KINCAID << MEL
& ME << HOME
Captain Don Kincaid
Sometimes events occur that seem to change your whole life. Then years later when you look back on it, you realize that you have been on an inevitable collision course with that happening since the day you were born.
When I was nine years old my mother, younger sister and I spent twenty eight days on a military transport ship, named the General D. E. Altman. We were crossing the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to the Philippine Islands. For a little monster like me it was a great trip, there were flying fish, blue blue water and the roll of the ship, we got certificates for crossing the International Date Line, and the equator, and I got to sleep in the top pipe berth. Our cabin was tiny with folding bunks and a small stainless steel bathroom. At meal time, a tall black steward in a white bolero style jacket, would walk the corridors playing a four note tune on a set of tubular chimes. In the children's rec. room I played a lot of cards with some of the other kids on board and read a lot of old issues of Readerís Digest and occasionally watched cartoons or an old movie on16 MM film. When I could steal away, which wasnít often, I explored the ship. We were very cut off from the rest of the world, once a week a small newsletter would circulate giving last weeks news. Every day seemed to run into the next, with the only variation being the sea state or the weather.
On our last evening on board, the ship was entering the Philippine Straits, there was mountainous land on both sides of the ship and a sunset ahead of us, The sunset was so perfect that it reminded me of one of those painted on the back of a church fan, with Jesus praying and doves instead of sea birds.
I woke up in the morning as the ship was being piloted into Manila Bay. It was only ten years after the end of World War II, and there were sunken ships everywhere. Many of the ships were still loaded with munitions, a collision could have catastrophic results. The big ship moved very slowly and carefully through the cleared channel between the ships, and came very close to some of them. I could see open hatches into the ships under the clear water. I had never seen a real sunken ship with my own eyes before. I had watched Cousteau explore the" Thistlegorm" in his movie the Silent World, and I had seen Ned Land fight off a shark in front of a Spanish galleon in The Disney version of 20,000 Leagues under the sea, but real sunken ships...wow !
Some of the ships were sticking out of the water at odd angles, others were sitting upright with their upper decks out of the water. On one wreck Philippine children my own age were playing, diving off the decks and splashing about. One of the kids was wearing a pair of pearl divers goggles. At this point my young imagination took off in all directions. My mind raced with possibilities. If I had a pair of goggles, I could explore a sunken ship. Since I had just spent 28 days in the bowels of the Altman, I could imagine what it must be like, to move through the submerged passage ways, the murky light, schools of fish, bubbles and of course, sunken treasure.
We took a bus past rice paddies and water buffalo, through thatched hut villages while Philippine children yelled alongside the road, "Hey Joe, Hey Joe." These were my first views of a foreign country, but my mind was still under water. I kept trying to figure out a way to get to dive on a sunken ship. I decided to attack the problem systematically...First learn to swim.
In a couple of hours we reached our new home, Clark Air Force Base I started reading every thing I could get my hands on about the underwater world. The library was a regular haunt. Then my dad bought me two issues of a magazine named Water World. There were stories written by spear fishermen about their exploits, how to repair outboard motors and one article by a guy in California named Mel Fisher, who was diving for gold nuggets in the same rivers that the 49íers had worked. On the same page as the article was a small advertisement for Melís Aqua Shop, the first dive shop in the U.S.A.
Some years later my family was stationed in Hampton, Virginia. The Mariners Museum was nearby and became a regular hang out for me. The museum grounds had dated cannons and anchors from wrecks all over the world, donated by Ed Link, Bob Marx and other treasure hunters of the time. The museum also had a huge library entirely devoted to the sea. The librarian was Mr. John Lochhead, who it seemed to me, had the whole library memorized.
My diving buddies and I had located a dozen Civil war wrecks in the Pamunkey river, just outside of the capitol city of Richmond. When I told Mr. Lochhead about our finds he went immediately to several books that chronicled the actions that led to the sinkings. When I later brought him artifacts from the sites, he put me to work studying how an archaeologist would identify, document and preserve the wreck material. I was in a world of shipwrecks, history and new found knowledge. Reality, however, was just over the horizon from Manila bay...Vietnam.
