*** The “Manuel Polanco” wreck, named in honor of the fisherman who located it and informed INAH, is number 70 registered in the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve
*** The remains, including an anchor, a cannon, and pig iron ingots used as ballast, are believed to correspond to an English sailing ship from the late 18th or early 19th centuries.
Q. Roo. – Little by little, the story of a sailboat begins to reveal itself, the wreck of which probably occurred in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Underwater archaeologists theorize that the crew of that vessel made one last effort to avoid the catastrophe. This is inferred from the discovery of an ‘activated’ anchor, that is, it was launched into the sea with the intention of attaching itself to the reef barrier, and it was to such a degree that today it continues to be girded and fully integrated into the coral system.
However, this action was in vain because the boat found, in the worst way, why the false atoll of Banco Chinchorro was known for centuries as the ‘Dreamcatcher’. The remains of the sailboat represent the wreck number 70 registered by the Subdirectorate of Underwater Archeology (SAS) of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in this Quintana Roo nature reserve.
And although the details of that shipwreck are just beginning to ‘float’ within the framework of the national dissemination campaign “Contigo en la Distancia”, by the Ministry of Culture, the details of the discovery are the result of incessant research.
Laura Carrillo Márquez, SAS researcher and head of the Banco Chinchorro Project, explains that it was in past months when a first inspection day was carried out in order to record, through two diving sessions, the GPS location of the derelict and make an inspection general of the same.
It will be in the second phase of work —which will be carried out once the health contingency passes through COVID-19— when the specialists return to the field to draw plans, delve into the characteristics of the context and perhaps take some samples to investigate their temporality.
For now, the underwater archaeologist details, it is difficult to talk about the dimensions of the sailboat, its cargo or other details, since the area in which it is located, southeast of Banco Chinchorro, is complex. “It lies directly on the reef barrier where the ocean current is strong.”
The above, added to the fact that the wreck is barely two or three meters from the surface, means that there is practically nothing left of the wooden hull, since the organic material of that structure has disintegrated over the centuries.
“Only the solid elements remain, very specific to the reef”, describes Carrillo when listing some of the objects registered in the initial reconnaissance: pig iron ingots that were used as ballast, some tubes, a cannon approximately 2.5 meters long and an anchor ‘admiralty’, a term that designates the guides issued by the English kingdom for the manufacturers of these tools.
Although some of the vestiges seem to indicate a British affiliation, the INAH researcher clarifies that this hypothesis must be corroborated or discarded, through analyzes that will be meticulously done, taking care of the environmental balance of the site.
The history of the “Manuel Polanco” wreck
The fishermen are the ones who know Chinchorro the best since they navigate it daily to earn their day, diving the Caribbean waters to find the fish, lobsters or snails they sell in Mahahual or Xcalak, and sometimes they happen to find submerged archaeological contexts.
Manuel Polanco is an example of this, because although he is now retired from activity, in the 60s and 70s, he found the remains of various shipwrecks, including two of the most iconic in Banco Chinchorro: “40 Cañones” and “ The Angel”.
The octogenarian fisherman has also stood out for being an active collaborator in the protection of the submerged cultural heritage, since since those years he has spoken with archaeologists and specialists in favor of the conservation of this heritage.
Thus, in the 90s, Manuel led the engineer Peter Tattersfield to the fragments of a ship named “El Inglés”, which was recorded years later.
Tattersfield, an enthusiast of underwater archeology and assiduous collaborator of the SAS, contacted in recent months the head of this instance of the INAH, Roberto Junco Sánchez, and initiated the negotiations between Manuel Polanco and underwater archaeologists Laura Carrillo and Nicolás Ciarlo.
After this, a working group was formed, led by Carrillo, which included Peter Tattersfield, Carlos Gottfried, Daniel Maldonado, Pablo Sada, Manuel Pesqueira, Juan José Álvarez, David Patterson, Francisco Con, Álvaro Buenaventura and Juan Castro.
And although due to his advanced age, Manuel can no longer go out to sea, the group received the help of his son, Benito Polanco, a ship captain who, after hearing the directions, led the experts to the historic site.
It should be noted that one of the canons that the SAS follows is to thank the help of its collaborators by naming some sites in honor of them. Thus, “El Inglés” has left this name behind to be officially registered as the “Manuel Polanco” wreck.
This fact allows that, among sailboats, steamers, merchant ships and tugs of different nationalities and times, today there are 70 shipwrecks that the INAH registers, protects and investigates in Banco Chinchorro, and with each one it is possible to know more about the last 500 years of navigation in American waters.
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