A commercial diver and an amateur historian may have just discovered an anchor lost during the Vancouver Expedition of the 1790s.
“Ka-ching!” That’s what went through Doug Monk’s mind when he made the discovery that would change his life in January 2008. While harvesting sea cucumbers off of Whidbey Island, the commercial diver found what he’s come to believe is a 900-pound anchor lost by the HMS Chatham as it passed through Puget Sound on the famed Vancouver Expedition of the 1790s. Since then Monk and amateur historian Scott Grimm—with the help of their attorney Alan Foe—have put in thousands of hours of research to support the theory. This June, they’ll pull up the anchor, have it examined, and—they hope—prove wrong everyone who’s doubted them. Money would be nice, but what they really want now is to rewrite history.
Doug Monk: There was a pretty good current, and it pulled my hose down to the bottom, where it got hung up. I followed my hose back, and I ran into this clump of barnacles about head high. It looked really odd. It wasn’t a rock; it was too straight up and down. I looked down, saw the ring and shank, and then it dawned on me. If you weren’t looking for an anchor, you could walk right by it. We dove there for years, actually, without seeing it.
Scott Grimm: The British Navy lost lots of anchors over the centuries. But this is the only artifact from the Vancouver Expedition that’s known to be here. The ship is gone. This was the start of white civilization in this region. As a matter of fact, it was the first time a white man had ever gone down Puget Sound. It’s the beginnings of our history here in the Northwest.
DM: I could have pulled it up myself. That kind of thing happens all the time. I talked to my boss, and he said, “If you’re not willing to go through the process, just leave it there and let someone else do it.” And I said, “Well I found it.” And he said, “Well you’d be destroying historical property. You’ll be in a lot of trouble.”
SG: We were always taught that the anchor was in Bellingham Channel. And if you just do a quick reading of the crew’s journals, you conclude that it is. But that’s not where Doug found it. And we think historians have misinterpreted the journals. In fact, we know they did.
DM: I hired a historian from Canada to do a bunch of research, to find out if it was the anchor or not. And he decided that it wasn’t. I wasn’t very happy with the report. Everything he used I could find on the Internet.
SG: As you can see, I get a little excited about this stuff. It was like CSI. A mutual friend told me about the anchor, and I just started doing my own research. Doug didn’t even know. I really wanted to solve this mystery. Once I finally broke it all down, it was 35 pages of analysis. I got Doug’s email address, sent this off to him, and said, “I think you’ve got the anchor, guy.”
DM: The first time we met, we just talked for a while. We went to the yacht club that he goes to. We had quite a bit in common. He drinks beer, I drink beer. Guy stuff like that. We hit it off right away.
SG: He was exactly what I thought he’d be. He’s a smart man living a simple life. He gives you the aw-shucks-I’m-just-a-country-bumpkin vibe, but that’s bullshit. He’s really bright, and he’s a good businessman.
DM: He’s brilliant. I’d never tell him that, but he is.
SG: A couple years ago we had a teleconference with Jim Delgado, the director of maritime heritage at NOAA. He goes, “Your analysis is outstanding. But you’ve got a problem. That can’t be the anchor.” We go, “Why not?” He said, “It’s got anchor chain. And they didn’t use anchor chain back then.” So everything came to a grinding halt.
DM: Me and my wife used to call it the anger instead of the anchor. There’s just so much turmoil around it. Nothing ever seemed to go right for a while.
SG: About eight months later I was watching Master and Commander. There’s this scene where they’re lifting the anchor, and just the sight of it made me go, “You know, goddamn it, my analysis is right.” So I started researching anchor chain and anchor chain patents. Well I find out that in the 1640s they patented chain. And then in the 1690s, this British admiral said that it could be feasible that anchor chain could be used. Then in 1783 and 1791, the year that the Vancouver Expedition left, there was a patent filed for marine anchor chain. We showed it to Delgado, and he was stunned. He goes, “You got me there.”
SG: I’m Jesuit educated. And the Jesuits have always taught to question assumptions. I had a great priest who once told me, “Ninety-eight percent of all the scientists thought that Isaac Newton was wrong. You have to always approach life with the assumption that things aren’t right until you prove that they are.”
DM: I don’t have the background to argue with anyone who says it’s not the anchor. But I know what I know, and I can believe what I want.
SG: This thing could be worth nothing, or it could be worth a half million dollars. But I want to correct the history books. I really do. I want to make sure they’re right.
Check out video of the photo shoot:
Video filmed and edited by Chris Raz