I had gradually been getting more involved with underwater photography over the years, but I realized that if I was going to get good enough at it to make a living, I was going to have to get some schooling in the subject. There was only one school that gave a degree in underwater photography, and when I saw what it was going to cost, I decided to try plan B.
I knew that in a very short time I would get a letter drafting me into the Army. As the son of an Air Force sergeant I knew enough about the military to realize that without skills that the army could use, chances were good that I would end up in the infantry in Vietnam, but the army had a program that if I signed up for an extra year, I could get my choice of schools. So in September of 1966, I entered basic training in the army. Six weeks later I was sent to the armyís film school at Ft. Monmouth New Jersey. After film school I was stationed in New York city, at the old Paramount studios. It was now the Army Pictorial Center, and I was an assistant cameraman on both 16 MM and 35 MM film productions. Not exactly underwater but at least I was in a position to learn from the pros.
I spent about a year working on various aspects of film production, make up, lighting and special effects. I learned a wide variety of skills. On some weekends I would make an 8 hour bus trip back down to Virginia to dive and film the Civil war wrecks. Take an 8 hour bus ride back to The Pictorial Center and still be in time for muster on Monday morning. The army supplied me with free film and processing as part of my training, but before I could finish my wreck diving production, I was reassigned to Germany as a still photographer, working in a Public Information Office. Only a few years before I had been living in Germany with my family, so this was like going home for me. I was stationed in Hanau and after about nine months shooting "Grip and Grins" and getting a lot of extra sleep when I was thought to be working in the darkroom, I managed to slip into another job. I became an actor and stage hand with a traveling play about how to resist interrogation and escape from a prison camp. It was called," The Fifth Corps Code of Conduct Escape and Evasion Training Road Show," and was headquartered in Frankfurt. I was the only non professional actor in the group. All of the other guys were professionals in theater production who had been drafted out of New York or Hollywood. The show toured irregularly, so I had lots of spare time to explore Europe, mostly by hitch hiking.
Using letterhead stationary from the road show, I applied for press credentials to shoot the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco. I hoped that enough would be lost in translation between French and English that the letterhead would be enough to get me into the races and it worked. I now had my first set of professional press credentials.
Robin Kaneshiro, a 2nd generation Japanese American, who played a Vietcong in the play, and I flew to Barcelona Spain. We went as deck cargo for about $2.80 to the Balearic islands , which were about a hundred miles offshore. We spent a few days on Mallorca camping out in a cave on the beach and going snorkeling. We traveled back to the Spanish mainland and proceeded to spend the next week hitchhiking along the coast of Spain and France to Monaco.
After the races we continued on to Genoa, Italy, then by train back to Frankfurt, and back to the stage. I got out of the Army in Europe in 1969, traveled a bit, then followed the Grand Prix circuit back to the states. I moved to New York and had held several jobs working in photo labs and studios while stringing with Auto Racing magazine. I was also going to school for photojournalism at Germaine University as well as taking classes in underwater photography from Hank Frey at N.Y.U. I was working as an assistant in a studio that specialized in product shoots as well as lingerie.
Shooting ladies both in and out of their under wear was a fun and interesting job to be sure, but one day I had an argument with my boss. I was still mad when I got home that night and discovered that the superintendent of my building was on strike, so I had no heat or hot water. It was January, there was two feet of snow on the ground, the garbage hadnít been picked up in a week, so the odiferous charms permeated my apartment. I couldnít sleep that night for the cold. I was wrapped in every jacket and blanket that I possessed. In the morning I knew that I had had enough. This was an uncivilized way to live, being under the thumb of the troll that lived under the stairs.
My whole reason for being in New York was to acquire the professional skills needed to do underwater photography right. I thought that I had the basics down. There was no underwater work for me here in the city. It was time to go home. Home was Key West, Florida, Southernmost city in the United states. My mothers family had been one of the eariy settlers of Harbor Island in the Bahamas. Other parts of her family came from the Caymans and Cuba. They were, and still are, water oriented people; fishermen, turtlers and boaters for generations. The itinerant Air Force life was great for learning about other people and their culture, but a boy had to have a home town and this was the one I claimed.
