Society » Real life stories
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Treasures of Sunken Ships Still Lure

Divers sometimes have to spend thousands of dollars to recover a couple of gold coins from the sea bottom
Every year, mankind is pays tribute to Poseidon. Over 100,000 ships have sunk in the Atlantic Ocean with freights worth trillions of dollars. Is it possible to estimate the value of historic monuments that are now lost for good? Indeed, even an empty bottle of Burgundy wine spilt on the occasion of the marriage of Richard the Lion-Hearted found at sea may become truly priceless. What people have to work with is only faded old maps kept in dusty archives and legends about treasures buried on the sea bottom.

The basin of the Caribbean Ocean is the most famous depository of treasures. At the beginning of the 16th century, gold from America was flooding into Europe. The riches of the Incas and Aztecs that were transported in the holds of Spanish galleons increased the gold and silver reserves of European countries by five times within one century!

At first, vessels going to Spain crossed the Atlantic Sea without any armed escort. But very soon corsairs appeared all over the seas. Already in 1496, when Christopher Columbus was on his way back from the second voyage, he was attacked by French corsairs. However, pirates seized just a small portion of gold and treasures transported in ships. A large share of them went down to the bottom together with ships wrecked in storms and after fights with other vessels.

The first people searching for gold lost in sunken ships appeared in the 17th century. In 1686, William Phipps recovered gold and silver to a sum equivalent to $1.5 million today from the Caribbean Ocean bottom. That was just a small part of the treasure remaining in 16 galleons of Spain's Gold Fleet, which had sunk in a storm to the north of Haiti in 1643.

Even now in the 21st century, searches for lost treasures are not as easy as they are shown in adventure films. Treasures in the Spanish galleons are now buried under layers of silt, sand and stones of several meters in depth. Magnetometers used for detection of magnetic-field alterations have turned out to be useless for searches of the sunken treasures. The device does not detect gold bullion, coins, anchors or cannons, but the iron-containing volcanic rocks make the arrows of these underwater compasses move. So, such detectors cannot find metal in conditions in which iron is everywhere at the sea bottom.

The number of people searching for treasure is greatest in the cities of Florida's southern coast. Underwater metal detectors can be rented there without any problems.

An average treasure hunter recovers from 2 to 100 gold coins from the sea bottom. Searching for gold coins is very expensive. Sometimes, people hunting for treasure have to spend $2,000-$10,000 to raise a couple of gold doubloons from the sea bottom.

Some people are lucky enough to find treasure. Herbert Humphrey, an American,  came across a Spanish galleon; his catch came to 177 pieces of silver bullion, 15 pieces of gold bullion of 500 grams each and 10 gold nuggets. However, the man managed to retrieve just a small part of the treasure that had sunk with the galleon.

It was Melvin Fischer, an unofficial king of treasure hunters, who managed to carry out the dream of all people searching for treasure. He managed to recover the Spanish treasure ship Atocha, which had run aground on reefs in 1622. Even now the value of the discovery has not been estimated completely; the sum obviously amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars.

What should people craving treasure do nowadays to realize the dream? The first step to be made is getting an Open Water Diver certificate from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). It takes amateurs a couple of days to learn to dive with an aqualung. Then they are offered an extra course, Search and Recovery. The brief course includes training in search and recovery of sunken items with the help of different equipment (with special plastic sacks, for example); the course also gives practical knowledge about the use of sonar and metal detectors.

Alexander Yepishin is one of the most advanced divers in the Russian city of Izhevsk. He says that preliminary training of beginners may take place at some foreign resort or even in Moscow. He says preliminary diving courses may cost about $300 and may last for several days. Unfortunately, people wishing to start treasure hunting and who live in other cities have no opportunity to master the necessary skills at home. They either have to invite an instructor to their city, which will certainly cost a lot, or will have to go to some other place to get trained.

Although it is still a problem to rent metal detectors in Russia, diving is getting more and more popular in Russia. Many Russians descend to the sea bottom not for the sake of the sea’s beauty, but in order to recover something precious in those areas where treasure-bearing ships sank long ago.

Searches for sunken treasures can done in other places than just the Caribbean or other oceans. There are some places in Russia where treasure hunters can start an underwater safari. The Aurora yacht carrying the treasury of the king of Sweden was sunken by the Russian fleet in the Baltic Sea at the end of the 18th century. The yacht has not yet been found. Several generations of Baltic divers have dreamed of recovering the yacht. As for the Ural Lakes situated near Udmurtia, the treasure of Jemelyan Pugachev and many others is still covered with meters of silt on the lake bottom.

Sometimes it happens that the hobby of treasure hunting becomes a profession. An American, Scott Dickinson, devotes his spare time to improving his diving and searching skills in the four ponds of a local golf club. He is searching for sunken golf balls; the man is paid up to $800 for two hours of work. This specialist is very useful for golf clubs, as one club loses up to 1,000 balls in one weekend. Scott uses this extra work not only for improving his diving skills; He is saving money paid by the golf club to organize another expedition to search for treasure. He spends his vacations on a small island in the Bahamas archipelago searching for the treasure of a sunken Spanish galleon.

The Center newspaper
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