Article: Wired on treasure hunting

The HMS Sussex was a British vessel lost in a storm off Gibraltar in 1694, carrying a ridiculous quantity of gold bullion. It was lost in about 1,000 metres of water, and the treasure has not been recovered.

In 2004 Wired Magazine published an article detailing the intentions of a company called Odyssey Marine Exploration to search for the HMS Sussex and recover the loot it was carrying with the help of robots known as ROVs (remotely operated vehicles).

The activities of the company have been viewed with suspicion and disparagement by various parties who believe that the goal is treasure hunting rather than respecting archaeological sites – a fair accusation, from what I have read. Treasure hunting is big business – check out the Odyssey Marine Exploration website to get a feel for the kind of sums of money involved.

The Wired article is available here in full.

As a postscript, it appears that after running into trouble with the Spanish government, who were concerned that the ship they identified was a Spanish galleon and not the British ship, Odyssey went ahead and recovered a large number of coins from what was probably a number of different colonial-era ships (the area was notorious for shipwrecks at that time). According to the Odyssey website, the HMS Sussex project has been put on hold pending resolution of various diplomatic issues. A preliminary report (PDF) has however been released.

Movie: Into the Blue 2 – The Reef

Into the Blue 2
Into the Blue 2

Clearly the makers of Into the Blue, a perfectly benign diving and treasure hunting movie, or some other third force, decided that the first effort did not contain sufficient nudity, and was too heavy on plot. Enter Into the Blue 2 – The Reef. It’s the same plot – down to fairly minute details such as the female protagonist breathing from an inflated lift bag on the bottom of the ocean – as Into the Blue, but features unknown actors whose main abilities involve wearing a wet t-shirt with aplomb and accidentally exposing their breasts while asleep in bed.

There really is a fair amount of (female) nudity and gratuitous focus on the female form (extended montages of beach volleyball, lapdancing in a club, and other activities requiring only small pieces of clothing and marginal acting ability) which shocked me each time it appeared because on all other levels the movie seemed to be something a child would enjoy. It distracts from the plot repeatedly (on second thoughts, this may have been a deliberate ploy).

The diving sequences are decent – the action takes place off Hawaii, and the water is beautiful. There’s not that much sea life on show, however, apart from beautiful turtles. And there’s lots of free diving… Surprise! Tony and I loved the scooters – I think that’s what they were. Looked like jet skis without the handles on top, and worked above and below the surface. The driver lay on top of the device and held on with both hands.

I mostly enjoyed this – it’s fluff – but got tired of being flashed with such regularity, and at the most unexpected times. I fully understand that many others will feel differently about this, and that this review may in fact have persuaded you that this is a MUST SEE. Each to his own, I guess!

If you really must, the DVD is available from Kalahari.net or Amazon.com.

Found objects

It’s every child’s dream to find treasure, and this wish isn’t something I’ve grown out of. Movies like Fool’s Gold, Into the Blue and the rest of that genre tend to encourage me in my belief that given the right circumstances, the right setting and a bit of luck, I’ll find something really awesome.

That said, the wrong setting and a sharp eye have led to one or two interesting finds for us in Cape Town. Tony found a Blackberry at Long Beach some time ago, looking perfectly functional until he turned it over and saw that the back was open and (unsurprisingly) completely corroded. In late January he found this poor little camera…

Long Beach camera find
Long Beach camera find

We were both geared up to do some detective work and find the owner based on the faces in the photographs, but although both our computers recognised the presence of the camera’s memory card when we put it into our card readers, the (clearly lengthy) immersion in salt water had made it unreadable. I have confidence, however, that Angela from Bones would be able to work some magic with it.

I was thrilled (OK, not so much) to find an item for Tony’s winter wardrobe the other day in the shallows.

Stripy sock at Long Beach
Stripy sock at Long Beach

The other thing we find a lot of at Long Beach is golf balls. We are planning to open a driving range when we both get too old to dive!

Tony shows me a golf ball found at Long Beach
Tony shows me a golf ball found at Long Beach

The recent extreme winds – several months of gale-force southeasters – have changed the topography of some of our favourite shore entries.  Tony found enough crockery to put together a tea set (with the aid of some superglue) one morning near Simon’s Town, and the following weekend I picked up handfuls of smoothed glass chips – my favourite thing that the ocean spits up.

We’re not quite sure what’s modern (except in some cases where the crockery is clearly machine-made) and what’s not, but Tony has been reading about different types of glass and manufacturing techniques so we can make some fairly reasonable guesses. I’ll do a separate post about our crockery hoard!

Movie: Fool’s Gold

Fool's Gold
Fool's Gold

When we sat down to watch this, I warned Tony to concentrate because it’s a complex, demanding, nuanced film. Not. Set in the Caribbean, it’s an entertaining, fast-paced, TOTALLY undemanding and quite funny account of an underwater (and above ground) treasure hunt, which seems to be all that people do in that part of the world.

Fittingly for Valentine’s Day (apparently that’s sometime soon) there’s a love story in here somewhere too. Or a lust story – I couldn’t make up my mind.

The clarity of the water is unbelievable – top to bottom visibility – and even though the diving sequences are relatively brief in the overall arc of the movie, they’re entertaining. Curiously, the inimitable Donald Sutherland plays a fairly important role as a wealthy yacht owner, and the scenes in which he is taught to scuba dive (in a jacuzzi onboard the yacht) are priceless.

The film does perpetuate the myth that Hollywood stars are uniformly able to hold their breaths for upwards of three minutes, while performing complex tasks underwater and still looking attractive and put together. I choose not to believe this (and it’s not because I can only hold my breath for 30 seconds, and look like a deranged chipmunk while doing so). If I had a hot stunt double, I am sure I too could hold my breath long enough to anchor myself to a submerged cannon in a blowhole to prevent the rapidly incoming waves from washing me out of the top, and have a meaningful sign-language conversation with my significant other (also looking hot) while doing so.

