In January of 1686 a French ship of the early small frigate type went down in Matagorda Bay in what is now Texas, approximately 200 miles south southwest of Galvez Bay (modern day Galveston). The ship carried 43 souls and was part of the exploration flotilla led by Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. The lovely vessel, with her clean lines and shallow bottom, lay in the bay for nearly 300 years.
The Sieur de La Salle dreamed of claiming the vast western territory of what is now the U.S. for France. Though he did manage to establish what would become the Louisiana Territory, his efforts in Texas led to disaster. Illness, hunger and Spanish and native onslaughts destroyed his settlement, Fort St. Louis. La Belle was the last of his ships, wrecked on a sandbar in heavy seas. Though La Salle and most of his crew escaped, his vision faded to black. La Salle was ambushed and murdered by two of his own men in March of 1687. The Spanish built Fort La Bahia on the ruins of Fort St. Louis in 1722.
But La Belle survived in surprisingly good condition. She was meticulously excavated and moved to a huge vat of oil on Texas A & M’s Riverside Campus. Now the college’s Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation is trying out a new process for preserving and eventually displaying the frigate: freeze drying.
According to this article from Texas A & M, La Belle will be placed in a freeze dryer “large enough to hold a few head of cattle”. The goal is to have the ship reassembled and put on exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin, Texas within three years.
The project is massive, groundbreaking and certainly worth keeping an eye on. You can bet Triple P will keep you updated. More pictures of the original excavation are available here. And here is the fascinating video that explains the process of preserving La Belle. A worthwhile endeavor indeed.