He Thinks He Found $55M in Gold. Theres a Problem
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  1. #1
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting

    He Thinks He Found $55M in Gold. There's a Problem

    Joe Pennisi can't attempt to retrieve the possible treasure.

    Around 2am one September night in 2014, Joe Pennisi started screaming in bed. His wife woke up, and he explained what had spurred the outburst: Video taken by GoPro cameras he had attached to the fishing net he used to trawl the seafloor off the California coast had captured a glinting, yellowish, rectangular object. Gold. Or so the fisherman thought—as many as 30 bars of it according to his review of his footage. The punchline of the story, reported in incredible depth by Tara Duggan and Jason Fagone for the San Francisco Chronicle, is that Pennisi doesn't have the gold today. Nor has he been able to even determine if it is gold. But between then and now he's mounted a mammoth effort to determine if he could do so. It has involved maritime lawyers, divers, NOAA staffers, and an expert who determined the haul could be worth $55 million. It's taken over his life at times. And there has been one tantalizing clue.

    A major issue is that the gold he thinks he saw rests 1,000 feet deep in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary where he fishes. Federal law bars him from doing anything there but fish—including salvaging anything or using divers or robotic submersibles. The fines for doing so are staggering at up to $100,000 a day. But there was one potential way around it: He could file a federal suit known as an in rem action, in which Pennisi would present evidence of his find in court in a bid to gain title to the wreck. The problem is he needed much firmer evidence that something was down there. So he decided to swallow his fears of being caught by NOAA staff or sanctuary officials, go back to the scene, and look for that evidence. And then he found it—what looked like the cannon of the ship that would have theoretically been carrying the gold. But moments later, he "realized something awful."

    Full Story,.....


    https://projects.sfchronicle.com/201...ermans-secret/

    *

  2. #2
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    you can't view anything without Subscribing to the website , I'm not doing that ..

  3. #3

    Dec 2012
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    Just had to give them email address. LONG article. Jest of it was after years trying to get a salvage operation together he gave up. Hoping for a 'Elon Musk' to carry it forward. Diving wrecks in any of the Santuaries is no-go. Funny as I've seen the dragger (Pioneer) at SF Fisherman's Wharf many times when I worked for the Port of SF as a commercial diver/pile driver. Ingots were really strange as app 8x5x3" and in video almost square shaped. Nothing I've read about before is similar. Heart breaker was when they had video camera on wreck to pickup 'sign' and saw several cannons(?) the recording device was GoPro cameras and they maxed out on memory. As stated in article: treasure is trouble.
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  4. #4

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    Why is there always some government agency, archaeologist, company, or individual trying to stop an adventure minded person from achieving their dream of finding treasure or a shipwreck and trying to return any salvageable pieces back to mainstream commerce.
    Never give an interview or information to any news outlet unless they guarantee you the right to edit for technical correctness and when released to the public, free access will be allowed without logging in or subscribing before viewing. Just my policy after being burnt.
    What shape do kilos of cocaine come in!!!!!
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  5. #5
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    Part 1. A Flash of Gold
    Chapter 1. The Ingot
    One late night five years ago, fisherman Giuseppe Pennisi was lying in bed with his laptop propped up on his barrel chest, reviewing video footage captured from his 76-foot boat, the Pioneer. The boat is a bottom trawler. It scoops up fish with a net that bounces across the seafloor at depths of more than 4,000 feet. A tinkerer, Pennisi likes to keep GoPro cameras attached to the net, allowing him to study the footage and improve his technique. That night, around 2 a.m., he noticed his camera slide past something unusual.

    Along the murky seafloor, fish and rocks come in rounded shapes and soft colors, muted grays and greens. His eyes were attuned to this drab underwater landscape, which is why he had been puzzled by brief flashes of light on the video screen, shiny surfaces glimmering by. Then he saw it: a rectangular object, sharp-edged and pale, almost white, with a tinge of yellow.

    It was September 2014, and Pennisi, who goes by Joe, was 50 years old, with four decades of fishing behind him. He had sailed on commercial boats since he was 7; his father and grandfather had towed their nets in the same waters for more than a century. He had never seen anything like the object in the video. Still, Joe sensed immediately what it might be. His net often got caught on the rotting underwater husks of old ships wrecked just beyond the Golden Gate, and he knew that some of those ships — Spanish galleons, Gold Rush-era steamers — had carried treasure.

    He rewound the video, peered forward and froze the frame with the yellow rectangular object. It looked for all the world like a gold bar, an ingot. For a few minutes, he stared at it while his wife, Grazia, slept beside him.

