Why I recover artifacts from shipwrecks


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Posted by Kevin on July 31, 2001 at 10:23:54:

I recover artifacts from shipwrecks in an effort to preserve and promote our rich maritime history and culture. I recover so that others may see what I have found, what rich treasure I have discovered, an artifact from a bygone era. I venture far and I explore deep, and I share what I find with divers and non-divers alike.

I recovered the rudder of the Diosa Del Mar at 261 FSW off Ship Rock. It is 180 pounds and made of wood. It was just starting to split apart and turn into a brown stain on the oceanís floor, and when I recovered it, it went into a bath of Linseed Oil. I then carefully restored it. I now display it proudly at ever public opportunity, including SCUBA shows, in SCUBA stores and when I speak at clubs. I would this very instant donate it to any museum if they promised to display it.

Please tell me how I harmed anyone by recovering, restoring and displaying this rudder ?

I recovered two Mark 8 Torpedo Launchers off the USS Moody at 155 FSW by making about ten dives just to uncover wreckage and slowly pull them out of the debris pile. They too were loosing the battle with King Neptune and Father Time. I then soaked them for six months and polished them up. I now display them proudly at ever public opportunity, including SCUBA shows, in SCUBA stores and when I speak at clubs. I would this very instant donate it to any museum if they promised to display it.

Please tell me how I harmed anyone by recovering, restoring and displaying these launchers ?

I recovered the aux helm of the Hilma Hooker by making a technical penetration five decks into a spiderweb of debris and machinery. It took six weeks of soaking and running current through it to finally stabilize this BIG steel wheel. I now display it proudly at ever public opportunity, including SCUBA shows, in SCUBA stores and when I speak at clubs. I would this very instant donate it to any museum if they promised to display it.

Please tell me how I harmed anyone by recovering, restoring and displaying this helm ?

I could go on and on with about 50 more examples, but I wonít bore anyone.

The bottom line is that without someone locating, recovering, restoring and displaying these maritime artifacts they would be lost forever to the ravages of the seas. Its a simple fact that all metals corrode when immersed in salt water, and the one that corrode more slowly are simply covered up by marine growth, hidden until they too eventually decompose.

Out of the entire earthís population, how many dive ? Of that small percentage, how many dive wrecks here in Southern California? Of that microscopic percentage, how many swim around at 261 FSW off Ship Rock looking for cool stuff ? Me. At least I havenít seen anyone else down there. ( Except of course my dive buddy )

Out of the entire earth's population, how many people invest the time and energy and money to explore for shipwrecks. Just the raw costs of the boat and dive gear and compressors and gases and proton magnetometers and scanning fathometers are enough to bankrupt a small country. Add to that the training and time and effort. The small deeply disturbed group of shipwreck hunters I belong to are motivated by exploration and discovery, and a desire to share our obsessions with the rest of the world.

On the wrecks I dive and recover and restore and display items from, most were either sunk intentionally as junk and debris, and most have been blown up with explosives as navigational hazards. Other may have sunk accidentally, but were then left to rot by the insurance companies and professional salvagers because they were basically junk. In other words I am picking through a discarded trash heap. And from these discarded trash heaps I recover an item, maybe a lamp, or steering wheel or a compass. And these items put a big smile on everyoneís faces when they seem them all cleaned up and shiny. Every SCUBA show people come up to me in amazement and tell me stories of how their brother was on the Andrea Doria, or their father was crew on the Avalon, or how their grandfather used to fish off the Olympic.

And I say again: I am willing to donate ( not loan or sell or lend - DONATE ) any of these items to any museum if they promise to display them. But I am wary, I have seen what the government has done to my fellow California Wreck Diver Mel Fisher and the Atocha, and to my friend Jim Wadsley and the Brother Jonathan, and to many others.

These artifacts are a link to our precious past, they are a testament to out rich maritime history, a reminder of great ships and brave sailors. They are a tactile memory of a different time, in my opinion a better time. What a waste it would be if we leave them to rot and dissolve, what an avoidable tragedy.

Kevin


The following was written by Gary Gentile:

The sea is a sacrificial element: a bath of corrosive chemicals, an armory of hungry marine organisms, a morass of shifting sand, the site of toppling currents and destructive storms. Man's carefully crafted structures and products soon fall prey to the whims of nature, which seeks to reduce his handiwork to the substance from which it came.

The truth of this is obvious to anyone who dons a mask and views his first sunken wreck: he sees not a proud, shiny ship as it looked sliding down the ways, but a battered hulk vastly overgrown with coral and barnacles.

From the day a ship is launched the deterioration begins, and it ends only when nothing is left. Every moment it remains in the water, man's maritime heritage is being relinquished.

There is only one solution to ultimate conservation -- removal to a controlled environment. To paraphrase a real estate admonition, the best time to remove an artifact was yesterday; the next best time is today. It might not be there tomorrow. How best to meet the aims of scientist and layman, adventurer and armchair follower, conservator and souvenir collector?

Emphasis must be made toward quick recovery in some cases, plodding archaeological methods in others. The most credible way to invoke civic responsibility is to settle on the standard that best represents the American way: money.

Archaeologists get paid for salvaging shipwrecks -- why then should treasure hunters be treated any differently? Or sport divers? The fundamental law of salvage is to encourage it by offering rewards commensurate with the amount of time, effort, and money invested, and with the value of the property regained. And, as Judge King noted, "every day lost in the salving effort means fewer artifacts recovered for the benefit of society."

While the issues are complicated, one thing is evident: individual property rights in a free, capitalist society must be maintained to uphold the integrity of that society. Legislative action should not take away those rights, and enacting laws that put one group at the disadvantage of another is not within the bounds of freedom for all.

Ultimately, what we need is less government intervention and more human involvement.




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