Sunday, January 31, 2010

Search for Secrets of A Sunken Cannon - 17

Bob Alcumbrack's big dig site was underway, but it took only days of digging for him to realize that he wasn't going to be able to find the cannon as planned. He surely didn't plan on the competition from another cannon hunting group near Cannonsburg, Michigan. Still he had a goal, a lofty goal at best that would make him the envy of the Texas group. Finding gold wasn't the prize he sought.

A cannon is the ultimate treasure trophy on American soil. It is a rare to find buried ancient cannons in the United States. Finding the Cannonsburg cannon with the engraving plates would be a miracle. Without engraving plates on carriages all cannons are rendered worthless. Bob didn't have any clue to whether or not the cannon itself was engraved since no pictures or photos of the cannon were ever found. The picture he formed in his mind of the cannon's size was the admission of old residents that it let out an "awesome blast," but what cannon explosion doesn't and since the smallest cannon in the US military was a 6-pound cannon that is the picture he saw in his mind when using his two brass dowsing rods.

When I learned of Bob's cannon dimensions I immediately thought he had rocks in his heads when I learned where Walter Tompsett was struck with the ramrod. My heart said it had to be smaller. Surely the men firing the cannon wouldn't bury the wheels in soil so deep the ramrod would strike the 27 year old farm laborers knee. If the cannon were smaller it'd probably be engraved with royal warrants. Since the cannon had been in use for nearly forty years (1847-1885) it couldn't have been made of iron, because these cannons rust and were dangerous to fire within twenty-five years. Cannons that were dredged up onto American soil before two World wars were recycled, the royal warrants lost. Without royal warrants or engraved plaques the cannons lose authenticity and are used in landscaped areas of parks and marinas. Reproduction cannons made of iron rust away in historical sites like on Mackinaw Island in Michigan. Many ancient cannons still lie in the ruins of wrecks worldwide.

Billions of dollars of unclaimed treasures rest with them. Some wrecks rest in the shallows or are buried in shifting sands on beaches, some occasionally unearthed by hurricanes and storms. Those in shallow waters are beaten consistently by underwater currents so strong it literally dashes them to ruin. The depth of wrecks keeps them within reach and today's scientific advancements in underwater robotics puts all within reach, but that's only if you have the investment capital to have the best underwater technology. Modern technology makes it easier for trusted men to be tempted by greed, power and fame. When Odyssey Marine found the HMS Victory off the English coast in 2008 using advanced electromagnetic towed sonar they showed no sunken vessel is safe when treasure hunters have the best equipment -- some times far better than government research vessels. But just because Odyssey found the vessel didn't mean what they found was safe from other explorers. Sure they mapped it with GPS coordinates, but they couldn't hover over the wreck because their position over the wreck could be given away because of AIS.

In accordance with the International Maritime Organization's regulations (IMO) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAIS) regulations AIS is supposed to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships with a gross tonnage of more than 300 tons and all passenger ships regardless of size. That means that 40,000 ships worldwide carry AIS class A equipment. Treasure hunters with heavy vessels expose themselves to the watchful eyes of anyone.

AIS is primarily used as a navigation tool so ships can avoid collision at sea, in rivers or the Great Lakes. AIS purpose is to allow authorities to track and monitor vessel movements with Loran-C and GPS transceivers. AIS can be turned off if security is threatened by terrorist or pirate activity in any given area. Ships outside of AIS radio range are tracked with Long Range Identification and Tracking Systems ((LRITS). No more can bigger ships of 300 tons or more escaped the watchful eye of AIS, with the exception of military vessels. This prevents ships with large underwater ROV's like the Odyssey groups vessel from hovering over sunken wrecks too long. Position too long and GPS coordinates by other treasure seekers can find where bigger treasure or research vessels are anchored. Bigger is no longer better and the size of a treasure hunting vessel can be monitored by others very easily.

The use of AIS expanded in November 2009 when the STS-129 space shuttle mission attached a Norwegian-built "NORAIS" VHF antenna to the Columbus module on the International Space Station (ISS). NORAIS's purpose is an advanced test and technology demonstration for space-based ship monitoring. It's a leap towards satellite-based AIS monitoring systems. As you can see, the days of using big ships to find treasure in ocean depths is over. Small vessels operating in giant seas whether salt or fresh is a dangerous pursuit or hobby, but since the days of the earliest explorers the site of treasure tempts men of greed, power and fame.

No different was Hernan Cortes called Ferdinand or Hernan' Cortez by American educators. This Spaniard was sent to Central America in 1519 by Diego de Velazquez to conquer the Aztec Empire in Honduras and to discover the Spanish gateway to the Pacific and eventually California. When Cortes' conquistadors made contact with Chief Montezuma, Cortes' impressed him with his adornment of feathers he convinced Montezuma that he was the god Quetzcoatl, meaning the "plumed serpent" god of wind, water and air. The chief was ignorant and became Cortes' servant. When Montezuma opened his treasury to Cortes' he saw the vaults filled with gold, silver and sparkling precious stones and jewelry and knew they'd fascinate Europeans, but Cortes' was so tempted by the fortunes in treasure before his eyes that his heart hardened by greed, this forced him to break his Spanish allegiance to Cuba and Spain. Cortes' mind kept repeating 'why should I do all the work returning the treasure to Spain and earn a little reward when I can have it all?' He sifted the treasure thru his fingers for he now had treasures beyond his wildest dream and now he had the power. He wasn't going to share it with Cuba or Spain's rulers. It was his treasure now!