    Then he started to scream.

    Joe, Grazia and their six children shared a beige stucco house in Castroville, north of Monterey. At the time, he kept his boat at the Moss Landing harbor 10 minutes away; later he would shift the boat to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. He liked living in Castroville because his backyard was spacious enough to accommodate old trawling gear and a rusty crane for construction projects. But the house felt cramped, with only three bedrooms for eight people. Grazia handled most of the kid duties because Joe spent so much time working, and unlike her husband, who had become semi-nocturnal after years of fishing through the night, she maintained a normal schedule.

    “I gotta get the kids up for school,” Grazia said, stirring on her side of the bed. “What is it?”

    He played the video for her.

    “I think it’s gold,” he said.

    She squinted at the yellow rectangular object.

    “How do you know what it is?” she asked, then rolled over. “Go back to sleep.”

    Chapter 2. A Really Big Secret
    Joe tried to imagine what it would feel like to hold a gold bar. How heavy would it be? How smooth?

    In his bed in Castroville, he went back to the beginning of the video and looked for the flashes he had noticed earlier. That’s when he really started to freak out, because the rectangular object — whatever it might be — wasn’t the only one.

    The GoPro had captured hours of video on its memory card, in 12 clips lasting 18 minutes each. Over the next few days, Joe watched the video over and over, first on his laptop and then on a large television screen. All in all, he ended up counting more than 50 glints of yellow, and of those, about 30 seemed to have rectangular shapes and straight edges consistent with the contours of gold ingots. They were spread across a quarter mile within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A vast swath of federally protected water off the California coast, the sanctuary covers 6,094 square miles, stretching from Marin County south to San Luis Obispo County and extending 30 miles offshore, on average. Joe plies his trade there along with thousands of amateur and professional fishers, pulling his net back and forth across the bottom of the Pacific.

    He had no idea how much one bar of gold might be worth. Half a million dollars per bar? A million?

    How much for 30 of them?

    He began thinking: What would he do with that kind of money? Buy a bigger house, obviously. Retire in a few years instead of fishing until the day he died. But in the weeks that followed, as he thought more about what he’d seen on the ocean floor, his excitement turned to anxiety, then dread.

    The shiny objects were in very deep water, more than 1,000 feet down. Having done some diving in the course of his career, he knew that was well beyond the reach of typical diving gear. Probably only professional divers with special equipment or robotic vehicles could access that depth.

    But that wasn’t the only problem. Because the objects lay within the Monterey Bay sanctuary, the federal government would probably be a hurdle. Commercial fishermen like Joe must follow strict rules that dictate where they’re allowed to fish and what they’re allowed to catch. Government officials track their boats with transponder signals and onboard observers.

    A question began to eat at Joe: What if he couldn’t actually lay his hands on whatever was down there? What if he had made the discovery of a lifetime but could never bring it to the surface?

    “There is an expression in treasure hunting: Treasure is trouble,” said John Chatterton, a renowned diver who has explored the wreck of the Titanic and co-discovered a lost German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey. “The more treasure, the more trouble.”

    Joe was about to learn this for himself. It was the biggest secret he had ever needed to keep. So big that he was compelled to just blurt it out. So big it could put his family in danger. And it felt like destiny. He’d come to know it only because of the particular way he fished, the same way his father had, and his grandfather — trawling the ocean floor.

    He had spent his life on the water, yet when it came to treasure, he was a rank amateur. But he knew something the experts didn’t.

    Joe knew, within a tiny circle of the Pacific, where a treasure might be.

    Chapter 3. Draggers
    Joe is a large guy, 6 feet tall and paunchy, with a bushy black mustache and an upper body made stocky by a life spent handling huge bins of fish. On a recent morning, he sat in the captain’s chair of the Pioneer, a padded blue seat salvaged from an old van. A ball cap hung low over his eyes. He sipped a mug of thick coffee brewed by his deck boss, Joleen Lambert Skinner, his most trusted colleague and friend.

    The boat that day was about 24 miles west of Half Moon Bay, in the open Pacific. In front of him, through the large wraparound windows of the wheelhouse, all he could see were tall blue waves and gulls and nothing else. Taped to one of the windows was a small photo of his late father, beneath a printed verse from Corinthians:

    That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
    GIUSEPPE PENNISI
    NOVEMBER 10, 1938—DECEMBER 24, 2013

    It was the first leg of a 48-hour fishing trip. Depending on the weather and the seasons, Joe typically makes this journey every other week, spending several days preparing the boat, then sailing Thursday morning and returning to shore late Saturday, at which point he and his crew stay up all night unloading tens of thousands of pounds of fish. Start to finish, the process takes 8½ days. During that period, Joe runs on four hours of daily sleep.

