MAHS in the Netherlands Antilles


     of the Alphen Explosion

The Alphen was a Dutch frigate that sank in the Curaçao harbor in 1778 following a violent explosion.

As the story goes, the entire powder magazine ignited, whether by accident or sabotage is unclear.   The sound of the blast was so great that it was heard on the neighboring islands of Aruba and Bonaire, as much as 75 miles away.
The explosion literally tore the vessel apart.   Large pieces of the bow and several of the Alphen’s 36 cannons were thrown long distances onto the shore, while much of the remainder of the vessel disintegrated.

Yet, eyewitness accounts reported that part of the stern and cabin sections of the ship broke away from the rest of the vessel, and sank to the bottom in one piece.

Dr. Nagelkerken has been working in the Willemstad harbor since the late 1980s, when he began conducting surveys of the harbor bottom aimed at locating both the Alphen and the Mediator.   Over the course of several field seasons, MAHS divers assisted Nagelkerken in extending some of the earlier test excavations at the site, using airlifts to complete a series of shallow test pits within the debris field. Bathymetric Map -- Click for large image

MAHS also re-established a baseline at the southern end of the field, and helped excavate two deep pits in that area to determine whether buried remains were present.   And finally, divers completed a preliminary bathymetric map of the harbor bottom, from the modern quay through the center of the site to the edge of the shipping channel (click on the thumbnail to the right for an cross section through the site drawn from the bathymetric data).

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