Gov. Velasquez sent a Spanish force to capture Cortes' and return his renegade Conquistadors in chains to Cuba, but Cortes' treasure hardened fighters force the Spanish troops to retreat back to Cuba empty handed. Cortes and men were well motivated by greed not to return. Cortes' became the dominating ruler of the Aztec empire, but within two years Montezuma was reduced to disillusionment with the white man's god and rebelled. Montezuma was killed in battle in the Aztec capital or Tenochitlan in 1521.

Cortes' and his Conquistadors became privateers and pillaged the Aztec vaults and completely destroyed and annihilated the Aztec Empire in Honduras before 1526. Cortes' and followers had laid claim to countless billions in gold, silver, diamonds, emeralds and pearl treasures that he sent to Europe or that was lost at sea to storms, shipwrecks and pirates. Treasure left Central America at the rate of 20 million per year with an estimated $100 million after Montezuma's death. The first two years more than a billion in treasure left. It was greed that led to Cortes' downfall.

You might be wondering why this history lesson. Well, not many know the facts above as it relates to greed of treasure. Treasure leads treasure hunters to make unfortunate mistakes in judgment and create the destruction of whole civilizations. Ten years later (1536-38) another Spanish conquistador named Francisco Pizarro discovered the Inca's treasure trove in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The Incas, too, were impressed with Pizarro and opend their treasury vaults and Pizarro's eyes betrayed his mind seeing the Incas mountain of sparkling treasures. Pizarro and his men became soldiers of fortune, tortured and killed many Indians for their most precious treasures. During this time another Spanish conquistador named Jimenez de Quesada and his men fought their way into Colombia's Andes mountains killing and torturing the Chibcha Indians for information that would lead them to the legendary "Golden One: The Lost El Dorado" mines. Legends say its golden treasures reside between the Amazon, the Orinoco River and the Atlantic Ocean, a place of fabulous wealth situated in the country or city ruled by the "gilded man."

Central and South American soil was being stained with innocent red blood from the Natives. White men and explorerss killed, stole and plundered the Indians rich culture and stripped their heritage for their own selfish gree, power and fame.

Sir Walter Raleigh, an Englisheman, who never set foot in Virginia (Raleigh, VA) launched an expediton in 1595 to South America and captured the Spanish town of St. Joseph, Trinadad, and explored the famed Orinoco River in search of the legendary gold. He must have found something that caught his eyes or the "City of Gold," because he mentions it in a poem he wrote while incarcerated by James I of England shortly after Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. Raleigh at this time was imprisoned in the Tower of London for 13 years because he was involved in a plot to dethrone James I. To amuse himself Raleigh conducted scientific experiments and wrote poetry about his previous travels and wrote the History of the World as he knew it and never did place one foot on American soil. In 1617 he was released and sailed to Guiana, South America, broke his ties to England and searched for the fabled gold-rich region of El Dorado. He had to find the "Lost City of Gold" in southeast Venezuela and north Brazil. That was Sir Raleighs' dream - a goal never realized. It's still an unexplored region of South America today.

In the end Sir Walter Raleigh, along with his young son named Walter, and his band of treasure seeking hunters attacted a Spanish town on the Orinoco River, but young Walter was killed. Sir Walter returned to England, but was arrested and charged on the old warrant with "treason" and put to death by beheading. It took only 139 years (1650) to strip Central and South American Indians of their amassed treasures. Renegade explorers used the vast wealth for their own selfish desires and much was shipped worldwide to hungry jewelers and not royal coffers. Pirates on the open seas raided merchant vessels sailing to Europe. Customers were waiting impatiently for the sparkling stones, gold and silver bullion, but they didn't care how many Indians died trying to protect their own wealth of treasures.

The most trusted explorers were hardened by the glitter of treasure. That's exactly how Cortes', Pizzaro, Quesada and England's Sir Walter Raleigh got into trouble. Country's of origin they didn't serve. Only themselves for their own selfish pleasures. So why tell you these little stories about what greed does to trusted men. Well its to show you the hard lessons of what not to do when treasure hunting -- don't antagonize the countries of treasure origin simply because you've tried to stake claim to sunken treasure wrecks, whether salt or fresh water. Most countries view them as graveyards to be respected, the treasure not yours even though you found it. Be careful what you dream for. You just might find it, but be wary of outsiders. A secret I'm willing to share with you at this moment is that the Cannonsburg cannon originates within the time period of the treasure hunters listed above. Remember no picture or description of the cannon was ever found, but something was found after Bob's big dig concluded in 1986, but now is not the time to divulge the artifact found. This isn't the end. On the contrary, it is the beginning enticement for you to ponder what is next.

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