The Admiral, The Treasure, And The Shark
By: Gerry Edwards
It had been a clear and bright day, and I sat on the shore still in my tanks contemplating the sequence of events that had led to this narrow escape. Could it have been the metal detector? It seemed strange that out of eight divers, I had encountered Great Whites on five. This dive had gone well until I saw the familiar gray hulk looming out of the murk. I had collected a nice pile of coins and decided that it was best to head for shore. I had done this before and had only one narrow escape, when I had lost an expensive Scuba Pro flipper to the jaws of a Great White on my last dive here. I had sworn than that I would never come back, but time and curiosity had gotten the best of me.
So off I went, hugging the bottom again. Rockfish were everywhere in the crevices and holes, and as I pulled myself around an outcropping I encountered a large wolf eel. Always intimidating but actually harmless, they use their big teeth for crushing mollusks, which is all that they are interested in. I kept looking behind me and saw nothing, but that didn't mean much with only 10' of visibility. I had started the dive plenty scared, with the vision of my last encounter still flashing in my brain, but rationalizing that it could never happen again. On my previous dive I had surfaced in about 6' of water, feeling safe, and then been hit by a Great White about 12-15' in length. Minus one fin and scared witless, I had scrambled to the rocky shore only a few yards away.
Today, moving slowly over the bottom, I had managed to pull 28 coins from the sand with my White's Beach Hunter metal detector and scoop. One was a large type that I had never seen before. It appeared to be copper. I had learned to distinguish copper from silver by the color of the encrustation. Generally, copper coins have a greenish color, while the silver coins turn black. Of course, gold coins are always bright and shiny. "No gold today, though," I thought as I made my way back to shore.
The bottom began to slope up, and I knew from my previous dives that I had not much farther to go. Pulling yourself along the bottom always seems to make a trip longer, so I stopped every 15-20' to look around and keep an eye out. My tanks were getting down to about 1,000 p.s.i. I needed to get to shore before I got penned in somewhere by Mr. Shark. I could see the surface above me, and I was in about 8' of water. I was grateful that there was no surge today. The ocean had been as flat as a pancake when I entered the water.
I had managed to crawl about another 20' when I felt a violent surge behind me. Out of my peripheral vision I saw a huge gray hulk pass me by. This was incredible... the creature had actually made a pass at me! All I could think was that it must not have been a serious attack, or I would surely have been hit and hurt. I rocketed for the shore and pulled myself up on a rock to see a huge fin cruising only 20' away. It circled a few times, then submerged and headed back out to the reef where the wreck lay. There was no mistaking the shape of that fin. As I sat there breathing hard and contemplating the events, I really had serious reservations now. Over 500 coins later and still in one piece after eight dives, had I pushed my luck as far as it would go? I quickly unlimbered my twin 75 tanks. It was a long drive back to the mountains, and I wanted to get away from this place.
What was it about this spot that drew me back time after time, even though I had faced danger on over half of my excursions? Was it the history? Was it the ghosts of the wreck calling me? I wondered these things as I traversed the great California valley, heading back into the Sierras. I was exhausted and more than a little distraught at having my dive interrupted in such a fashion. I was supposed to have stopped at my sister's in Morro Bay and stay. She would be disappointed, but I just did not feel like fielding the thousand and one questions I would have had to answer from her and my niece. So, once I arrived at home in the early evening, I cleaned my dive gear and hit the sack. As I drifted off to sleep, I kept wondering if my metal detector's frequencies were a homing beacon for the Great White sharks that frequented the area.
The next morning, I began very carefully cleaning my finds. Seventeen copper coins emerged from years of encrustation. Eleven silver coins also began to shine from underneath the grime. As I sorted through Spanish and Dutch coins, I noticed the large copper I'd found. It was a commemorative of some sort, with the words Porto Bello. Research revealed that it was a British medal struck in honor of Admiral Vernon. On one side it showed six ships entering the port, and bore the inscription, "With Six Ships Only Nov 22, 1789." The other side had a standing portrait of the admiral, with the inscription, "Admiral Vernon Took Porto Bello." Internet sources confirmed that medals had indeed been struck in commemoration of the event, and this piece had been a popular issue.
The rest of the copper coins included a 1639 Carolus maravedi, seven 1600s 2 maravedis cob coins (one with a partial date on it), a 4 maravedis with a counterstamp of 163-, two Philippus 2 maravedis, two 1600s maravedi cob coins, and two 1700s maravedi pieces. Among my silver finds were four Dutch coins dated 1776, 1789, 745, and a no-date with a ship on it. The 745 was evidently an error, and the first one of that variety I had ever found. There was also a 1626 Spanish 4 reales, a 1677 Spanish 1 reale, two Philippus reales from the 1600s, one Carolus 2 reales, one Philippus 4 reales, and another Philippus coin. It was quite a find- not as many as on some dives, but more than others. Adding them to the collection, I wondered what other adventures lay ahead.
Keep on researching, searching, and finding!