The Gulf Stream flows easterly along the reefs a few miles off the two by four mile island, and mangrove keys stretched on out to the West for miles. US I was the only road in and out, and the small airport was serviced by D.C.3ís most of which were older than their pilots. There were still signs up in the airport advertising excursions to Havana. My plan was to work at a night job, perhaps in the darkroom at the local newspaper, and to dive and shoot all day until I had a credible underwater portfolio, then I would shop the magazines for work. When I went to the newspaper, to show my work, the head of the photo department told me that if he hired me, that he would be out of a job in no time, because I was more qualified than he was. So I went to work at the local camera store. Connís Camera in Sears town shopping center, was managed by Chet Conn and owned by Ed Swift. Ed owned the two largest camera stores in the Keys at the time, and had bought Chet out several years before, but had retained him as manager.
Chet remembered me as the kid who used to come down every summer to snorkel and shoot tons of film with a Kodak Brownie Hawk Eye in a homemade underwater housing. The housing flooded so often that I had become adept at saving the guts from permanent damage by taking the thing apart and soaking every thing in sewing machine oil. Of course the springs that controlled the shutter were getting rusty, consequently the camera had rather dubious shutter speed accuracy. It finally got to the point where the shutter would only work with the camera upside down, using gravity to help the spring along.
I had worked in a camera store in high school so it was easy to get back into sales, but it was a day job, luckily not full time. I had a few days off a week and managed to get out on occasion on a dive boat to blaze away with my Nikonos and an old twin lens reflex 6x6 cm camera that held only twelve shots.
I soon realized that the reef fish pictures that I shot were just everyday shots with no rhyme or reason. They were colorful, but they didnít have any point or to my mind, salability. Because I had spent the last few years telling a story with the camera in both stills and film, I knew that these shots could not stand on their own. They also werenít informative enough to to work as a collection, nor could they educate the viewer. I needed to find a story to tell. The camera store was starting to get to me, I was so overqualified, that little old ladies who couldnít put their film in right, were starting to drive me nuts. Getting out on the water as often as I could, was all that prevented me from throttling a large number of grannies.
About a month or so after I started work a man and woman came into the store with a broken 16 MM film projector. The couple were vaguely familiar to me. The projector was an easy fix and when the man went to sign the check I looked at the signature. Mel Fisher... Treasure Salvors Incorporated. It was the man whose exploits I had followed in various publications since I was nine years old. The famous dive shop owner, gold diver and finder of the lost Spanish fleet from 1715. The woman was his beautiful red headed wife, underwater model and holder of the underwater endurance record for women, Dolores, or Deo for short. I knew enough about this guy to know that he had to be doing something interesting in Key West. Maybe even something that I could do a picture story on. Mel had an easy way about him and a slow western drawl . He was a tall man, over six feet, but with a paunch and was in his late forties. When I told him that I knew who he was and that I was a wreck diver and photographer, he started to tell me about his most recent expedition. As he started to speak Deo looked at him with rapture, her love for him was obvious.
Mel had been in the keys for a couple of years searching for a Spanish galleon named Nuestra Senora de Atocha that sank in a hurricane in 1622. They hadnít found anything yet, but you never could tell. Tomorrow just might be the day. Mel was also a film maker and photographer who had chronicled his own adventures over the years. Now however he didnít have time to shoot, because he was also Captain of his dive boat, head money raiser and was trying to run his small salvage company all at the same time. I didnít realize it at the time but this was Melís standard pitch. He had to raise money to keep up the hunt, so any person he met got the pitch, after all he couldnít tell if someone had some money that he might be able to talk them out of, but he always tried. No one was immune, every body got the pitch. I didnít have any money but he didnít know that. Of course being so young and inexperienced at dealing with a professional salesman, I fell hook line and sinker. " Well Mr. Fisher, I am a trained filmmaker, photojournalist and diver. I have worked on Civil war wrecks and I have some training in archaeology. Do you need someone to shoot a story on your treasure hunt?" I could hardly get the words out fast enough.
