Saturday, January 30, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 16

Michele Oka Doner is a renowned artist and sculpturist who has devoted her life to the beauty and mysteries of art and nature, which parallels the mission of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her new exhibition opened at FMG on January 20, 2010. The natural world has always held her spellbound and the love of nature has given rise to a repertoire of beautiful art that includes sculpture, functional objects, prints and installations in America, Europe and Japan. Nature has made her one of America's best artist. From the Atlantic Oceans shores to inland forests she has found a truly amazing rich palette of natural subjects.

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she spent her youthful days frollicking on the warm, sandy beaches collecting what washed up from the ocean's floor. That started her lifelong interest in discovering and collecting nature's fragments. She poured her soul into her work which pushed her faster and farther. Her creativity and productivity shows her deep personal relationship with nature. She never quits pushing to create great works of art we can all appreciate. Oka Doner said, "I set out to explore the world around me."

Like Oka Doner to be the best in the world means you pour your physical, mental and spiritual soul and into the projects of life you desire. That's exactly what all treasure hunters and inventors must do. They must set out to explore areas of the world that may be frought with unexplained mysteries.

That's exactly what Bob Alcumbrack's philosphy had to be, too. He poured his heart and soul into finding the cannon. He dug day and night and explored his corner of the world. He was the ultimate treasure hunter - the cannon hunter. In fact we had to use scuba diving equipment in our search, too, something Bob thought he'd never have to use at his first big dig site. He was serious about his mission -- find that cannon and secrecy is a pre-requisite of treasure hunters.

The most serious treasure hunter to shine in the historical spotlight in the 1970's was Melvin A. Fisher. This chicken farmer from Indiana spent his winter's in Florida. The sun's warmth felt good, but he had to have something to do and his love for treasure hunting for fun and profit was better than slaughtering chickens for a living. Treasure hunting was more profitable and rewarding than battling the icy winds of Mother Nature's northern agricultural pursuits. Not everything was rewarding, the job of treasure hunting was a risky adventure, but worth the effort.

Fisher became president of Treasure Salvors, Inc. out of Key West, Florida in the 70's and he had a definite flare for discovering secret shipwrcks loaded with wealthy cargos. He couldn't have done it without wealthy friends and business associates. He needed a steady diet of venture capital to cover his debts and subsistence living. Treasure hunting isn't a cheap hobby, but Bob Alcumbrack found cannon hunting rewarding without the need for greed.

In 1971, the Fisher group used some investor capital to find one of the richest Spanish treasure wrecks, the 1622 escort fleet galleon, the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Several years later Fisher's group discovered the Atocha's sister ship, the Santa Margarita, which produced a treasure trove worth millions. This was a paltry find next to the discovery of the 1744 HMS Victory wreck off England, by a Tampa, Florida, treasure hunting group known as Odyssey Marine Excavators, Inc. in 2008. The Victory find was worth billions. Gold in 1971 was worth $35.00 an ounce, then $945.00 an ounce in 2009 and $1142 an ounce approximately in 2010. The Alcumbrack group found flecks of real gold in the black sand deposits at his first big dig site, but it was so miniscule we opted not to mine the gold and kept searching for the cannon. The glacial streams of the Grand River contain gold and have been actively mined since the 1870's, but I shall not reveal the secret locations.

Fisher's group retreived thousands of gold and silver coins, silver bars in excess of 70 pounds, gold bullion, an emerald cross, gold chains, jewelry and a rich assortment of other collectibles. Both wrecks were estimated to be worth $20 million. Believe it or not, this was considered a paltry sum in comparison to the amount of treasure streaming out of Mexico's Aztec Empire between 1519-1526. Compared to the Odyssey group this was a minisule treasure find, too.

Fisher used underwater sonar and lost map coordinates to locate wrecks. The Odyssey group used 21st century towed electromagnetic sonar, satellite imagery and map coordinates to find many shipwrecks in 2008 worth many billions, but despite efforts to claim title to the wrecks they found themselves sucked into admiralty court proceedings. Country after country is claiming the salvage treasure belongs to them - not the treasure hunters.

Forty years of advancement technology have increased profits, but so far the treasure groups have expended much time fighting for salvage rights in courts. Sure increased computer enhanced technology means higher costs, but so too, discovery of the wrecks and where they rest makes it easier for pirates to locate with GPS and they plunder it before the salvors and military vessels return to guard it. That's why treasure hunting is a secret society. One loose anonymous tongue can cost treasure hunters billions of dollars.

Countless billions of treasure beyond Fisher's wildest dream still rest undiscovered beneath many feet of current shifting sand in the Gulf of Mexico's Marquesas Keys and westward from Key West, Florida. The fair market value of Fisher's treasure troves today would yeild $100 million. That's still a mere drop in the bucket to the vast Indian treasures stolen from the Aztecs of Mexico and the Incas of South America in the early 1520's.

