still bring the stories to you.
Next in the series is Captain Michael Gooding, of M/Y Silentworld and the Silentworld Foundation.
As Captain of 39.6m M/Y Silentworld, Michael has experienced the wonders of Oceania first hand, and has cruised around this special region for nearly 30 years. His role as Captain includes being a part of the not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation, which was set up by Silentworld’s owners to help discover and preserve Australia’s rich maritime history. The yacht now annually undertakes an expedition that highlights the unique history of the South Pacific region and raises awareness for the stories that each expedition discovers. Combining his passion for the sea, exploration and maritime archaeology, Michael has helped create some special experiences for those on board Silentworld, showing how we can use yachts to truly engage with and protect the oceans we sail on.
THE SILENT WORLD. A STORY OF PASSION AND DISCOVERY
I believe stories and the people who share them all can believe in different things – that’s a good thing – we challenge each other and our beliefs to make us a group of humans better. There’s nothing like a story around a group of friends and colleagues involved in our special industry.
Somewhere back in our heritage we come from a long line of seafarers. For some of us that may be more recent than others. I believe we all, in some way, have had a past filled with dreams of adventure and the sea. For some of us the reality varies in degrees. When I was growing up, I was privileged to live by the sea and create a bond I think we all have. When the owners of Silentworld were growing up, and one Director of the Silentworld Foundation in particular, he enjoyed the same sea adventures but also had a passion for maritime history. I was reading comics when he was reading epic tales of boats and the men who sailed them across the Pacific. This is where the story of the Silentworld Foundation begins.
In this story, I will share a little information about the type of work the Foundation does, what we have seen, and why connecting with the oceans and their history is so important. By understanding our history, we connect with the world and the places we visit in an incomparable way – for superyachts, this can be a crucial part of experiencing cruising grounds authentically and forming a connection with the places we visit.
What is the Silentworld Foundation?
The Silentworld Foundation was established in 2007 with the purpose of supporting maritime archaeology in Australia. The Foundation works with respected public institutions for major projects, while smaller initiatives are undertaken individually or with other partners. Its interest is in historical and academic endeavours with a view to furthering our nation’s knowledge of its maritime past. The Foundation does not participate in or support shipwreck hunting for financial gain and its objectives are purely philanthropic. The principal activities are a private museum in Australia, and supporting maritime archaeology and philanthropic projects. As a true historical enthusiast the owner of Silentworld is an extreme collector… often involving some extreme activities!
The main focus of this fanatical enthusiasm, and the Foundation itself, is Australian maritime history from 1600 to 1840. Over the years the owner’s private maritime archaeological collection has grown, but the idea has always been to try and preserve it as a focus instead of being divided up among a multitude of collectors. He has also undertaken a number of restoration and philanthropic projects, not directly related to this core focus, including the raising and restoration of the steam vessel Ena, which was launched in December 1900 and built for Sir Thomas Gibbs in Australia. Another similar project was the search for the AE1 submarine, which was lost during WW1 – our work on this search helped highlighted our national history, as this particular case represented one of Australia’s greatest maritime mysteries. Being able to find the vessel helped solve an old mystery and also bring some closure to the families of the 35 men that were lost when she went down.
Retrieving Historical Treasure
Over the last 10 to 15 years the Foundation has embarked on an annual trip in search of ships of historical significance, using Silentworld as the expedition base. The motivation behind this is not treasure hunting but to retrieve historical treasure. With partnerships between the Australian National Maritime Museum, Queensland University, Museum of Tropical Queensland and Flinders University we go off in search of the stories that lie behind the wrecks of our ancestors. The Foundation plans and finances the expeditions with the aim of research and knowledge. With the help of maritime archaeologists, we piece together the events that lead to where the ships lie to rest. With the aid of Magnetometer surveys, side scan sonar, manta board searches and other tools we hopefully find some items which tell us a little of their fate.
Utilising new technologies
With the rise of new technology, we have been fortunate to be able to utilise drone footage to identify black reef phenomenon. Most of what remains of the wrecks include chains, anchors, pump parts, knees, brackets, sheeting, cannons, ballast and such. With the salt water they create a black image on an otherwise pastel background. This technology is therefore leading to new discoveries which would otherwise take longer periods of time to access. Drones are by no means new to us but the way they are being utilised certainly is. Among our list of expeditions, our research has focused on vessel including the Mermaid, L’Astrolabe, Pandora, Bounty, and the Endeavour among others.
