Series: Treasure Quest – HMS Victory special

Treasure Quest - HMS Victory
Treasure Quest - HMS Victory

This is an excerpt of two episodes from the Discovery Channel series Treasure Quest, which recounts the activities of Odyssey Marine Exploration as they travel the English Channel one summer, looking for valuable shipwrecks to salvage. Odyssey is a listed company that conducts for-profit archaeology.

The episodes cover the discovery and subsequent identification of the HMS Victory in the English Channel. The Victory was an 18th century British warship believed to have been carrying substantial loot when she sank. The explanation of the process of investigation, and recovery of two cannons from the site, is fascinating.

The DVD is available here. There’s no need to purchase it if you already own the first season of Treasure Quest, as this is simply the two episodes of that season that deal with the Victory.

Series: Treasure Quest

Treasure Quest
Treasure Quest

Odyssey Marine Exploration is a listed company (Nasdaq: OMEX) that conducts deep-sea salvage operations on shipwrecks believed to be valuable (in money terms). They use side scan sonar to map the sea floor, expert eyes to identify potential targets, and tethered ROVs to examine those targets and decide whether they’re worth salvaging. The Wired magazine article I posted about here describes their activities. As I mentioned in that post, some are critical of the company for being treasure hunters and failing to preserve the archaeological remains of the ships they plunder. They’ve also run afoul of several governments for a variety of reasons relating to salvage rights.

Treasure Quest (only one season on DVD so far) documents a season of wreck hunting in the English Channel. We are frequently told it costs over $30,000 per day to keep the operation running, and it’s clear from the awesome ships and gadgets used by the crew that this is a big money operation. There seems to be a job for every single kind of person: computer techs, general handymen, project managers, archaeologists and historians, photographers, sailors, and those skilled at Playstation (they drive the ROVs using joysticks from the surface).

The vessels explored ranged from merchant to pirate ships, navy vessels to submarines – of various eras. Their most exciting find in this series was the wreck of the HMS Victory (one of the six ships that bore the name), an 18th century British warship believed to have been carrying a lot of treasure. Not all the episodes involved a successful outcome, but the variety of the activities recorded, along with the total romance and drama of being at sea looking for pirate treasure with the finest modern technology, ensured that we kept watching.

Two of the episodes in the middle of the series are purely archaeology and marine history focused. Keen to show they’re not just treasure hunters (they are) the Odyssey team checked out four German U-boats in the English channel. This was quite a moving episode – not because of the ramblings of the member of Odyssey’s crew who spent years as a submariner and seemed to have forgotten that sixty five years ago the German submariners were the sworn and heartfelt enemies of his Allied brethren, but because of the extremely funny (inadvertently) yet sincere German U-boat historian whose expertise assisted the Odyssey team members in identifying which sub was which. When I see those submarines on the ocean floor – whether intact (indicating that the men inside died slowly, knowing what was coming) or ripped to shreds (indicating a mercifully quick death) – I am filled with respect for those who would agree to spend weeks in a confined space, out of sight of daylight, facing constant threats of danger.

Another episode entails a visit to the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, off the Irish coast. This wreck was purchased many years ago by a wealthy entrepreneur who chartered the Odyssey vessel to conduct dives on the wreck over a period of about a week, in order to photograph the vessel and to try and determine why she sank so rapidly.

The final episode is an account of the greatest succcess Odyssey has had to date, the discovery of a wreck they call The Black Swan (and the source of much of the diplomatic controversy that the company has experienced). Seventeen tons of gold and silver coins were recovered from this site but owing to a lengthy legal process, they are in limbo and cannot be disposed of as yet.

Tony and I devoured this series, both of us contemplating selling our worldly possessions and buying a ship to hunt treasure with! After reading Robert Ballard’s book on using submersibles to explore depths beyond those which a human on scuba could penetrate – The Eternal Darkness – seeing the tools he describes being used first-hand was fabulous. There’s a lot of  computer animation depicting the ships being explored, their sinking, the layout of the Odyssey vessel, the layout of the wreck sites, and just about everything else that could be useful to illustrate what’s being sought and how the search is conducted.

The box set is available here. It comes highly recommended if you aren’t offended by for-profit archaeology, or if you’re interested in shipwrecks, technology with marine applications, or anything related.