Mary-Celestia Project Outline

We are now in the post-prodution process which is being adjusted to incorporate the ground breaking Photogrammetry fly-throughs and 3D shipwreck visualization resulting from our UCSD collaboration. Please contact us for updated information.

The Outline below was written in the beginning of the project in 2011.

This is a teaser of our upcoming film on the Mary-Celestia, including the recovery of wine hidden in it's bow:

In June 2011 a joint US/Bermuda archaeological team will excavate and recover the wine and other contraband items from the bow of the Mary-Celestia.

We will follow the wine’s remarkable journey from the bottom of the ocean to the labs of UC Davis in California to the table of one of the world’s most respected wine connoisseurs. 

The civil war wine recovery is told amid the story of Bermuda of 1864 - the front line of the civil war blockade running and the point of collision for secret service agents, gun runners and millionaire business men. Was the sinking of the Marie Celeste a deliberate act? We explore new theories as to who may have plotted to sink her.

This film is a LookBermuda / LookFilms production and is being produced in Hi Definition to International Broadcast standards.


Project Outline (written in 2011):

Mary-Celestia (aka Marie-Celeste aka Mary-Celeste)

Mary-Celestia, Civil War Wine.

The recovery of the  Civil War Wine is a rescue marine archaeology project initiated by the Custodian of Historic Wrecks Dr Philippe Rouja. The project developed after he recovered an intact bottle of wine from the wreck of the blockade runner the Mary-Celestia during a post hurricane survey in 2009 and then a second during a post winter storm survey in January 2011, (see above trailer, filmed during the latest survey).

The project involves the excavation and recovery of artifacts from the front bulkhead of the bow section of the wreck. What is unique about this find is that while the main cargo holds of the wreck were salvaged at the time of her sinking in 1864 and later excavated on several occasions after the advent of SCUBA this section of the bow has remained relatively undisturbed, except by storm action, to this day. The location of the wine and cases in the small front bulkhead suggests that what has been found is a stash of private contraband, separate from her general cargo, upon an infamous contraband ship. The plan is to rescue any remaining artifacts which we anticipate will include bottles of wine, the cases they came in and any other items of value destined for the confederate south that can add to the story of this celebrated ship and its role in the civil war.

This will be an archaeological collaboration between Bermuda and the United States with Bermuda’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks, Dr Philippe Rouja and the Director of the Maritime Heritage Programfor the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA),Dr James Delgadoleading the archaeological recovery, who has previously hosted the Sea Hunters series on the National Geographic and History Channels .

Bottles removed from the site will be hermetically sealed and sent to UC Davies in California. Scientific analysis of the wine residue will aim to identify the grape, region and possibly the wine itself.

If the bottles have settled cork down there is every chance that the wine will be ‘intact’ and may still be drinkable. If this is the case a wine expert will be invited to comment on the quality of the wine as part of a civil war era taste test.

The collaboration details have been ironed out with  the recovery starting in June 2011.

The sinking of the Mary-Celestia has always been shrouded in mystery. A local pilot seemingly ran her onto the reef on south shore. Although foul play was touted at the time and an enquiry into the pilots action were called for, the incident has long been accepted as a tragic accident. However, further study into the circumstances of the sinking of the Mary-Celestia has unearthed more questions than answers. Research into the political and economic climate of the time has lead to new avenues of investigation to identify who might have had the motive and the means to deliberately sink her.

1864, and to Lincoln’s mind an end to the civil war was long overdue – the superior numbers and industrial resources of the north should have ensured a relatively quick victory. However the supply of military materials flowing into southern ports was helping to keep the confederate cause alive. A lethal game of cat and mouse between the US navy and the confederate blockade runners was playing out along the eastern sea board. The center of operations for the blockade runners and the front line for the US campaign against them was the tiny island of Bermuda.

The film explores the remarkable place that Bermuda was. A neutral port with open support of the confederacy and the point of collision for merchants, sailors, secret service operatives, gun runners, naval officers and millionaire business men.

Exploring the blockade running industry from this pivotal location the film reveals just how much was at stake financially and militarily as well as those with vested interests in the game of cat and mouse.

While the film follows the recovery of this civil war era wine from the bow of the Marie Celeste, 65 feet below the surface of Bermuda’s waters to the labs of UC Davies in California, and with some luck to the table of a wine expert. We will also pursue the trails of evidence to tackle the theories of who may have plotted to sink the Mary-Celestia. 

If you would like more information or to support this project, please contact us.

International Partnership Rescues Shipwrecked Wine From Bermuda Shipwre

  photo Chris Burville for LookBermuda

photo Chris Burville for LookBermuda

The storm-tossed remains of an American Civil War blockade runner have yielded long-buried secretsphoto Chris Burville for LookBermuda to an international team of archaeologists working with Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services.  A secret stash of wine, lodged inside the bow of the wreck of the Mary Celestia, which lies immediately offshore from the Fairmont Southampton Princess and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, has emerged from the sand and silt which had shrouded it since the ship struck the reef and sank on September 6, 1864.  Five bottles of wine, still packed inside a wooden crate, remained corked with their liquid contents intact after 147 years underwater.

