The former Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley is now fully visible for the first time since it sank outside Charleston harbor in 1864.
On Thursday, experts carefully removed a 50-foot, 17,000-pound truss that has long been sitting on top of the Hunley. Although researchers say the truss was necessary for the Hunley’s safety, it has also completely obstructed a complete view of the submarine until now.
Officials at Clemson’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center said the move was done to improve the visitor experience. “Separating the truss from the Hunley represents the official beginning of the final conservation treatment of the Hunley,” Director Mike Drews said in a statement.
The Hunley made history in 1864 when it became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship– the U.S.S. Housatonic– in the Charleston harbor. However, the submarine sank shortly afterwards itself, taking its eight-member crew down with it.
The wreck was discovered by Clive Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency in 1995. It was raised five years later and delivered to the Lasch Center. The Hunley’s study and conservation is run by the Clemson University Restoration Institute, the South Carolina Hunley Commission, Naval Historical Center, and Friends of the Hunley.
The next step will be modifications on the Hunley’s 90,000-gallon conservation tank. The tank – which currently holds chilled fresh water to stabilize the submarine as it awaits treatment – needs to be altered in order to accommodate the chemicals necessary to conserve the sub.
Scientists hope to have the submarine soaking in the chemical solution by the end of the year. The solution is designed to leach out salts that got into the ship’s iron hull while it sat on the ocean floor. Salt is toxic to iron.