Friday, July 31, 2015
Invaluable.com is teaming up with Guernsey's to auction off 126 lots of sunken treasure from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, the most famous member of a fleet of Spanish ships that sank in 1622 after sailing into a violent hurricane. American treasure hunter Mel Fisher discovered the sunken treasure. To mark the thirty-year anniversary of this astonishing discovery, Guernsey's will auction off items from Fisher's Collection. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Michael Abt, Jr. Have a Heart Foundation, which works to provide Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) to schools nationwide.
This auction, The Mel & Deo Fisher Collection, starts at 7:00 PM EST on the 5th, and will feature a selection of 126 incredible treasure lots. On July 20, 1985 Fisher’s perseverance paid off: over 40 tons of silver and gold were located at the site of the wreck off the Marquesas Keys. Including more than 100,000 Spanish silver coins known as "pieces of eight," gold coins, the finest Colombian emeralds, silver and gold artifacts, and over 1,000 silver bars, the Atocha contained riches vast enough to replenish the nearly depleted treasury of the Spanish Crown.
Check out the amazing items below for a sampling of the pieces that will be up for auction on August 5th.
Lot 70: Atocha Emerald Ring
Estimated Price: $65,000 - $80,000
This elegant and delicate ring speaks for itself. A truly unique solitaire design recovered from the site of the shipwrecked Nuestra Señora de Atocha in 1994. The ring size is 5.5. The emerald is a brilliant green with a slight chip and weighs approximately 2.5 carats. It is set in a high-karat gold ring which was typical of the wealthier class during the early 17th century. This beautiful artifact is the property of Taffi Fisher, Mel's only daughter and youngest child.
Lot 71: Silver Brazier
Estimated Price: $10,000 - $12,000
This extravagant two-piece silver box was the 17th-century version of a portable heater. Having a personal source of heat was a luxury for the wealthy in the 1600s, and so braziers such as this were filled with warm coals to heat up a ship's cabin, or even be placed under the many layers of a woman's dress while she was seated. This piece remains unconserved and should be handled with care.
Lot 73: Gold Chalice
Estimated Price: $400,000 - $500,000
Since its discovery, the chalice has undergone conservation efforts lead by marine archaeologists, who also removed a layer of white, calcareous concretion -- no doubt the result of having been imbedded in the ocean floor for nearly four centuries. The rim of this gold chalice is etched with scrollwork, images of animals, and there is a crest in the center of the cup that remains in pristine condition. Although experts have not linked the crest to any of the ship's passengers, there is a helm above the engraving that could signify its owner as having been a Duke or a Baron. The gold shines radiantly with a deep hue and is of a high karat weight. A portion of a tax stamp is visible on the edge of the base, and another is present on the bottom of the cup. The base is threaded onto the bottom of the chalice and it turns as if it were made yesterday.
Check out other historical items and collectibles up for auction on Invaluable.com
Information provided by Jordan Bellows of Invaluable.com
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Fear gripped the hearts of many passengers and crewmen. As the S.S. Brother Jonathan pressed on, nature flung her unbridled wrath at the ship. Wind howled through the rigging. The hull creaked and moaned, and passengers feared she would break up. Anything not bolted down was thrown about. In the galley, plates flew out of storm shelves and crashed on the floor. Pots and pans crashed. The noise was tremendous. Sea sickness spread like wildfire. Passengers began retching all over the place, and the smell below decks was not pleasant. Children cried.
In 1865, the loss of the S.S. Brother Jonathan was the deadliest shipwreck ever to occur on the Pacific Coast. However, it was many years before her wreckage was found.
It wasn't until the 1930s, that a fisherman hauled up a grimy load. It was an old metal lifeboat from the S.S. Brother Jonathan. Inspecting his catch, the curious fisherman found a rotten leather valise that was jammed under one of the seats. When he opened the valise, he was stunned. It contained twenty-two pounds of gold. In his career as a fisherman, this was his most exciting catch ever. It was a gift from the long-lost shipwreck, the S.S. Brother Jonathan. It’s hard to explain how leather could last 70 years underwater. Perhaps it’s one of the mysteries of the sea. Perhaps the fisherman got his story wrong. Probably, we will never know. At the time, private ownership of gold was illegal, and the fisherman secreted away his catch, sealing his lips and keeping his mouth shut about his rare find. Later on, his memory failed him and he could not recall the exact location where he’d netted the lifeboat.
