Saturday, May 8, 2021


 8 May 2021: Since we were talking about finding and saving stuff underwater last week, let's continue in that vein, albeit a trifle different. Treasure hunting has been a quick way to extremes - death, bankruptcy, or riches - but things are changing, thanks to modern technology and new government rules.The following from the Robb Report.


 First things first: Don’t call them treasure hunters. Of course, that’s what onlookers have always called colorful characters like Mel Fisher, who found the Spanish galleon Atocha off the Florida Keys in 1985. Gold and silver bars, coins, jewelry and emeralds were included in the discovery, a haul worth around $400 million. At Fisher’s online store, a coin from the Atocha, mounted in 14-karat gold, goes for $13,700.

But selling such historical prizes upsets people, says Jim Sinclair, a maritime archaeologist involved with the Atocha find. Academicians and regulators who want such treasures placed in museums, or preserved in situ, have a profound distaste for someone profiting from a discovery. “If you’re called a ‘treasure hunter’ by somebody in the archaeological community, them’s fightin’ words,” Sinclair says. 

Fewer and fewer people fit the old-school paradigm personified by Fisher. By Sinclair’s count, there are only 15 to 20 US companies still organizing searches, and even they generally bring in independent contractors with different areas of expertise. “That culture either had to grow up and try to adapt, or go out of business,” Sinclair says.
“The great age of the treasure hunter is over,” agrees Sean Kingsley, marine archaeologist and editor in chief of Wreckwatch magazine. “As much as the public loves the idea of treasure hunting, organizations, led by UNESCO, have closed down any project with a whiff of monetization.”

Ironically, there has never been a better time to search for treasure. “There is more gold in the Gulf of Cadiz than in the Bank of Spain,” says Juan Manuel Gracia, president of the Association for the Recovery of Spanish Galleons, while Kingsley notes that “some great white whales, like the Merchant Royal, are still out there, lost somewhere off Cornwall, with a supposed $1.5 billion in shiny stuff.”

While historical records that provide clues (which are often unreliable) to the whereabouts of wrecks haven’t changed, the arrival of GPS gave searchers an unprecedentedly accurate tool compared to the paper maps still used in the 1980s, on which Mylar would be overlaid to make sense of undersea debris patterns that, thanks to hurricanes and strong currents, could span miles.

More recently, according to Sinclair, searchers have embraced global information systems. “It’s changed the pace of how we do things,” he says. “We dig a hole, and that hole gets a number. Everything about that hole is in that database, and you can transfer all of that into your GIS [mapping] program. Normally, it would’ve taken one cartographer years of working those charts with a protractor.” Compared to the old pace of doing things, Sinclair says, the current process is “likToday’s searchers also use autonomous underwater vehicles outfitted with cameras, sensors and side-scan sonar.

They’re highly effective but also costly, and now there’s no guarantee you’ll even get to keep a possible return on that investment. As one team found out after discovering a Spanish wreck off Portugal, laws make it possible for the originating countries to claim ownership of recovered loot. After the case made its way through the US federal courts, the crew was forced to hand over an estimated $500 million worth of coins—the entire cache—to the Spanish government.

Kingsley argues that underwater treasures shouldn’t be measured in dollars anyway, “but in the stories of ships and people that help us value where we came from.” But he also knows treasure hunting will continue, at least in less developed regions where maritime enforcement is less rigorous. “While there’s the sniff of winning the sunken lottery, the intrepid few will always risk all to win big. But,” he cautions, “many reputations have been shattered trying to find the unfindable.”


So, friends, there you have it. Don't bother to don your SCUBA gear and rush out to sea find find your fortune. Chances are beyond slim you'll find it, and if anyone notices (and who could resist sharing their success!), the government of whatever country can claim domain will grab it and you'll be left with nada

See you next week!

                                           Fair Winds, 

                                                   Old Salt

Friday, April 30, 2021


 30 April 2021: We've offered posts about ship wrecks and other disasters at sea, often involving loss of life. While the Coast Guard is amazing in the rescues they perform, sometimes the conditions are just so bad (probably why the disaster occurred in the first place) that even they can not get a diver in the water to help save those in trouble. Now, a potential new device, dropped from a helicopter, could offer a solution. The Saver Whale Drone (and no, it does not "save the whales!"


Shipwrecks have become more frequent as the number of vessels in the oceans increases due to open trade policies between nations. Owning to their scope and location, shipwreck rescues can become logistically complicated and humanly dangerous to carry out. This is where underwater rescue robots such as the Saver Whale designed after the good sense of whales – that are known to helping people – come into the scene.

The Saver Whale is ideally a concept of an underwater drone designed to reach where human rescuers can’t – or shouldn’t – go. Lots of human live-saving deep water rescues happen in challenging, dangerous conditions which are difficult for diving squads to negotiate without risking injury or loss of life. Maritime rescue drones such as the Saver Whale can reach uncharted waters – reducing risk to human life – and work as scouts to deliver medical and equipment to liberate any trapped or sinking soul.

The Saver Whale, equipped with cameras, sonar, and radar for detection, and a radio system for communication, can be deployed from the helicopter, to venture into depths of the hostile waters of the ocean where sending human is riskier. The drone, on detecting a survivor or diseased and can instantly relay the message to the rescue team and request assistance. In addition to calling out for backup and relaying its live location, this versatile sub can equip the survivor with a life vest, rope, and other gear from the first aid kit onboard.