    Overnight, here in the Pacific, while everyone else on the boat was asleep, Joe had piloted the Pioneer to his favorite fishing grounds off the San Mateo coast. Now he was waiting for the right moment to lower the net, staring at a large screen connected to a sonar machine that pinpoints schools of fish underwater.

    Joe specializes in catching California groundfish, a class that includes about 90 deepwater varieties. Once a mainstay on Bay Area menus, the population of many types of groundfish collapsed in the late 1990s and rebounded only recently, which is why you don’t often see them at supermarket seafood counters: coral-pink bocaccio, a type of rockfish with a spiny top fin and brutish jaw; chilipepper, a smaller cousin with cartoon-like bulging eyes; tender petrale sole; sand dabs, which are like miniature flounder. Though groundfish spend most of their time near the seafloor, some of the rockfish Joe targets drift up at night to sleep. Then they slowly make their way back down, away from the creeping sunlight, in search of squid and anchovies to eat.

    As the sun climbed that morning, solid bands of color started to form and twitch around on the screen, indicating that the fish had clustered near the ocean floor, like junior high kids finding their homeroom before the first bell. Joe got on the loudspeaker and told the crew it was time.

    Joleen was out on the deck. A tall, physically powerful woman who wears her graying blond hair in a braid and puts whiskey in her coffee, she asked deckhand Joe Drummond, a wiry man in cargo shorts, to lower the net. Joleen is the Pioneer’s second-in-command, in charge of scheduling the boat’s voyages and keeping the crew in line. The deckhand unhooked two rusty trawl doors from the sides of the boat and let them drop in the water, and Joleen stood by as metal cables unspooled, clattering as loudly as the diesel engine that rumbled below deck.

    Next, they dropped the yellow nylon net. It took 15 minutes to unfurl, pooling out behind the boat before finally sinking.

    “Let’s go fishing!” Joleen yelled.

    Joe sped up the boat, allowing the net to settle to the seafloor hundreds of feet below. Seagulls began assembling in the wake, and an albatross flew by, its wide wingspan and dark feathers distinguishing it from the gulls. As he waited for the net to fill over the course of two hours, he spotted a gray porpoise with white racing stripes playfully cross the ship’s path, grinning and pointing to it as if he were showing his kids the wonders of the ocean.

    “OK, let’s haul back,” Joe announced over the boat’s loudspeaker, ringing a bell to indicate it was time to bring in the net. About 20 minutes later, it bobbed to the surface about 1,800 feet behind the boat. The net had changed from yellow to flamingo pink, and as it drew closer, the reason became obvious: It was full of bright pink rockfish, their heads stuck through the holes in the net’s web like ghoulish beads.

    Using the winch, Joleen and the deckhand raised the open end of the net above the boat and released the fish onto the deck like a truck pouring cement. Once the pouring stopped, the fish kept moving, flapping in a pitiful break dance. Their bodies twisted from the change in pressure, which caused the eyes of the pink rockfish to bulge out of their sockets and their necks to distend, revealing tender blood-red gills that gasped for breath.

    “It’s a nice little mix,” Joe said. He waded through the pile, reaching up to shake out the fish still stuck in the mesh. His jeans and cowboy boots became speckled with silver scales.

    This method of fishing is known as bottom trawling, or dragging. Traditionally, a trawling fisherman lowers his net to the bottom, then sails back and forth in straight lines, a mile or two at a time, almost as if he were mowing the ocean floor. Though Joe fishes in a more sustainable way, the fundamentals haven’t changed much since his Sicilian ancestors began fishing off the California coast a century ago, starting with his grandfather, a taciturn man named Giovanni.

    After emigrating to San Francisco in the early 1900s, Giovanni saved enough to buy his own fishing boat, then resettled his family in Monterey. That’s where Joe’s father, Giuseppe Sr., grew up, and also Joe.

    One of eight siblings in a crowded three-bedroom house with busted plumbing, Joe started to learn about trawling when he was just 7, when his father and grandfather brought him on fishing voyages aboard their boat, the San Giovanni I. As a young boy, Joe developed a fear of the ocean that would stay with him through adulthood. He saw how the net could get stuck and jar the boat backward, how cables and weights that rattled loose could easily knock him into the sea. He and his brother always had to wear balsa-stuffed life jackets, which doubled as pillows on overnight fishing trips.