Then, in 1993, a treasure hunting expedition carried out by Deep Sea Research (DSR) found the wreckage at a depth of 250 feet with the help of a mini sub. She was found fully two miles from the best estimates of the shipwreck’s location. That she had moved so far underwater was attributed to the air pockets within the ship and the powerful currents. In 1996, DSR salvaged 1,206 Double Eagle $20 gold coins in near-mint condition.
Built on a wave-washed rock, the base of the lighthouse consists of hundreds of granite blocks, which are able to endure the eternal pounding of the crashing surf. The tower rises 150 feet above the water and is topped off with a cast-iron lantern room, which today, thanks to the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society, is fully automated. Even today, sailors and fishermen are kept safe by the light.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2015
By Roger Weston
In 1903, a 37-year old Norwegian mother named Eline Sofie was on the most exciting trip of her life—a trans-Atlantic crossing on the passenger liner SS Norge. Along with her six children, she was sailing to America to join her husband and begin a new life in a country with more opportunity than anyplace else in the world. A fisherman named Jens Johansen Svartfjeld was also on board the ship. He was on his way to Minnesota along with his wife and five children.
A woman grabbed a crewman by the arm. “What’s happening?” she begged.
“Nothing to worry about, ma'am. Calm down. We hit a rock. The captain knows what to do.”
As people scrambled for life belts, the captain backed the ship off the rocks. No sooner had the ship regained headway when it was discovered that water was flooding the hold. This was called out in Scandinavian. A realization of imminent death stuck the hearts of the people. Fear swept over them and filled their souls with misery.
The sobs of old ladies filled the air. Screams added to the sense of panic. Women and children clung to each other. 240 Russians got down on their knees and prayed. Men wrung their hands. Little children cried.
The ship sunk lower into the sea as luggage and debris began floating on the decks.
Several quick-thinking men worked to free the life boats.
“Women and children first!" The captain’s voice was barely heard over all the noise on deck, but some heard him. “Women and children first!"
Plenty of men ignored the captain if they heard him at all. They forced their way into the boats, leaving women and children behind on deck. One man who secured a spot was Fourth Mate Ankersen.
People continued to fight their way through the throng to get up front and secure a place. Many piled into overloaded boats. As a result, when the leaders tried to lower the boats into the water, the rusty equipment failed, dumping them all into the sea, rendering the boats worthless, dooming many souls.
Several of the life boats were properly deployed without exceeding their maximum loads. They now floated through a sea of drowning people—men, women, children, the suffering, and those unprepared to die, who certainly hadn’t expected to die. People treaded water and begged for salvation. They realized that death had stolen upon them like a thief in the night. Their final minutes were ticking off as their light dimmed in the early morning. They called out for help, but nobody who could help heard them. There weren’t nearly enough life boats, and the ones in sight were filled to capacity. Oars dipped in the water as the fortunate ones on board rowed to distance themselves and save themselves. One overloaded lifeboat sank beneath the waves.
In other boats, people watched in horror as the SS Norge was also going down. The front end went under first. Then the stern sank, carrying hundreds of people into the frigid depths. The captain was one of those who went down with the ship. However, by some miracle, the sea spit him back up and he was picked up by one of the lifeboats.
People in the boats sobbed. They wept bitterly because of what they had just seen—and because members of their own families had been on the ship. Nobody could hear their cries, though, due to the fierce wind. The wind was especially fierce in the moments when the lifeboats crested on the huge, black ocean swells. Yesterday they had dreamed of America. Now they dreamed of land—any land. The only opportunity that mattered now was the opportunity to survive another day.
