On the hunt for the legendary shipwreck, “La Cordelière”

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During Summer 2018, the “André Malraux”, the DRASSM (the French Department of Underwater Archeological Researches) scientific ship, built by iXblue Shipyard, took part in a 3-week mission, to locate the wrecks of 2 warships, sunk near Brest over 500 years ago: “La Cordelière” and its English opponent, the Regent. A multidisciplinary team of scientists, historians and divers, lead by Michel L’Hour, head of the DRASSM, backed with high-end equipment designed by iXblue, embarked on this exciting journey to explore underwater heritage.

“La Cordelière”, Duchess Anne’s flasgship, and Henry VIII’s the Regent were some of the largest battleships of their time. They sank together during an epic battle of the Breton-French war against the English, after both ships were caught on fire and exploded. No-one knows exactly were the battle took place and searches carried out in 1996 and 2001 failed to locate the shipwrecks. This time, the team’s efforts focused on a new perimeter, based on a new interpretation of tidal movements and archives documents. During these 3 weeks, the mission explored a 6 km² seabed perimeter and the results were quite unexpected!

The André Malraux, a state-of-the art scientific vessel

Launched in 2012 at iXblue Shipyard location, in La Ciotat, France, the “André Malraux” is one of two vessels built by iXblue and owned by the DRASSM. This 36-metre Multipurpose Research Vessel, with more than 70 sqm of work areas, can welcome up to 40 crew members, scientists and divers for surveys up to 8 days. Her mission is to act as a support for human or robotic diving operations in the frame of underwater archeological researches. Made of composite material, which does not rust, is easy to fix, and provides an unrivaled cost of ownership, the “André Malraux” is propelled by a diesel-electric engine. This versatile survey vessel sails about 160 days per year and has become iconic among the profession. The ship integrates Echoes 10 000, iXblue’s ultra-high-resolution sub-bottom profiler, designed for shallow water environment. Coupled to a magnetometer, it can detect buried anomalies in the sediments. The vessel also includes, Gaps, iXblue’s USBL system, which position the sonar, the magnetometer and the ROV, while the Octans, iXblue’s gyrocompass, counterbalances the multi-beam echosounder’s movement. Delph Suite, iXblue seabed mapping software, is also on board the “André Malraux”. It combines an advanced 3D cartographic visualization feature with smart and fast tools for processing, mapping and interpreting data from the sonar, the sub-bottom profiler and the magnetometer and thus facilitates the search for seabed anomalies, which could lead to both shipwrecks.

A third vessel uncovered

The mission, while not successful in finding the two battleships, came across the wreck of a third vessel, temporary named “Sud Minou1”, in reference to the name of the fort and lighthouse nearby. Presumably it looks like a commercial vessel from the 14th or 15th century, an unexpected discovery but nonetheless highly interesting for the archeologists. The DRASSM and its partners are processing the data gathered by the robots, the echosounder and sonars. The equipment has detected anomalies in the sediments, which they are currently analysing.

A new search campaign in June 2019

Searches for “La Cordelière” and the Regent will resume in June 2019 on-board of the “André Malraux” vessel. A new perimeter could be defined based on documentary search about the Regent in the Portsmouth History center‘s archive and the data gathered in the 2018 mission. The new uncovered wreck will also be explored with archaeologist divers and high-tech robotics systems. Another very exciting adventure, at the cross roads of the most advanced underwater technologies and the meticulous and thorough archives work on ancient documents.