" Well OK kid, but I donít allow any one to work for me that doesnít own stock in my company." I asked Mel, "How much is your stock per share?"
"Oh ten dollars a share. Tell you what kid, just meet me on the "Hollyís Folly", thatís our search boat, at the yacht club tomorrow with a check and Iíll put you on the pay roll."
So the next day I wrote a check for a hundred dollars and headed for the yacht club. I Met Bob Holoway on the Folly. He was in the middle of grinding the valves for his engines. Bob was white haired , tall and very personable. He explained to me that he ran so many miles searching for the Atocha that he needed to rebuild his motors at least once a month. I waited and waited but no Mel. When I gave him a call to find out what was up . He told me that some important potential investors had showed up and that he would be sure and make it the next day.
The next day and still no Mel Fisher. The investors were late, he would be sure to be there the next day. Finally, on the third day we connected. When I handed him the check he did a double take." Gee kid, You left off a couple of zeroís".
" Well That's almost everything in my account," I told him.
Things must have been tighter than Mel would admit because he took the check and put it into his wallet. We walked into the yacht club bar, where Mel ordered a double rum and coke. Then he started to pitch me again, on doubling my investment.... After I had just told him that my bank account was almost empty. He was not only incorrigible but he was forgetful as well. He went on for a while until I saw an opening.
" When can I start shooting pictures Mel?"
"Oh shooting, uh yeah, well I guess any time, and Iíll pay you ten bucks a week more than the other divers, cause you have skills that the other guys donít have."
"And how much do they get Mel", I asked?
"Oh... fifty bucks a week."
I decided to keep my day job at the camera store.
When we went to leave the Yacht club bar I noticed that Mel used my check to pay for his tab. A week later however, I started shooting Melís operations, on weekends mostly and whenever I could string a few days off, together. In May I took the plunge full time, for Sixty dollars a week.
On May the eleventh, nineteen seventy one, five months after leaving New York, I celebrated my twenty sixth birthday in the Marquesas keys twenty four miles west of Key West, aboard the "Hollyís Folly", Bob Hollowayís thirty four foot Chris Craft Sea Skiff. I was now a full time treasure diving photographer. Quite possibly, I was the only person on the planet with that job description. Of course, I hadnít found any treasure yet, but then again neither had any one else.
The Marquesas Keys are unique, this small set of islands is an atoll, orring of islands. The only atoll in America. Most atolls are in the Pacific, and are volcanic in origin. Because of the dozens of meteorite anomalies that Melís crew found during the search, it was Melís theory that the Marquesas were actually a prehistoric meteor crater. The islands were named after the Marquis de Caderaeta, who had visited the salvage camp that the Spaniards had set up in 1623, during their attempts at recovering the
Atochaís treasure. The Spanish nickname for the area was La Cabeza de los Martyries, or the head of the keys, since from a modest altitude, say, the height of the crows nest on an old sailing ship, the atoll looked just like a skull. The islands were a serene paradise for wading birds and game fish, and were far enough distant from Key West that casual visitors seldom made it out here.
Often times our salvage boats sheltered in the lagoon, or rafted up for a grand poker match, or Melís favorite, chess, using pieces built from plumbing fittings. Part of the fun of the match was creating the most elaborate Kings and Queens, then trying to make his opponent forget which fitting was which. I worked alternately between the "Hollyís Folly" which towed a magnetometer, and the "Virgalona" which was Melís digging and dive boat. I was learning the realities of treasure hunting as opposed to the myths that I had read about for years. Mel used to say " Yuh canít just go out there with a peach basket and an inner tube and start pickiní up the gold like a chicken pickiní corn. "...
Well, when itís put in that perspective it sort of conjures up a different image of things doesnít it? The fact is, treasure hunting is a lot of hard work, it is also wet, cold, hot, uncomfortable, boring and inherently dangerous . Usually all of the above at about the same time. We worked from dawn till after dark, or until something broke or until we ran out of fuel or food. Then it was back to port for repairs or reprovisioning, do the fastest turn around that we could manage, then back out to sea to start all over again. We had to take advantage of the flat , calm, summer weather.