Survival—it had all come down to that. Just to survive and to live another day was a precious gift beyond imagination. Poverty? Hardship? These were minor concerns. Lack of opportunity? Nonsense. There was opportunity where a body could find land—opportunity to wrap oneself in a dry blanket, to drink fresh water, to nibble on a slice of bread. That was opportunity of the most sublime type. Water, food and solid ground—nothing else mattered. All of the things they’d worried about now seemed totally irrelevant. They could not imagine that they’d worried over such petty cares as they had. It was all rubbish now—totally irrelevant.
On one of the lifeboats, Fourth Mate Ankersen took off his boots. “Use them to bail water,” he said. He then jumped into the water. The others on the boat had just watched a man sacrifice himself so that they would have a better chance of survival. Or was it because of the guilt he felt?
On another boat, a brave young woman took the most dangerous spot as the craft rose and fell in the massive waves. She was constantly doused with freezing water. Thinly dressed, she ignored the cold. To her, suffering was irrelevant. Danger was nothing. She bailed frantically and all the while shouted words of encouragement to the others.
As the days passed, ships were spotted in the far distance. When sightings took place, an amazing thing happened on the boats. People that were previously demoralized and weak suddenly, as if by magic, regained their strength. Hope fueled them on the moment. Depression vanished into thin air to be replaced with excitement and adrenaline. But the people on the ships could not see the tiny life boats. The ships soon disappeared over the horizon. Now the same hungry, thirsty people became even more despondent than before.
The half-dressed survivors suffered through cold, wet nights. Fresh water was scarce, and thirst was a cruel tormentor. Some made the mistake of drinking salt water. Others cut themselves just to wet their miserable tongues and throats with their own blood. As the days passed, several of the children passed away. One who died was a Russian boy. His mother hid his body under her dress. She did this because she feared that the others would bury the child at sea. And this she would not allow. She steeled herself and held her boy close, protecting him from the pitiless ocean, determined to take him home.
The various boats drifted apart. Then, over the next week, five of them were rescued by different ships on different days over the next week. One was picked up after twenty-four hours. Others drifted for five, six, and seven days. Three fully-loaded life boats were never seen again. They drifted into eternity.
What became of the 37-year old Norwegian mother named Eline Sofie, who along with her six children was traveling to America to join her husband in Minnesota?
The husband who anxiously awaited his young family never saw them again. Instead of a joyous reunion, of taking his wife in his arms and laughing with his children, he received the crushing news that his family had perished with the SS Norge two miles off the coast of Scotland. They were gone. They were only memories now. The cold Minnesota winters would be even colder for this man.
What about the fisherman named Jens Johansen Svartfjeld who was on his way to Minnesota along with his wife and five children? Their dreams all ended at sea. The entire family died. The last tears of the children fell into the salty sea.
Many families either lost several members or were wiped out completely. As of 1903, the SS Norge was the worst civilian maritime disaster in the history of the Atlantic Ocean. This was eight years before the wreck of the RMS Titanic.
The captain overlooked the effects of the full moon on the current and tide. As a result, the ship was north of where the captain thought. The effect of the full moon was ignored and this proved to be a fatal oversight. Not only that. but the SS Norge did not have enough lifeboats, had not drilled in emergency procedures, and its life belts were mostly rotted. All these factors resulted in the tragic loss of life on the SS Norge.
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Sunday, March 22, 2015
by Roger Weston
Allegedly, anonymous and mysterious telegrams were received by some passengers just before they boarded the fateful journey of a glamorous passenger liner that was to depart from New York on May 1st, 1915. The telegrams warned of impending disaster. They were signed Morte.
Such was the beginning of the legendary final journey of the Lusitania, one of the most famous passenger liners ever. And in fact, she was about to play a stunning role in world history.
Officials denied the reports of the threatening telegrams. Evidently they were persuasive because 1,256 passengers decided to go ahead with the trans-Atlantic crossing to England—as well as hundreds of crew members. There were other reasons for caution, too. The German embassy in Washington, for example, warned travelers that it was wartime and ships like the Lusitania were legitimate targets. Keep in mind that due to the ongoing hostilities in Europe, crossings were limited. After all, the Germans were sinking ships with stealthy submarines called U-boats.
