From the start of the project, artifact recovery was SJAEI's primary interest in the wreck. The 1986 court settlement between the United States and SJAEI allowed the group to legally pursue site excavation (Moseley 1992:174-175). By early 1988 all federal, state, and local permits necessary for excavation work were secured by SJAEI. The permits allowed a total of 660 cubic yards of bottom sediment to be removed from the site over a five year period (Bodges and Olsen 1992:187-190). Holland (personal communication 1992) decided to excavate in the aft cargo hold because it held personal belongings and did not suffer damage from the torpedo explosion. Testimony taken after the loss of the vessel indicated the forward hold was packed with tents and sutlers stores but the explosion caused extensive damaged in this area (Board of Survey 1864).
All diving activities were conducted from a 28 foot pontoon boat set up with surface supplied diving equipment. Mooring points were established on the wreck at the rudder and the paddle wheel shaft to accommodate shifting work areas. A third mooring was established on the stem post in 1989. The diving system consisted of a custom made dive control center that accommodated two divers using band masks with a hard wire communication system. This system provided diver to surface and diver to diver communication. Breathing gas was supplied by a bank of four, 320 cubic foot compressed gas cylinders filled with manufactured air containing 80 percent nitrogen and 20 percent oxygen. The gas bottles were carried on a small wooden barge along with a 16 horse power centrifugal pump used to power a 4 inch venturi dredge. This dredge worked very effectively on the overburden but for controlled excavation within the hull, the dredge hose was stepped down to 2 inches. The exhaust from the dredge passed through a pyramidal shaped catch cage, 4 feet square at the base, made of reinforcing rod covered with 1/4 inch hardware cloth (Lee B. Manley, personal communication 1992).
The immediate excavation plan called for locating the after cargo hatch to gain access to the cargo hold. A 1/4 inch steel cable marked in 10 foot increments was stretched between the rudder post and paddle wheel shaft to act as a baseline and define search areas. This cable only roughly followed the centerline of the ship. Beginning at the paddle wheel shaft and working aft, divers used a 7 foot steel rod to probe along the baseline in 10 foot intervals. At each one of these intervals, probing also extended to the starboard and port sides of the vessel in 10 foot increments. The deck appeared intact and structurally sound with very little debris in the overlying sediment. Although the cargo hatch was not found, probing indicated a small hole in the deck on the port side, 46 feet aft of the paddle wheel shaft and 13 feet north of the baseline. Eventually, this point became the north east corner of the access hole that was cut through the deck (Lee B. Manley, personal communication 1992; Manley 1992:148-149).
An excavation was made to determine if this hole could provide entry into the cargo hold. Five feet of bottom sediment covered the area and a hole 6 feet in diameter was dredged to examine the deck. Two broken deck planks, sprung from a deck beam, accounted for the opening and the surrounding deck structure appeared sound. A decision was made to enter the cargo hold at that point by cutting through the deck. The test hole was enlarged to 15 feet in diameter to provide more room. One of the broken planks was removed so that a hand saw could be used to cut through the deck. Using the side of a deck beam as a guide, a 4 foot long cut was made athwart ship. An identical and parallel cut was made two deck beams aft of the first and the planking removed. The resulting hole measured 4 feet port to starboard and 42 inches fore and aft with a deck beam passing through the center. The planks were recovered for conservation and subsequent documentation. The beam measured 6 inches sided and 7 inches molded with a space of 18 inches, determined by marks on the underside of the planking. This indicated the deck beams were placed on 24 inch centers. The deck planking measured 5 1/4 inches wide and 2 1/4 inches thick. A typical deck plank is fastened to the beam with two diagonally placed 5/16 inch square spikes, counter sunk and capped with wooden plugs (Cantelas 1992; SJAEI 1988).
Mud completely filled the interior of the hold and the cargo reached within 3 to 6 inches of the deck beams. The beam running through the center of the access hole hindered diver entry and posed a safety problem. A search by feel identified barrels, boxes, trunks and a number of tent poles. The contents of three boxes were recovered in order to assess the preservation conditions of the wreck and conclusively prove the vessel's identity. The boxes themselves were not recovered at the time and only one was recovered at a later date in 1989. During recovery and subsequent storage, general artifact associations were maintained by box. Approximately 100 artifacts were recovered from these boxes (Lee B. Manley, personal communication 1992; Manley 1992:149-150).
By the end of July all project objectives for the season were completed. To protect the interior of the wreck, a 4 foot square sheet of plywood was placed over the access hole and nailed in place. The excavation was then backfilled (Manley 1992:150).