Mel was chronically short of money for operations, so a lot of his equipment was in poor repair, things broke a lot. Working for Mel was a good education in jury rigging. Sometimes even dive gear was in short supply. I was the only person on the Virgalona that owned his own complete set of diving equipment.
There was an abandoned naval spotters tower on the Marquesas, it was a steel skeleton about sixty feet tall with a steep stair way going up the side, leading to a small sun shelter at the top. It gave an excellent view of the surroundings waters and islands. We could see all of the lagoon and grass flats. There were always small sharks on patrol and overhead were wheeling Man oí war birds. In the distance across the multihued shallows, were the target ships that were still bombed regularly. Mel had set the tower up as a control station for the electronic end of the hunt. GPS had not been invented yet and Loran was not in wide spread use, so, all navigation was by sight and compass. Quite frankly, except for the radio, and the combustion engine, the old Spanish methods of navigation and search were not much different than those employed by Mel. We had to lug a car battery to run a CB radio, a cooler for lunch and a theodolite on a tripod up to the top of the tower. It took one person three trips or two people working together one trip to get all the gear up to the top. Climbing a sixty foot tall stairway in the hot sun toting all this stuff was a real workout . Once up to the small shelter on top of the tower, we then had to climb outside the structure, dangling in space to gain access to the roof for an extra bit of height which would extend the range of the search a mile or two. The roof was also the dinning and resting area for all the birds of prey in the islands. The roof, which then became our floor was covered in bird droppings and half eaten fish. Naturally, we were all bare foot. We tried to clean up the area, but as soon as we would leave, the birds would return and undo our cleaning efforts.
The theodolite was a combination compass and telescope, also called a surveyors transit. Usually the newest diver was assigned to man the tower. Once everything was set up and operating, the theodolite operator would guide the search boat down a course and tell them on the CB which way to steer if they were off course. Melís group had already searched over 140,000 linear miles of ocean floor and had found no trace of the Atocha. For the man on the tower, search days were interminable in the hot sun. Of course if he ever took a misstep it was a long way down. Being hit by lightning was another distinct possibility.
Meanwhile the Virgalona crew would come along behind the Folly doing what we called "jumping anomalies". The magnetometer that the Hollyís Folly used had been developed by Fay Field. Fay was one of Melís original California dive group. Fay had taken an invention the size of a truck and miniaturized it to suitcase size. He had done it because his passion was collecting sea shells. Particularly, a very rare sea shell called the Spiny Oyster, spondylus americanus. The shell was often found on steel shipwrecks. The device basically tuned into the local magnetic field. If any magnetic item such as a cannon or an anchor was passed, it created a variation in the earthís magnetic field, which registered on the mag as an anomalous feature. As the Folly got mag hits, several buoys would be tossed over the side. They were simply styrofoam lobster pot buoys on a length of polypropylene line, attached to a cinder block. Since the Hollyís Folly crew averaged finding a couple thousand hits a year, thatís a lot of cinder blocks. Every single hit had to be checked out, since you never knew which one might be the wreck site. Most of the hits were modern and easily dismissed on the first dive. They were logged and we moved on. We found lots of bombs and torpedoes, fish traps, several airplanes, a mine field, meteorites and a flat bed truck.
Often I was pulled off the tower to look at a piece of wreckage, thank goodness for all those days at the Marinerís Museum. I was the only one of the divers who could tell the difference between artifacts from different centuries. We found lots of nineteenth century wrecks, and a couple of eighteenth century sites, but nothing that might indicate the seventeenth century resting place of the
Atocha. The guy on the tower could only watch with envy through the theodolite as his buddies went down into the cool green water, while he sweated away in the stench of fish heads and heat. Finally in June, ten miles west of the Marquesas, the Follyís crew found a huge galleon style anchor partially buried on the edge of a vast sand bar called on the charts "The Quicksands". The Virgalona was brought in to uncover it, so that I could get some pictures to help determine if the anchor was the right century or not.