The passengers had plausible reasons to think that they would survive the dangerous trip. After all, the Lusitania was a fast ocean liner. Combine speed with the safety precaution of following a zigzag pattern and they might well have made it. Other ships certainly did. It was also said that no submarine could outrun the Lusitania, winner of the Blue Riband for being the fastest transatlantic liner. There were added factors that would inspire confidence. Passengers felt certain that the Germans would not hit a passenger ship—especially one with Americans onboard. If all of that wasn’t enough, the ship’s brochure advertised that she was “unsinkable”. Many people have blind trust in authorities, and this claim must have given them comfort. The brochure also touted that the Lusitania and her sister ship were “the safest… in the world.” This is a logical conclusion: an unsinkable ship would be safe indeed. These claims could be backed up, too. The ship was constructed with 175 watertight compartments, so that if one compartment was flooded, the others would stay dry, and the boat would be fine—assuming all the watertight doors were closed.
Furthermore, the famous multimillionaire Alfred G. Vanderbilt would be along for the crossing. Surely, if well-connected people were taking the trip, everything would be okay. Or would it? It is unlikely that the captain of the German U-boat knew or cared whether or not there were celebrities on board.
Amidst all the rumors and hype, the ship kept her schedule. She slipped her moorings on May 1st, and five days later entered dangerous waters. To his credit, the captain took several wise precautions in a display of competence and efficiency. The lifeboats were uncovered and swung out on their davits; the crew was told to have them ready for launch in case of trouble. He also dictated that the ship be blacked out, which was a wise move. He ordered extra lookouts on deck. Then on May 6th, the Lusitania received what must have been a chilling message over the wireless: U-boat activity in the area.
Anyone who has been at sea knows that this is not the kind of news that you want to hear. Nevertheless, the Lusitania’s captain was not especially concerned. This much can be inferred from his subsequent actions—or shall we say lack of actions. For example, the British Admiralty had issued critical instructions, which the captain either misunderstood or ignored. No doubt many passengers who signed on for the journey had taken comfort in the Lusitania’s capabilities. She was known for her speed, which meant they could outrun a submarine. There were other precautions a captain could take such as running a zigzag course. This would have made it difficult for a submarine to sink them. The passengers were right to think that these factors worked in their favor; however, the captain, as has been said, ignored such instructions. He also ignored the order to keep clear of headlands and steam in mid-channel. He did the opposite. He ran a lackluster 18 knots, and he ran a straight course, hugging the coast a half mile offshore of the Coningbeg Lightship. He did all this in the very area where the submarines had been sighted. As a result, the Lusitania was an easy target.
At 1:20 p.m., a U-boat spotted the massive ocean liner and fired a torpedo, which struck the leviathan amidships. A second blast within the hull was even more powerful. This explosion in the boiler room was probably a detonation of the coal dust. However, the captain of the Lusitania had a secret. He was delivering more than just passengers to England; he was also delivering ammunition for the war against Germany. There were 5,000 cases of cartridges and 1,500 cases of shells. Furthermore, these were stored against the bulkhead leading into the No. 1 boiler room. Some have suggested that the ammunition caused the secondary explosion. Perhaps it did.
Either way, the damage was fatal. The ship listed to starboard. Within minutes, she tilted forward and buried her nose in the frigid water. Within 18 minutes, she made her descent to the bottom. Almost 1,200 doomed passengers and crew members made the deep fall with her; by the time the silt settled, they had surely passed on, and the ship had become their watery tombstone.
It may seem that this was a routine disaster where a ship was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong captain. And that may be the case. However, there is a mystery associated with the Lusitania. Some writers have claimed that Winston Churchill, who was at the time first lord of the Admiralty, wanted this disaster. They have suggested that because there were over a hundred Americans aboard, their deaths at the hands of Germans would lure the Americans into the War. It is true that England was in dire straits and desperately needed military help from reluctant America. It is true that this disaster helped tilt the scales toward America entering the war, although not for a couple more years. While this is possible, at least for now, these claims are just conspiracy theories—at least until convincing evidence emerges, which so far has not yet happened after a hundred years.