There’s nothing challenging here, but sometimes that’s a good thing. After a weekend diving in two metre visibility at Long Beach, this reminded me that better days (and dives) are coming!

The DVD is available here. If you’re not in South Africa, you can get it here.

Bookshelf: Return to Titanic

Return to Titanic – Robert D. Ballard & Michael Sweeney

Return to Titanic
Published by National Geographic

Robert Ballard is a highly respected ocean explorer whose career I would love to have. He’s the man who headed the American team that discovered the wreck of the Titanic, 4 kilometres down in the north Atlantic ocean. I thoroughly enjoyed his account of the discovery and exploration of the wreck – there’s something incredibly eerie about a ship that was once lit up and bursting with human life and possiblities, now lying alone, far deeper than any passing traffic (apart from ocean creatures) could hope to spot it. Between visits by the researchers, film crews and treasure hunters, it lies abandoned.

The Titanic has made a lot of people – Robert Ballard included – very wealthy. This is one of at least three other volumes he’s published on the wreck, and the fame that resulted from its discovery in 1985 has made him a household name and enabled him to cash in with numerous other publications on undersea exploration.

This book details a return to the wreck made by Ballard in 2004, along with a lot of supplementary material. There are beautiful old photos taken of the ship in the shipbuilders’ yard, passenger photos, and other historical material. He recounts the sinking of the ship, and his discovery of the wreck in 1985. So there’s not much new here – most of this was covered in Robert Ballard’s Titanic. The things that did stand out for me were the details of the damage done to the wreck by treasure hunters and film crews, the map of the debris field, and the successive pages with mosaic photos of the wreck enabling a study of the deterioration that has happened in the 20 years between the discovery of the wreck and the 2004 visit.

It’s a great pity that the final resting place of over 1500 people has been plundered and picked over by souvenir hunters. Tacky plastic flowers and a row of plaques have been placed on the stern by visiting submersibles, and important parts of the wreck – such as the crow’s nest – have been hacked off and removed. Gashes have been cut in the side during collisions with submersibles, and there are marks on the deck where the submersibles have parked to have a look around. Fortunately laws have been signed protecting the Titanic and hopefully preventing further assault by the greedy and careless. We must commend Ballard for his involvement in defending the wreck.

Buy the book here if you are in South Africa, otherwise here.

 

Friday poem: The Tarry Buccaneer

Oh we love pirates! More from John Masefield.

The Tarry Buccaneer – John Masefield

I’m going to be a pirate with a bright brass pivot-gun,
And an island in the Spanish Main beyond the setting sun,
And a silver flagon full of red wine to drink when work is done,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a sandy creek to careen in, and a pig-tailed Spanish mate,
And under my main-hatches a sparkling merry freight
Of doubloons and double moidores and pieces of eight,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a taste for Spanish wine-shops and for spending my doubloons,
And a crew of swart mulattoes and black-eyed octoroons,
And a thoughtful way with mutineers of making them maroons,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a sash of crimson velvet and a diamond-hiked sword,
And a silver whistle about my neck secured to a golden cord,
And a habit of taking captives and walking them along a board,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

With a spy-glass tucked beneath my arm and a cocked hat cocked askew,
And a long low rakish schooner a-cutting of the waves in two,
And a flag of skull and cross-bones the wickedest that ever flew,
Like a fine old salt-sea scavenger, like a tarry Buccaneer.

Friday poem: A Ballad of John Silver

Arrr! Me hearties! Here be a pirate poem this fine Friday! Some more John Masefield to tickle your fancy.

A Ballad of John Silver – John Masefield

We were schooner-rigged and rakish,
with a long and lissome hull,
And we flew the pretty colours of the crossbones and the skull;
We’d a big black Jolly Roger flapping grimly at the fore,
And we sailed the Spanish Water in the happy days of yore.

We’d a long brass gun amidships, like a well-conducted ship,
We had each a brace of pistols and a cutlass at the hip;
It’s a point which tells against us, and a fact to be deplored,
But we chased the goodly merchant-men and laid their ships aboard.

Then the dead men fouled the scuppers and the wounded filled the chains,
And the paint-work all was spatter dashed with other peoples brains,
She was boarded, she was looted, she was scuttled till she sank.
And the pale survivors left us by the medium of the plank.

O! then it was (while standing by the taffrail on the poop)
We could hear the drowning folk lament the absent chicken coop;
Then, having washed the blood away, we’d little else to do
Than to dance a quiet hornpipe as the old salts taught us to.

O! the fiddle on the fo’c’sle, and the slapping naked soles,
And the genial “Down the middle, Jake, and curtsey when she rolls!”
With the silver seas around us and the pale moon overhead,
And the look-out not a-looking and his pipe-bowl glowing red.

Ah! the pig-tailed, quidding pirates and the pretty pranks we played,
All have since been put a stop to by the naughty Board of Trade;
The schooners and the merry crews are laid away to rest,
A little south the sunset in the islands of the Blest.

Friday poem: Cargoes

Continuing our John Masefield series… A quinquereme is a type of Roman galley with banks of oars for propulsion. A moidore is a type of Portuguese gold coin. Notice the progression through time, from 2000 years ago to the present.

Cargoes – John Masefield

Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Bookshelf: Books about ships and shipwrecks

Who can resist a good shipwreck story? There’s a lot of choice in this selection of books about maritime catastrophes, discovery of lost wrecks, and efforts to prevent ships from coming to grief. Read on…

Shipping

South African shipwrecks

Shipwreck exploration

Ancient and pre-industrial shipwrecks

RMS Titanic

Modern shipwrecks

Those who prevent shipwrecks