Interestingly, the Saver Whale is also conceptualized to shoot out a net on a dead body located, to fix its position, so it’s not lost in the water current. There is already a range of rescue robots that can crawl in the rubble, fly over fires, and swim in deep waters to help first responders in executing operations. Yet, Saver Whale with its payload carrying capacity and more organized approach can definitely go through improvisations to one day dive to the ocean beds in search of marine accident victims


Quite a thoughtful and potentially very useful addition to the life saving arsenal available to our coastal and offshore rescue folks - world wide.

See you next week, 

                                         Fair Winds, 

                                              Old Salt

Saturday, April 24, 2021


 24 April 2021: Noticed this article in a publication (on line) called 1945 written by some former military types about stuff - both Navy and Army - that is not widely known. Thought this one interesting, considering the problems the Navy has had with USS Zumwalt - the first stealth destroyer.


 A key plot element of the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies involved media baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) using a stealth ship to destroy a Royal Navy frigate to almost start World War III. While it seems like extreme lengths to go to gain broadcasting rights in China, one part of the story wasn’t a work of fiction.

The U.S. Navy actually did build an experimental stealth ship that resembles the fictional super villain’s vessel. However, while the fictional Sea Dolphin II was supposed to be massive – large enough that a Bond-style fight sequence could take place within the hull involving dozens of henchmen – the real world Sea Shadow (IX-529) was just 165 feet long and had a crew of just four.

Enter Sea Shadow 

Development of the real-world version began in 1978 when the Lockheed Martin “Skunk Works” sought to extend stealth capabilities to submarines, yet it wasn’t until 1993 that the low signature warship was made public. The program drew inspiration from the F-117 stealth aircraft. According to Lockheed Martin, “The initial design consisted of a cigar-shaped hull that was shielded by an outer wall of flat, angular surfaces.”

It was found that those angular surfaces could actually bounce sonar signals away and also muffle the engine sounds and the internal noises of crewmen inside the vessel. The Skunk Works team subsequently ran numerous acoustical tests in special sound-measuring facilities and obtained dramatic improvements.

However, the Department of Defense (DoD) actually didn’t show interest in this type of investigation until Ben Rich, the head of the Skunk Works office, adapted the idea for use with surface ships. That led to a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract to apply stealth concepts and materials to surface vessels and to test the effects of seawater on radar-absorbing materials.

The Sea Shadow was developed in great secrecy – and while it may have been a “stealth ship” it wasn’t in fact invisible to the naked eye. In fact, with its unique Small Waterplane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) design, which gave it a catamaran-type shape, it would be hard to miss. It was thus assembled out of sight within a submersible barge in Redwood City, California. 

Unlike the fictional Sea Dolphin II, which was worthy of a Bond villain’s super weapon, the Sea Shadow wasn’t actually that large. But it also only required a crew of four that consisted of a commander, helmsman, navigator and engineer.

Testing Issues 

Its first trials in 1981 could be described as underwhelming. The ship’s wake was unexpectedly huge and thus detectable with sonar and from the air. The problem was discovered to be from the motor propellers, which had been installed backwards. [ed: there's a surprise!] After addressing the issue, the project moved forward and the vessel was completed in 1984. It subsequently underwent night trials in 1985 and 1986, but the Sea Shadow never advanced beyond the testing phase.

Some of what was learned in the testing were applied to other naval technology include submarine periscopes, while the lessons learned also were applied to new Navy warships, notably the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class

USS Zumwalt - some familiar shapes here
 Finally, in 1993, the public was given a view of the experimental stealth ship – and it likely inspired the Bond filmmakers. The U.S. Navy offered Sea Shadow for sale in 2006, but apparently garnered little interest, not even from a would-be supervillain.[ed: well at least they got some new technology out of it]

One issue with the sale was that the buyer couldn’t sail the ship and could only scrap it. [ed: why do you suppose that was?] Why it wasn’t offered to a museum or other institution isn’t clear, but likely it was an issue of the technology on board. Sea Shadow was finally sold for scrap in 2012… or at least that is what a potential villain would have you believe.[ed: hmmmm]


So, maybe not  complete waste of tax payer dollars as the Zumwalt class was most likely a direct result of the technology Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin developed. 

See you next week!                   

                                  Fair Winds, 

                                     Old Salt

Saturday, April 17, 2021


 17 April 2021: This week's story takes us from Rhode Island to the beaches at New South Wales Australia where storms have uncovered a wreck from the late 1800's. It's drawing tourists and locals alike to witness this strange and kind of haunting sight.


Storms on the NSW Mid North Coast have fully exposed one of the best-preserved shipwrecks in the country, 128 years after it washed ashore.

"Buster" – a 310-tonne timber barquentine – got stranded on Woolgoolga's main beach, north of Coffs Harbour, in 1893.

Now a major tourist attraction for the sleepy town, the wreck is regularly partially exposed — but every few years a major storm uncovers the ship entirely.

Coffs Harbour City councillor and long-time resident Tegan Swan said she had never seen the wreck like this before.

"That is my morning walk, around where the Buster sometimes is and sometimes isn't," she said.

"When I was down there the first time after it was exposed to this level you can actually see the anchor and right down into the bones of the ship.

"It's quite spooky and amazing just to see how thick the wood is, the detail that goes into it, I couldn't stop looking at it.

"You just don't see things like that anymore and to see it out there is quite majestic and a little bit spooky especially at 5:30am."

Cr Swan has lived in the area since she was 18 and has visited Woolgoolga frequently since she was a small child.

"I have never ever seen it this low and – just through local conversations – I haven't come across a single person who has not gone, 'Have you seen Buster recently?'" she said.

Early in the morning I walk down onto the beach and it makes me smile to see just how busy it is with people walking up and down.


"It probably wouldn't be popular to say it, but it does almost sometimes feel a little bit Gold Coasty with how popular we are, even in that early time in the morning.