The greatest mystery in British naval history has finally been solved, with the discovery of the final resting place of the HMS Victory.
Its looks would intimidate enemies, and its superior armaments warranted the name. The Victory was the mightiest Royal Navy warship of its time and was considered to be unsinkable. But the unthinkable happened in 1744, when the ship disappeared without a trace.
A crew working on the ship Odyssey has pinpointed portions of the wreck in the English Channel, nearly 70 miles from where the ship was believed to have sunk. The discovery includes 41 bronze cannon of the 110 installed on the Victory, which was the last Royal Navy warship equipped with a full complement of cannon. Four tons of golden coins that scientists say were on the ship have yet to be found.
"Bringing up the cannon of the Victory was definitely the best moment of my 25 years in this business," said Gregory Stemm, co-founder of the Odyssey. "This is as exiting as it gets, because we solved a mystery that kept historians and salvagers puzzled for more than two centuries."
Stemm speculated on why the Odyssey had succeeded where so many other teams had failed.
"Let's say, we treat shipwrecks differently," he said. "We don't look at the historical publications like most people. With the Victory, we went back to original journals and found that the ship sank about an hour after it was seen for the last time. And from then on it was a mystery as to what happened to it. Almost as if aliens had took it."
Marine archaeologist Neil Dobson said the discovery was a watershed moment for British naval history.
"For the British it is a big deal," he said. "In its time it was the top of the technology. It was as major as major ships get."
Dobson said he's looking forward to taking a closer look at the cannon and telling the story of the Victory.
"It's not only the story of the ship, it is also the story of Admiral John Balchin and the nearly thousand men that lived on the ship," he said. "We hope to find personal artifacts with initials that can tell us more."
Stemm said the location of the wreck would serve to rehabilitate Balchin's reputation.
"Finding this shipwreck has served to exonerate Admiral Balchin and his officers from the accusation of having let the ship run aground ... due to faulty navigation," he said.
Despite having sunk long ago, the Victory is still under threat: the shipwreck is slowly disappearing because of intensive trawling in the area. Scientists say that if the shipwreck is left in its place it will be ploughed away in time and lost forever.
To pinpoint the wreck, Dobson used a remotely operated vehicle called The Zeus, which is equipped with cameras and grasping devices.
"As I can't physically go down, pick up artifacts, turn them around or look underneath a rock, the Zeus does that for me," he said. "It can be exact up to a couple inches."
At eight tons, the Zeus, which is about the size of an SUV, can go deeper than any diver can, up to 8,200 feet underwater.
The Odyssey team made a photo mosaic in three days of the shipwreck site with the help of more than 2,800 photographs from the Zeus. Photos and other footage of the find will appear on the Discovery Channel's program "Treasure Quest" Thursday, Feb. 5 at 10 p.m.
While the Odyssey team is thrilled at the discovery of the HMS Victory for the purposes of science and historical interest, others see a potential financial boon.
According to a 1744 edition of the Dutch newspaper Amsterdamsche Courant, the Victory was carrying "400,000 pounds sterling."
Scientists think the coins are probably gold and silver weighing approximately four tons. The treasure has not yet been found.