Connecting with our past
Coming up to some of the locations we visit, with all the crew on the top deck, we often wonder with anticipation what we will find beneath the water. Some of the discoveries are from the beach or in-water surveys, but predominantly we try to piece together what happened to bring about the fate of the wreck/site in question.
Once something has been found we then do some more research with measurements of anchors and such and general characteristics to determine what vessel the remains were from. I must say that enabling the various skills of the team brings this type of expedition to fruition. Remembering that we are trying to access specific parts of the reef structure we typically try and program the expeditions when the trade winds have subsided. This gives us more access to the weather side after understanding the prime reasons for the vessels coming to grief.
While some of the artefacts we find may appear mundane, finding a cannon can be a little more romantic. One memorable find was a ship’s bell. We were amazed that for all of the maritime archaeologists on this expedition this was the first time they had made the initial discovery of a ship’s bell. It was pretty special to be going for a dive and realising that you are likely to be the first people to have seen this bell for over 200 years.
Pitcairn Island Expedition
On a recent expedition we travelled to Pitcairn Island, to the east of French Polynesia to dive the wreck of the HMS Bounty – scene of the infamous ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ in the 1700s. To give a bit of background, in 1789 disaffected crewmen, led by Fletcher Christian, seized control of the Bounty from the captain, William Bligh. The mutineers settled in Tahiti and on Pitcairn Island and later burned the Bounty while she was moored off the island. Meanwhile Bligh made his way back to England to begin the process of seeing the mutineers punished. The HMS Pandora travelled to the Pacific to this intent, capturing many of the mutineers but not Christian and his party. The Pandora sadly sank on her return journey. Today, descendants of Christian still live on Pitcairn Island.
There is still much debate over what caused the mutiny, with reasons given including Bligh being a tyrannical leader. Other stories are of free love and after arriving in French Polynesia the crew just didn’t want to leave. I must say that after being in French Polynesia for a number of years now the place does have a magical quality and maybe they just found paradise and the welcoming Polynesian people.
On the expedition we got to dive on the Bounty and witness some of what was left behind. It is a remarkable place and Pitcairn Island is one of the remotest islands on the earth (though we do wonder how long this can last). The types of stories we unfold are typical of Bligh and the famous mutiny. In 2017 Silentworld set off to visit Pitcairn Island on a voyage of discovery, staying in various Island nations along the way. We really do live in an island paradise, although the stretches of ocean in between can be unforgiving at times
When we were planning the trip to Pitcairn Island we realised that in most instances there is no safe anchorage and no shelter, and it was a bit of a challenge. We planned to arrive at dawn and watch the sun rise over Pitcairn and the resting place of the Bounty. From the bridge of Silentworld we all said in unique unison “is that it?”
Connecting With Communities And History
Along the way of discovering wrecks and past lives we often come across communities that may not exist for much longer. During our time in Pitcairn, the Foundation team members stayed with seventh and eighth generation family members for a few days to share stories and learn more about the famous Christian family. The island has a rugged beauty, and just 38 inhabitants, though sadly is no longer self-sufficient. After clearing customs in Pitcairn Island which was a unique event being stamped in by the customs officer “Brenda Christian,” we were able to see the island in a unique way. We not only discovered the heritage of the Bounty and Fletcher Christian but also learned that they were not the first inhabitants of Pitcairn Island as there are traces of Polynesian civilisation.
Although there is little remaining of the Bounty in such harsh conditions this was a rare opportunity to dive on her wreck and was very memorable. After departing Pitcairn Islands we ventured for eight hours to Oeno Island. This was the holiday resort for the mutineers, and the people of Pitcairn Island would come here in a long boat. They hadn’t visited the island in 10 years due to the crossing being too dangerous and not enough young men. We said goodbye hoping that we would return – we are still waiting for the right opportunity.
The Importance Of Maritime Archaeology
As our Pitcairn expedition showed, Maritime Archaeology, is such an important source of historic information, which is one reason the Foundation’s role is so crucial. Often, the sites being visited will contain information not available to land based sites. Due to the lack of oxygen underwater a lot of the material remains intact compared to comparable sites on dry land. Also, while predominantly assessing historical maritime sites we are witness to other developments in the ocean systems. When the programs are developed in partnership with other organisations like the Great Barrier Reef Authority and parks and wildlife, we monitor other aspects of the marine life which form a larger picture of this underwater environment. By preserving our maritime heritage, we will raise awareness of the plight of our oceans and develop a further compassion for what we have and want to retain. We are looking forward to future expeditions with the Silentworld Foundation.