    Giuseppe Sr. was abusive. He’d left school in seventh grade to devote himself to fishing, a truncated childhood that Joe suspects made him quick to violence. There were stories of deckhands diving off the ship as soon as they returned to harbor, desperate to get away from his rages. Still, the younger Pennisi developed an appreciation for the craft of fishing. He spent hours watching the retired Sicilians who repaired nets for his father with large sewing needles, and he soon picked up his own needle and learned how to patch holes and snags in the nylon mesh. All through high school, Joe dutifully worked at his father’s fish market weekday afternoons and on his fishing boats all weekend. At some point, he accepted that being a fisherman was his destiny.

    He was 19 when he bought his first boat, the Almighty, with two of his brothers and sailed off to fish in Alaska’s remote waters near the Soviet Union. Later, he’d spend five years working all hours on two factory trawlers — huge fishing boats with an onboard processing facility — until he saved enough money to buy his own boat, a 96-foot steel vessel called the Vito C.

    Like every trawler, the boat wasn’t much to look at, but it helped him woo Grazia. They met at the Monterey restaurant where she waitressed. She had long chestnut-brown hair and a wide smile, and, like Joe, she was the child of Sicilian immigrants.

    “He was a hard worker and funny and very handsome,” Grazia said. “He had it together.”

    She turned him down the first few times he asked her out, but he persisted. When Joe invited her on an extended sailing trip with two of his brothers, Grazia quit her job and joined them. The goal was to pick up his new boat in Gloucester, Mass., and bring it back to Monterey. From New England, they voyaged south, through the Panama Canal and back to California — a six-week journey.

    Although Grazia spent the first week vomiting from seasickness, she found Joe charming. He used his tinkering abilities to impress her. One day he fashioned a bathtub out of some wood and a tarp and filled it with water from a deck hose.

    “Look, I made you a hot tub,” he told her.

    They got married in 1997 and started their family just as bottom trawling became a particularly difficult way to make a living.

    Continued,.....

  6. #6
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    One of eight siblings in a crowded three-bedroom house with busted plumbing, Joe started to learn about trawling when he was just 7, when his father and grandfather brought him on fishing voyages aboard their boat, the San Giovanni I. As a young boy, Joe developed a fear of the ocean that would stay with him through adulthood. He saw how the net could get stuck and jar the boat backward, how cables and weights that rattled loose could easily knock him into the sea. He and his brother always had to wear balsa-stuffed life jackets, which doubled as pillows on overnight fishing trips.

    Giuseppe Sr. was abusive. He’d left school in seventh grade to devote himself to fishing, a truncated childhood that Joe suspects made him quick to violence. There were stories of deckhands diving off the ship as soon as they returned to harbor, desperate to get away from his rages. Still, the younger Pennisi developed an appreciation for the craft of fishing. He spent hours watching the retired Sicilians who repaired nets for his father with large sewing needles, and he soon picked up his own needle and learned how to patch holes and snags in the nylon mesh. All through high school, Joe dutifully worked at his father’s fish market weekday afternoons and on his fishing boats all weekend. At some point, he accepted that being a fisherman was his destiny.

    He was 19 when he bought his first boat, the Almighty, with two of his brothers and sailed off to fish in Alaska’s remote waters near the Soviet Union. Later, he’d spend five years working all hours on two factory trawlers — huge fishing boats with an onboard processing facility — until he saved enough money to buy his own boat, a 96-foot steel vessel called the Vito C.

    Like every trawler, the boat wasn’t much to look at, but it helped him woo Grazia. They met at the Monterey restaurant where she waitressed. She had long chestnut-brown hair and a wide smile, and, like Joe, she was the child of Sicilian immigrants.

    “He was a hard worker and funny and very handsome,” Grazia said. “He had it together.”

    She turned him down the first few times he asked her out, but he persisted. When Joe invited her on an extended sailing trip with two of his brothers, Grazia quit her job and joined them. The goal was to pick up his new boat in Gloucester, Mass., and bring it back to Monterey. From New England, they voyaged south, through the Panama Canal and back to California — a six-week journey.

    Although Grazia spent the first week vomiting from seasickness, she found Joe charming. He used his tinkering abilities to impress her. One day he fashioned a bathtub out of some wood and a tarp and filled it with water from a deck hose.

    “Look, I made you a hot tub,” he told her.

    They got married in 1997 and started their family just as bottom trawling became a particularly difficult way to make a living.