The Virgalona was a fifty four foot wooden Harkers Island mackerel boat, that had been converted to treasure hunting with the addition of a compressor for filling scuba tanks and "mailboxes" on her stern. These elbow shaped tubes were fitted around the propellers and harnessed the prop wash, deflecting the wash down to the sea floor, blowing sand and sediments away, hopefully uncovering wreck material. It was an ingenious device invented by Mel in the sixtyís while working on the 1715 wrecks. The Virgalona was moored over the anchor site with a spider web of lines going in all directions. Lines on the stern were let off or tightened on a winch to move the boat around, so that the mailbox could be positioned right over the selected spot for digging.
The crew had dug a number of holes in the area, and had found some scattered artifacts including; a matchlock musket, a musket ball, some pottery shards and a badly corroded silver coin. All this stuff was in the ballpark as far as dating the site to circa 1622. The matchlock musket was a particularly good clue, since that type of firing method was only in use from the late 1500ís to about 1630. Mel was convinced by this meager evidence that the wreckage was part of the Atocha. The fifteen foot long galleon anchor however, could not be relocated. Navigation was not one of Melís highly honed skills.
I had only been under the blowers a few times, so this was still a very new experience for me. Rick Vaughan and I stood waist deep on the diving ladder eating sandwiches, as the thundering engines produced a maelstrom of swirling sand and thousands of bits of broken sea shells. The sand boiled to the surface in huge roiling clouds that drifted down current. When the engines were taken out of gear the lighter sediments stayed in suspension while the shell bits fluttered back down to the bottom, 25 feet below us. As soon as we heard the motors slow, Rick and I threw our sandwiches down, shoved our regulators in our mouths and dove into the cloud of sediment as fast as we could. Visibility was zero in the still swirling sandstorm. It was somewhat easier for me to deal with the low visibility than some of the other divers, since I had done so much black water diving on the wrecks in Virginia. I just charged on in, with my arm out in front of me and the camera clutched against my chest until I ran into the bottom in pitch blackness. I just waited in the dark for the water to clear, feeling the bits of shell gently raining down upon my head and going down the neck of my wetsuit. In a few moments I could see the dim outline of my arm , then my hand, then the sloping wall of the crater that the prop wash had created. As I looked about I could see that the hole was about eight feet deep and conical, with several very defined strata of sea shells. Some of the shells, I knew to be extinct. It was obvious that this piece of ocean bottom had not been disturbed for a very long time. As the water gradually cleared with the current things became a bit more distinct. Half way up the side of the hole I could see sand cascading slowly down gently covering a knot of metal chain that looked green in the dim light. Since it was obviously man-made, it might yield another clue as to the date and identity of this scattered shipwreck artifact spill. So I grabbed it before it disappeared. It was a fist sized clump, and very heavy for itís size. It was also very cold. The links were thumbnail size, ornate and twisted into alternating patterns. As I cleaned the sand off the chain, Rick appeared out of the haze. I showed him the chain, he gave me the OK sign and went back to searching the bottom of the hole. Neither of us was particularly impressed with this green artifact. As the sand cloud cleared completely, I could see that there was nothing else of interest, so I headed for the surface to finish my sandwich. The closer I got to the surface the less green the chain looked. I wondered if the guys on the surface had tossed the chain into the hole to give me, the new guy, a little thrill. But the chain was so cold, possibly 20 degrees colder than the air temperature on deck.
When I reached the surface and full daylight there was no doubt that the color of the chain was GOLD! At that point my voice froze up. I managed to croak out a "Hey" and looked around the diving deck. It was empty, there was nobody to show the chain to. On the bow of the boat stood one of the other divers, Gary Lavarack, taking a whiz over the side. As I showed him the ball of chain, a wave came along and almost pitched him over board. He let out a yelp, teetered, wet himself, regained his balance, finished his business and then came running down the gunnels.
