He began to assemble an excavation team. For this perilous mission, he chose the gunner, John Bulkeley, whom he considered an argumentative sailor, a so-called lawyer of the sea, always ready to assert that he knew better than his superiors. Since the sinking, Bulkeley seemed to behave with sufficient independence, building his own large cabin and chatting with the other men. But, unlike Lieutenant Baynes, Bulkeley was a fierce worker – a survivor – and the other members of the excavation team would perform better with him in charge. Cheap also sent midshipman John Byron, who had served him faithfully on the voyage and helped him escape the sinking ship.
Under Cheap’s eyes, Bulkeley, Byron and the small team of recruits boarded a boat; the well-being of the whole group was now in their hands. As they rowed along the fragments of the Bet, the waves beat them. Once their boat was attached to the warship, they slid over the wreckage, crawling along the collapsed deck and cracked beams, which continued to break even as the men perched on them.
As the explorers slowly advanced along the sunken ruins, they saw, in the water, the corpses of their compatriots floating between the bridges; one false step, and they would join them. “The difficulties we must have encountered during these visits to the wreckage cannot easily be described,” Byron wrote.
They detected barrels among the debris and lassoed them and transferred them to their boat. “I found several barrels of wine and brandy,” noted Bulkeley enthusiastically. At one point, he reached the captain’s cellar and forced the door open: “Take out several casks of rum and wine, and bring them ashore. »
Cheap quickly dispatched other crews to help with the excavation. “On the Captain’s orders we worked the wreck daily except when the weather did not permit,” Midshipman Campbell wrote. All three boats have been deployed. Cheap knew that the castaways needed to recover as much as possible before the wreckage was completely submerged.
They tried to dig deeper into the hull, into the flooded chambers. Seeping water pooled around them as they burrowed through layers of debris, like shipworms eating through a hull. Hours worked often had little value. Finally, the men broke into part of the hold, extracting 10 barrels of flour, a barrel of peas, several barrels of beef and pork, a container of oatmeal and other barrels of water. -life and wine. They also salvaged canvas, carpentry tools, and nails – which, Campbell noted, “in our situation were of infinite service”. And there was even more: several chests of wax candles, as well as balls of fabric, stockings, shoes and several clocks.
Meanwhile, the shell had come loose again – “exploded”, as Bulkeley put it. And as the wreckage grew increasingly dangerous to climb, with little more than a few rotting planks sticking out of the sea, the men devised a new strategy: they attached hooks to long wooden sticks and, leaning over the gunwale, tried to fish blindly. additional supplies.
On the shore, Cheap had erected a tent near his house, which stored all the provisions. As he had done on the Bet, he relied on the strict hierarchy of officers and non-commissioned officers to enforce his edicts. But, amid the constant threat of rebellion, he primarily trusted a inner circle of allies – a structure within a structure – which included Navy Lieutenant, Hamilton; the surgeon, Elliot; and the commissioner, Harvey.