Thursday, January 29, 2015


29 January 2015: How about this, friends! Two in a row! Today's topic was sparked by a news article I noticed that tied to a wonderful book I had read some years ago.

The book tells the tale of the steam ship (Paddle wheeler) SS Central America which ran from Panama to New York, collecting passengers from San Francisco who took a train across the isthmus of Panama to avoid the often trying voyage around Cape Horn. She ran the route in the mid 1850's which might suggest to the casual observer that she was carrying gold recovered in the Great California Gold Rush, along with now wealthy prospectors, among others. And you, casual observer, would be correct!

On a trip from Panama to New York in September 1857 she carried 477 passengers and consignment of gold ingots and freshly minted $20 Double Eagle gold coins from the San Francisco Mint. On 12 September, 1857, she encountered a hurricane off Cape Hatteras and sank, killing all but about 50 of it's passengers, taking them and possibly 21 TONS of gold to a watery grave some 8,000 feet below.

Enter, some 130 years later, Tommy Thompson, a brilliant young inventor and innovator, who not only found the wreck, but designed and built a remotely operated undersea vehicle which could handle everything from a porcelain tea cup to a 1 ton lump of something.

He attracted investors and proceeded to scavenge the wreck, bringing up some $50 MILLION in gold, bars, coin, and dust.
Then he screwed his investors claiming the insurance companies (those that had originally insured the ship and the gold) were wrangling over who owned the gold (they were indeed!) and there would be a delay in a payout. Of course, Thompson had already got his! That was in 1987. He lived in obscurity in Florida until about 2006 when the insurance claims were settled and a warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to appear for a hearing in Columbus OH regarding a suit brought by his none-too-pleased investors. Then he disappeared.

Another undersea exploration/salvage company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida deep ocean exploration outfit, found the wreck and began diving it with their own ROV, having found some 45 gold bars and over 15,000 gold coins to
date. They claim the discovery is one of the greatest shipwreck/discoveries/stories of all time. 

And yesterday (28 January 2015), U.S. Marshalls caught the elusive Tommy Thompson in a Palm Beach County (FL) Hotel. As the warrant for his arrest was issued in Ohio, it is likely he will be extradited there to stand trial. I am sure will be an interesting one. Stay tuned.

"A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else." Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

                        Fair Winds
                                Old Salt

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