The rest of the crew was evidently below decks eating lunch. Fay Field was the first to poke his head up. When he saw the chain he let out a string of happy curse words of such colorful quantity and complication that to this day I have yet to hear them equaled. Next came Mel, who immediately burst into tears, then came over and started shaking my hand with his right hand while trying to unravel the chain with the other. " Itís the Atocha, he said, Itís got to be the big A. "
Deo was last up, she started jumping up and down clapping her hands and giggling like a school girl. I had just found the first gold on the Atocha "Pictures, pictures we have got to get a picture. " Deo said, as she dug an old Rolleiflex, that had seen better days out of her gear bag. The couple of shots that she made show me wet and dripping, in a shorty wet suit, with a ratty mask that I had since high school, my battered Nikonos camera around my neck. I was dark bearded and thin, with a stunned look on my face and the gold chain in my hands. I think I lost my photojournalist objectivity right about then.
Fay asked if there was any air left in my tank. "Yeah plenty," I replied.
"Can I borrow it?"
"Well since youíre not going to use your tank can I use your mask" ? asked Mel?
Hey, these guys were the experts, I wasnít going to stand in the way if they thought they could find more gold. Melís parting comment was " Thereís more where that came from. Dig another hole Dig, Dig! Todayís the day."
With in a few minutes every bit of diving gear on the boat was gone, including all my own. I was left just standing there in my Speedo. There were people diving with a tank under their arm. Somebody was diving with one fin, there was a snorkel left over, but no mask to go with it . That was ok, it soon disappeared. Gold Fever swept the Virgalona.
Whoever couldnít commandeer any dive gear was franticly running the motors, digging holes, and moving the boat to dig in another spot. More gold, there just had to be more gold. Ignored in the rush to find more treasure, the gold chain was just sitting in a small pile on Melís chess board that he had painted on the engine cover. I picked up the chain and hefted it. It weighed about a pound, maybe a little less , it was about eight and a half feet long... Nobody was looking... I walked down into the cabin and grabbed a magnifying loupe from my camera bag, then went into the head and locked the door. I looked at the chain with the loupe and slowly turned it over in my hands. I examined the workmanship, It had obviously been made with primitive tools but with great attention to detail. It was unblemished, since gold is an inert metal it doesnít rust or corrode. Yes, it was real, there was no doubt about that. The gold chain could not have been placed under all that sand and extinct sea shells without disturbing the stratigraphy of the ages. Countless vessels must have passed over this spot, their passengers never imagining what secrets lay beneath the quick sands off the Marquesas.
Now that I held this chain in my hands it seemed warmer than when I first found it. I realized that it had not been warmed by human touch in three hundred and fifty years. It had been lying below buried under the sand, in the darkness and cold, until I had chanced upon it, and returned it to the daylight and the air and the living touch of man. It struck me then, that the last person that had held this chain in the warmth of a human hand, was long since dead. The chain seemed like a bridge across time, from my hands to the hands of the two hundred and sixty people who died on the Atocha. It was like a direct link with the past, but it made me think about the present and the possible future. Who would hold the chain in the future, where would it go next? Mel used to say " Nobody really owns gold , we just kind of borrow it for a while then it passes on to someone else."
The passengers on the Atocha were mostly young men about my age. Perhaps the person who last held the chain was just like me, a young man slim and dark bearded, looking forward to an exciting future. He had gone aboard the Atocha with his fortune made in the New World , anticipating going home to his family in Spain. Maybe we had even looked a bit alike, my grandmothers family had come from Spain to Cuba. His life and hope for the future had been snuffed out by a hurricane. All the wealth aboard the Atocha could not buy a single life. The sea was not cruel, it was just the sea, and it was indifferent.
The whole world had been transformed since the Atocha had been lost. Many of the changes that occurred over the centuries were fueled by the wealth of Spainís colonies. The world had changed in ways that those long dead Spaniards could never have imagined.
I walked back outside onto the deck of the Virgalona and replaced the chain on the chess board . I looked at the sky and sun and then at the sparkling sea, These things would always be the same, but I had been changed, I had looked into the past and that gave me insight into the future. I knew that the person who held that chain before me, could not know his fate then, and I realized that I couldnít know mine now.
Did you know Mel? Would you like your story included?