    Chapter 5. The Bottom
    Before Joe’s father and grandfather were born, before there was a San Francisco or a United States, ships carrying thousands of pounds of treasure regularly crossed the waters where the Pennisi family would one day fish.

    Spain’s galleons came first, three-masted ships laden with riches of legend. The kingdom plundered its colonies in the New World for gold and silver and shipped the treasure to ports around the globe, trading it for other goods.

    The galleons full of gold tended to float through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, not the Pacific Ocean, but for 2½ centuries, from 1565 to 1815, another set of galleons worked a trade route that depended on California waters. These ships sailed west from Mexico carrying silver and gold coins, docking in Manila and exchanging the treasure for silk, porcelain, beeswax and intricate gold jewelry. The galleons then returned to the Americas, following trade winds to Northern California and making a right turn when they spotted Point Reyes, sailing south, back to Mexico.

    Later came the Gold Rush. When the first prospectors carried their nuggets down from the Sierra foothills in 1848, San Francisco was a frontier town without a bank or a railroad. The only way to get the gold into the banking system was to send it to the East Coast, and the only way to do that was to load it on steamships that sailed south to Panama, where the gold was placed on mules (eventually, train cars) and transported across the isthmus. In the early years, steamships carried nuggets and gold dust in raw form. Later the gold was melted and forged into coins or bars at San Francisco mints and stacked in the ships’ bellies, often in iron-reinforced strong rooms — as much as a dozen tons of gold on a single vessel.

    Any ship that ventured near the city, whether a Spanish galleon or a Gold Rush steamer, had to contend with the bay’s fog and treacherous currents. During the middle of the 19th century, at least 50 ships sank along the California coast, according to research by James Delgado, a historian and archaeologist of shipwrecks. One of those ships, a paddle steamer called the Brother Jonathan, smashed against a rock near the Oregon border in 1865, sending more than 200 doomed passengers and at least 1,200 gold coins to the bottom of the ocean. That lost treasure was discovered in 1996 by a team of deep-sea explorers, and the bulk of it sold for $5.3 million at auction.

    While historians aren’t aware of a ship that wrecked near San Francisco with lots of gold on board, that doesn’t mean much. Federal officials have documented 463 shipwrecks within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary but say hundreds more may have gone down there without being recorded. Less than 10% of Earth’s ocean floor has been mapped.

    “The oceans are our final frontier,” said Delgado, who ran the Maritime Heritage program for America’s marine sanctuary system from 2010 to 2017. “Even right offshore, you never know exactly what you might find.”

    From time to time, sanctuary officials partner with military agencies and universities to explore shipwrecks, but finding old ships is not really the government’s job, and it costs a lot of money.

    Elite divers can go deeper, to 1,000 feet or slightly beyond, but they risk disorientation and uncontrollable shaking as the pressure starts to distort the nervous system, and if a diver rises to the surface too quickly, compressed gas in the lungs will shoot through the body and form potentially deadly bubbles in the blood.

    Assuming a shipwreck diver reaches the bottom safely, there’s another big challenge: performing manual labor on the ocean floor. The simplest tasks on land become nearly heroic in 200 or 300 feet of water — tasks like lifting a piece of gold.

    “My feeling is, I haven’t handled nearly enough gold,” said Chatterton, the diver, who has spent decades exploring shipwrecks around the world. “But the gold that I have handled? Guess what. It’s heavy.” Gold is one of the densest metals; a gallon milk jug filled with it would weigh 160 pounds. “How are you going to pick it up?” he said.

    Experienced treasure hunters often rely instead on tethered, unmanned rovers of the sort that explored the wreck of the Titanic: underwater vehicles outfitted with high-definition cameras, floodlights and titanium grabbing arms. These machines are pricey — small pro-level rovers start at $15,000, larger ones reach seven figures — and they require support ships on the surface, along with teams of engineers. The cost “gets up into the millions,” said Phil Sammet, an accomplished dive instructor and boat captain in Monterey. “You’re going to need some heavy hitters. No way around it.”

    The last treasure hunters to pull off a successful, large-scale recovery in California were the ones who found the Brother Jonathan off the shore of Crescent City (Del Norte County). The effort required a team of human divers, two small manned submarines working from a 110-foot support boat, millions of dollars from investors — and a bit of luck. One day, the dive leader, Capt. Wings Stocks, a former U.S. Marine and a technical-diving pioneer, made his way down to the wreck, 280 feet beneath the surface, and started shining a high-wattage light on a layer of mud and silt that had settled atop the ship’s debris. After a few minutes, he said, he noticed a “little curve” on a mud pile. “I said, ‘F—, that’s gold.” He stopped and fanned the silt, revealing a 20-dollar-gold piece untouched for 130 years.

