Lake Champlain is the eighth largest naturally configured body of fresh water in the continental United States. Named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain, it stretches for 120 miles, bordering Vermont, New York and a snippet of Quebec, Canada. The lakes’s many ports of call, some going back to the Revolutionary War, cater to commercial transportation and recreational pursuits.
When the trawl net from the fishing boat “Mistake” struck something on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 1993, Capt. Jerry Murphy was fearful of damage to it. It was indeed ripped in several places when hauled up, but it didn’t matter when Murphy heard his first mate screaming, “Ballast stones and coins, lots of coins!”
It seems fitting that the 390-foot SS Proteus, which sank 20 miles off Ocracoke inlet, North Carolina, August 1918, was named after a god of the sea in Greek mythology. In the myth, Proteus could change appearances at will, something the exquisite luxury liner has experienced in its more than 100 years of entombment in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Each year, when December 7 rolls around, George Carter of Chase, Maryland, reflects on what he and two of his buddies discovered in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii on July 25, 1992. That’s when Carter, Gary Larkins and Terry Kirby earned their own little niche in history.
Just as airline tragedies are at times blamed on pilot error, so are shipwrecks occasionally the captain’s fault. Such was the case of the side-wheel steamship General Slocum that caught fire on the East River in 1904. Its captain, William H. Van Schaick, had two choices of possibly saving his ship and its passengers. Unfortunately, he made the wrong decision, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths and the loss of his vessel.
The United State Coast Guard (USCG) has made many courageous rescues since its inception in 1915 and remains a stalwart military force. Although it doesn’t garner the attention or glamour heaped upon our Air Force, Navy or Marines, the USCG continues its “blue collar” workload with little fanfare.
When warships sink, it’s usually during a battle where they’re shelled, torpedoed, bombed or rammed and heroic deeds are recorded in history books. But not so heroic, and surely distressful for the captains, is when they have to scuttle their ships.
How many times have we come upon the word “purported” when perusing or researching stories about sunken or buried treasures? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “purport” as: “to imply, profess or claim, often falsely.”
In 1961, when divers excavated the hull of the CSS Neuse, a Confederate Civil War ironclad gunboat burned and scuttled in 1865 in the Neuse River, Kinston, North Carolina, they didn’t know it would be so massive.
He drops eight small pieces of silver into my hand, smiles and says, “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar.” Then he shows me a one ounce eight reale (royal) coin, better known as a peso or piece of eight, minted in New Spain in the 1700s. “Sometimes they were cut into eight pieces, like a pie, in order to make change,” he says.