On May 7, 1915, off the coast of Ireland, 1,198 people perished. These were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. These people took a risk that didn’t pay off. A hotel manager named Albert Bilicke took the cruise for his health because he was recovering from abdominal surhgery. His recovery was cut short by the German torpedo. A 24-year old Canadian girl named Dorothy Braithwaite was on the Lusitania to visit her sisters in London, who had been widowed on the same day. Dorothy never got a chance to console them. Emily Hadfield of Ontario, Canada, was traveling with her 8-month old baby. Emily perished in the shipwreck; however, her baby was plucked out of the water and survived. An opera singer named Millie Baker had been training her voice in France and Spain and was planning to make her stage debut with the Opera Comique, but she was deprived of her big chance. After her death on the Lusitania, her mother received a note in the mail, sent on May 1st, 1915, signed, “Love always, your Millie.” Father Basil W. Maturin, stayed on the sinking ship and never attempted to board a lifeboat. Instead he gave absolution to all who requested it, and he handed a child onto the last lifeboat.
More than seven hundred survived the shipwreck, but many endured trauma and survived as a testament of the human spirit. They clung to floating debris and held on for their lives. One woman floated to shore in an armchair. Another woman gave birth in the water. She and her baby survived. A new bride was sucked into one of the funnels of the sinking ship, but was then spit out. She splashed down into the water near her husband’s lifeboat.
As we now approach the 100-year anniversary of the tragic shipwreck, we honor and remember the passengers of the Lusitania.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
by Roger Weston
In March of 1907, a ferocious storm raked the gloomy waters off the Cornish coast. Thick fog buried the Lizard peninsula. This treacherous outcrop was the home of many small fishing communities. On this night in the Ides of March, a fisherman’s wife spotted an ominous red glow in the fog. Word spread quickly in the small community. Bearded fishermen leapt into action. It was clear that this red glow was no weather phenomenon. It was the distress flare of a ship. The news could not have been more grim given that the conditions were brutal, and the chances seemed high that some if not all of the mysterious ship’s passengers would die if they were not soon rescued.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
It’s July 29, 1942. Fitted with big deck guns for protection against enemy ships, the Japanese cargo ship KANO MARU arrives at Holtz Bay, Attu Island, Alaska, a remote and foggy Aleutian island that the Japanese have occupied in order to divert US naval resources away from Midway and thereby divide the US Navy. The occupation marks the first time in history that US soil has been occupied by a hostile foreign power. The KANO MARO’s mission is to bring supplies to Japanese troops on both Attu and Kiska Island, both of which are occupied by troops who have dug extensive tunnels and trenches to defend their positions. The captain and crew of the KANO MARO have no idea that this routine re-supply mission will turn out to be anything but routine.
July 30, 1942. The KANO MARU approaches Kiska Island, but the heavy fog prevents her from entering Kiska Harbor. She drifts far off shore.
As the fog begins to thin out, KANO MARU heads toward Kiska Harbor at 15 knots.
Meanwhile, the American submarine USS GRUNION is on her first war patrol. When she reports anti-submarine activity, she is ordered back to Dutch Harbor.
Then the USS GRUNION surprises the KANO MARU, launching a torpedo that hits the machinery room of the Japanese cargo ship. Two Japanese sailors are killed. The starboard machinery room floods, and the diesel engine shuts down.
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Sunday, December 28, 2014
Now available on audio at:
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Are you an audio book listener? If so, The Assassin's Wife is now available in audio format. It's become my preferred method for listening to stories. The wonderful Kitty Hendrix did an amazing job bringing Meg to life.
Listen to a sample and let me know what you think. Authors, if you are looking for a female narrator, look up Kitty Hendrix. She was amazing to work with. I highly recommend her.