Joint Expedition of

“Ayas” Nautical Research Club and “Anahit” Association

By Karen Balayan

In 1698 the “Quedagh Merchant” 400 tons trade vessel, which belonged to the Armenian shipowners and merchants – brothers Hovhannes and Hakob Khoja – left Indian Calcutta for Surat city. Unfortunately, on its way the vessel hit upon the “Adventure Galley” pirate ship of Captain William Kidd’s, who attacked and plundered the “Quedakh”. Same year Kidd entered the Atlantic on that vessel and sailed towards the Caribbean.

The Armenian shipowners sent a letter about their loss to the English King William III, who announced Kidd a pirate and ordered to capture and imprison him. In March of 1699, Kidd had reached the Caribbean Islands. He left “Quedagh Merchant” there and sailed to New York, where was arrested and taken to the jail. Two years later the King’s Court sentenced Kidd to noose, and on May 23, 1701 the pirate was hung in London. At the court hearing the Armenian merchants succeeded to prove their property rights for the vessel and the goods on it. Moreover, based on the investigations, the Court proved also that the vessel was the Armenians’ property.

Meantime, the vessel has been abandoned by Espanola Island.

In search of “Quedah Merchant” wrecks a joint expedition together with “Anahit” Association was launched on a ketch (2-mast yacht) in winter of 2007 – 2008. During the expedition we discovered some things and investigated the seaboard bottom as well. Unfortunately, the body of the vessel is lost completely, but we were happy to find ship guns covered by the corals.

What we found out during the expedition went with our expectations! And all is true: just before submerging the “Adventure Galley” Kidd transferred the whole property, including the guns, to the captured Armenian ship. As there were more guns than it was possible to use as a weapon, a part of them was used as ballast; that explains why they were found piled together. On the other hand, the crew, leaving the vessel, took with them and sold everything possible and fired the ship. As a result, no remnants of ship or load are present now.

Now we can imagine ourselves the last days of the “Quedah Merchant”. Obviously, Captain Kidd anchored the vessel in the estuary of La Romana River and left for New York in order to take care of his own problems. Meantime, waiting for their captain, the crew sold the remaining goods piece by piece. Finally, when it became clear that the Captain Kidd won’t return back, his folks sacked everything and fired the ship.

The ES winds are vernacular to this region – they blew all 20 days of our stay at the island. On the other hand the local sea stream is NW and coincides with the wind along the same axes (the wind blows into the compass, and the stream from the compass). That is why, when the anchor cable broke off, the burning ship was taken by the river’s stream to the open sea and stranded at Catalina Island in 3 miles away from the estuary of La Romana River, and at the island’s windward was completely ruined. No captain might anchor a ship at windward when it is possible to turn around the island and to find a convenient and serene harbor. And a couple of facts witness for that assumption. For instance, the site of the wreck is just 3 to 4 meters only (let’s recall that the ship’s displacement was 400 tons, so the depth of the vessel is approximately the same, and, probably, the vessel was touching sea bottom). On the other hand, there was no ship body found, which was wrecked by the swash – the burnt out vessel was thrown onto the rocks by the Eastern side of Catalina Island and the swash, crashing everything, just completed the job. However, we tried to find whatever possible yet. We submerged again and again, toothcombed the bottom up to 35 meters deep, but found nothing except the beauty of the Caribbean.