Last November, HCA announced an initiative to begin conservation work on the hull of the HMB DeBraak. One of the conservation team’s most urgent objectives was to improve the hull’s support-system and to add a water-filtration system that cleans the water that is used to keep the hull wet.

Over the last several weeks, HCA maintenance and curatorial staff have been hard at work prepping the space for the work ahead:

A view of the hull from above. This aerial image was taken in the 1990s, before it was moved to its current home.

Today, plastic sheeting forms a perimeter around the hull to keep the moisture (and mess) inside. After existing in the seabed for nearly two centuries, it needs a constant provision of moisture in order to keep the cellular structure of the water-logged timber from collapsing.

The PVC piping that you see surrounding it is the current sprinkler system that is used to provide the moisture. This will be enhanced in the unfolding conservation plan to filter the water and better conserve the hull.

For nearly 20 years, the DeBraak has been cradled over a shallow retaining pool by metal beams. Constant exposure to moisture over the years has caused these beams to deteriorate and contaminate the surrounding water.

This is what the water was beginning to look like after collecting years of residue from the hull and the system that was put in to support it:

HCA Curator, Chuck Fithian, uses a pressure washer to remove residue and murky water from a shallow pool beneath the HMB DeBraak:

Ryann Schafer, Ed Gillespi, and Mike Chillas, from our Preservation Maintenance Team, help Keith Minsinger (in blue), Curator of Collections Management, to guide the murky water towards a sump pump, which will remove it from the basin:

Fresh water is brought in to help flush out and replace the old:

Keith and Chuck check to see how much “sludge” vs. water is coming out of the building:

“Yep… Still sludge…”


Now the DeBraak is happy in her freshly-cleaned home. Next step – upgrading the irrigation system. Then, the hull will actually be raised – and not by the brute strength of Keith and Chuck alone – to replace the old beams with a new support system that is better suited for the environmental conditions. Stay tuned and we’ll try to keep you in on the progress!

The State of Delaware also cares for a significant collection of artifacts from the DeBraak shipwreck. These rare examples of textiles, weapons, and technology from the late 18th-century strengthen our understanding of the Atlantic World as well as Delaware’s historical role within it.

What interests you most about the DeBraak and its collections? What would you most like to see from it?