The top of the crate emerged from the sand inside the bow after a series of winter storms swept over the site in January 2011.  Dr. Philippe Rouja, Bermuda’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks, secured the bow of the wreck after recovering a loose bottle of wine, also still corked, and immediately reached out to colleagues at NOAA and the Waitt Foundation in order to create an expert team with experience in marine heritage management and the excavation of shipwrecks of this period to explore and potentially rescue this unique find. The Bermuda Government has been working with these eminent institutions since 2009 in the formation of the Sargasso Sea Alliance – an Alliance dedicated to enhancing protection of the Sargasso Sea in which the islands of Bermuda lie.

  photo: Tane Casserley for NOAA

photo: Tane Casserley for NOAA


The Waitt Foundation  has underwritten the displacement costs of the initiative for all foreign partners as well as sending Dr. Dominique Rissolo, an archaeologist and executive director of the Waitt Institute, along with Joe Lepore, the Waitt Institute’s chief diver and head of ship operations, to aid in the exploration and  recovery of the contents of Mary Celestia’s bow.

19June2011_Mary Celestia_Casserley__68.jpg

Archaeologist Dr. James Delgado, the director of the Maritime Heritage Program in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, joined by two NOAA team members, Tane Casserley and Wayne Lusardi, joined the rest of the team this past week to co-direct the project with Drs. Rouja and Rissolo.  Carefully removing all of the sand and silt from inside the broken but still intact bow of the wrecked blockade runner, the team exposed the wooden crate, intact wooden paneling and shelves, and a corroded metal wash basin rusted fast to the inside of the hull.  As Dr. Delgado gently removed the silt from the crate with Dr. Rouja, the tops of the bottles inside slowly emerged with their corks still in place.  “The promise of the one bottle found this past January  was realized in that moment,” said Dr. Rouja.  “To reveal even more of this lost cargo standing lined up in their wooden crate as if they were waiting for their owner to return is a great reminder of how archaeology adds excitement and value to our shared historical narratives.

18June2011_Mary Celestia_Casserley__9.jpg

Mary Celestia is a wreck with historical significance to the United Kingdom, where she was built, Bermuda, where she operated out of and where she wrecked, and the United States, where she ran to as a blockade runner during the U.S. Civil War.  For the NOAA team, Mary Celestia had special importance. The joint heritage represented by this wreck is a direct link to NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in North Carolina and NOAA’s work to document and better understand and share the stories of the shipwrecks near the wreck of Monitor that speak to the Civil War, World War II, and the shipping that for centuries has been linked to this section of coast, an area known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”


“The ocean is a vast repository of human history, some of it encompassed in marine protected areas and sanctuaries.  Our team was pleased to join this project to help protect and interpret our joint heritage that links this protected shipwreck sites in Bermuda to Wilmington, North Carolina and our nearby sanctuary.” said Dr. Delgado.  “After undergoing laboratory analysis and preservation treatment, the wine and our other finds will tell their story to Bermudians and the rest of the world thanks to modern science.”    The excavation also yielded the remains of leather shoes, rope, a hairbrush and the wooden form for a shoe.  After clearing the bow and documenting the fragile wooden structure inside this area of the ship, the team replaced the sand to preserve the wood inside the now empty compartment. The artifacts are in the conservation laboratory at the National Museum of Bermuda where the effort will shift to further study and preservation treatment.

This discovery in the bow of the Mary Celestia has yielded a long-lost secret in a box of wine stashed away from the ship’s cargo– a cargo at the time said to be nothing more than tinned meats. It compels researchers and scientists to take another look at the historical narrative surrounding one of Bermuda’s most iconic dive sites. Mary Celestia is a compelling reminder of how the shattered iron bones of a wreck ravaged by time and elements can still connect us to the people of events of long ago.  “I wonder who left that crate in the bow,” commented Dr. Rissolo, “and why. “  That question may forever remain unanswered.  But what is clear is that while Mary Celestia may have yielded one of her secrets,  she retains others in the form of questions about what type of wine is inside the bottles and where it came from.  Scientists will now seek to answer those questions.


This project is being filmed by LookBermuda/LookFilms as part of their upcoming film about the Mary-Celestia and Blockade Running. As well as being broadcast in Bermuda and the US the film will be made available to the island schools via the LookBermuda Educational Media Foundation. Jean-Pierre Rouja from LookBermuda says: “This is by far our largest project to date for which we assembled a team from Bermuda, the US and the UK and captured incredible underwater footage which will really showcase this wreck and diving in Bermuda.”