National archaeologists deemed Fisher's group as destructive salvors and deemed his salvage operations as piratical of national treasures. Archaeologists claimed that Fisher's group was tearing the wrecks apart to find the treasure trove and failed to map the sites before doing so.
Government officials alleged that Fisher's divers didn't care about the historical shipwrecks architecture and were only interested in the precious cargo. The treasure was needed to repay investors back with interest in profits and enlarge Fisher's own personal wealth. Fisher was harshly criticized in court. Fisher had filed claim to both vessels in admiralty court. The government argued the treasure found on the Outer Counter Shelf belonged to the Department of Interior. The government's piratical nature tried seizing control of the booty, but Fisher countersued, but lost and the treasure was put into custodianship of the admiralty court. According to the admiralty he could harvest the treasure, but as "finders keepers' he couldn't sell them. This is exactly what is happening with the Odyssey groups 2008 find of the shipwreck HMS Victory. England and Spain have counter claimed salvage rights.

Fisher's court battles made him a legend -- an American folk hero who had the gumption to fight big government. He was small potatos battling big government. He tried to be finders keepers, but the Federal government using information provided by national archaeologists claimed ownership of the national treasure. Piracy comes in many forms.

Years later Fisher once said he didn't know if discovery of the coral and barnacle encrusted treasure galleons were a blessing or curse. He was quite wealthy in 1978 and he felt his wealth may not have outweighed a personal family tragedy in 1975.

Mel's son Dirk, his daughter-in-law Angel and treasure diver Rick Gage drowned at the Atocha site when their tugboat sank. The unexplained mystery to date is whether they radioed for help or whether they sacrificed themselves so that only Mel knew the secret location of the Atocha that prevented other treasure hunters from finding the wreck. Treasure hunters don't tell secrets. They hide treasure wrecks at practically any cost. It has long been known that when different groups of treasure hunters meet they will fight to the death of each other for control of the rich booty. The same holds true to treasure hunters on dry land. Bob Alcumbrack's group was aware of another cannon hunting group in the Cannonsburg area in 1986 -- that's why we kept silent and made sure nobody could read our lips when we talked. Real treasure hunters today are as dangerous as their exploring predessors during the first 600 years of roaming the high seas. Somali pirates are just as ruthless and bad seizing crews and ships and holding them for millions in ransom.

Federal agents seized Fisher's two found vessels and claimed they were protected by Federal jurisdiction on the OCS. However, Fisher took his claim to both vessels to the U.S. Supreme Court and they ruled in his favor, but the Justices weren't impressed by his salvage techniques. Some claimed that Fisher and his salvage group were simply legal pirates and not interested in preserving history. Pots of gold and silver treasure was worth fighting for and Fisher gained fame and fortune finding shipwrecks in shallow water, which is why Michigan protects sunken shipwrecks and aircraft from diving outlaws who seek treasure for profits and not historical value.

Shipwrecks found in shallow water less than sixty-five feet in oceans or inland seas are being easily torn apart by fishing trawler nets and strong underwater currents. Decaying vessels are being strewn across large areas and covered with shifting sand and silt. Deep ocean wrecks are succumbing to fishing nets pulled by large cargo vessels. Another man named George R. Fischer, a research archaeologist for the National Park Service during Mel Fisher's day was an adamant supporter for saving wrecks from treasure hunters. He felt that treasure hunters need to obey the "archaeology code of ethics that said "Thou shalt not sell the goodies."

You could say that Mel Fisher and George Fischer met each other by collision fighting over treasure. Destiny brought them together, just as Bob Alcumbrack and I found our destiny. Anyone who hunts for treasure off the Florida coast are known as "Hunters of The Wild Frontier" similar to Davey Crockett's "King of The Wild Frontier" on dry land.

Fisher was never accused of any running sea battles with other treasure hunters on the high seas. However, some historical records state that when different groups meet over spoils of wrecks or archaeological sites fierce gun battles do erupt out of sight of law enforcement officials. Big time treasure hunting is dangerous to one's continued health. Being wary of other cannon hunters was our motto, too. Warring treasure hunters will claim each found the booty by suctioning off silt or displacing sand to expose coinage and precious stones. Displacing sediments often destroys the integrity of remnant remains where vessel or human remains can be found. Would you like someone disturbing the graveyard? Who really owns lost and found treasures?

The Alcumbrack group felt had word gotten out that we found real mining gold at Bob's first big dig site area streams we'd be encountering too many disturbed areas should the first dig site not pan out. We couldn't chance the competition digging for gold or cannon. The cannon was our primary goal -- not gold for profit. Greed is the beast that satisfies a treasure hunter's hunger for selling artifacts from sunken wrecks. On land the ultimate treasure trophy is a cannon with engraved brass plates. That's the authenticity of the piece. This is what Bob Alcumbrack had to find to authenticate the Cannonsburg cannon. That's all for today.

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