    For a fisherman like Joe to retrieve sunken treasure on his own would be rare, if not impossible. But trawlers are often the first to discover lost shipwrecks, for a simple reason: Their nets get snagged on wreckage.

    Decades ago, for instance, trawler David Canepa was fishing off Monterey when his net was caught on a large underwater object. When he brought up the net, a strange chunk of corroded aluminum came up, too. It was from the Macon, a Navy zeppelin that crashed into the Pacific in 1935, killing two crewmen. Canepa marked the spot on his charts and years later tipped off the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which surveyed and mapped the wreck in 1990 and 1991.

    “Amazing things come up in the drags,” said Chatterton, who is also a former fisherman. “Everything from, like, megalodon teeth to wreckage to firearms to cannonballs.”

    In fishing communities, though, trawlers tend to be outcasts among outcasts, disdained for the ugliness of their boats and the bluntness of their methods, Sammet said. The perception is that “they spend more on their tattoos than they do on their teeth.” But that perception is false, Sammet added. Trawlers know things nobody else knows. “They know what the bottom’s like.”

    Chapter 6. ‘Like They Were in a Trance’
    About six months before Joe saw the flashes of gold, in the springtime of 2014, he was fishing in the sanctuary on a windy, unsettled afternoon, the deck of the boat rising and falling 8 to 10 feet with each crashing wave. Joe was maintaining a steady speed of 3 knots (roughly 3½ mph), the net trailing several hundred feet beneath the surface, when the boat suddenly jolted backward, almost throwing him from his worn blue captain’s chair. The net had caught on something a thousand feet down. As waves spilled onto the deck, Joe quickly put the ship into neutral and slowly backed into the swell, releasing the net from whatever had snagged it.

    The crew, the net and the ship all escaped unharmed. But the episode stuck in Joe’s mind. He would recall it a few months later when he was back in the same area and a curious scrap of sodden wood came up in the net. About 5 feet long, it felt like a sponge when Joe touched it. He used a fingernail to scrape off a tiny speck of white coloring on the skin of the wood. It was paint, meaning the wood was no piece of loose lumber. Maybe it was once part of a painted hull.

    Joe noted the location on the Pioneer’s plotter, a chart tracking the boat’s movements. He figured he had stumbled upon a piece of debris from an unrecorded shipwreck. He remembered that his father and grandfather had sometimes scooped up similar hunks of old wood in their nets. Whenever it happened, they took care to mark the spot on their plotter. The wood signaled that a shipwreck might be near and they should steer clear of that spot in the future.

    A few months later, in September 2014, Joe captured the videos that, he believed, showed 30 gold bars. He realized they were in the same general area where the soggy wood had come up and where the net had gotten snagged a few months earlier. Something had to be down there, and whatever it was, it was big — big enough to bring his 180-ton boat to a sudden, violent halt. Joe wondered: What if it was a sunken ship? And if so, might it have spilled the bars he saw in the video?

    The possibility didn’t seem crazy, especially when he thought about how the repeated motion of his trawling net in that part of the Pacific might have churned up debris along the bottom. Over long periods of time, the scraping of trawling nets can spread the wreckage of submerged ships across the ocean floor, breaking down the crumbling, rotting wood and exposing objects that might otherwise have remained hidden. He pictured his father and grandfather combing their nets back and forth over that same spot, countless times over the decades. It was as if his predecessors had spent their lives unwittingly sweeping away the debris of an underwater mystery, leaving the truth exposed for him to find.

    Joe was becoming more certain that he had found something momentous, some forgotten yet epic part of maritime history. But he had no idea what to do next. Part of him was afraid to talk about his discovery, fearing someone else might get to it first. Another part of him wanted to blurt out the news to everyone at the wharf.

    He soon succumbed to the urge. With his phone, he took a photo of the screen and started texting the snapshot to his fishing buddies. The image showed olive-green water with orange fish swimming past a rectangular object giving off a golden glow.

    “Hey, my friend sent this to me,” he wrote in one text. “What do you think it is?”

    Of the four people he texted — none of whom had ever examined or even touched a gold bar — three responded that the object was surely gold.

    Heartened by the results of this crude poll, Joe continued to share the photo. One day he stopped by a boatyard where some of his dad’s cronies — retired Italian American trawlers — were drinking coffee. He showed them the photo, too.

    The old men lifted their heads from their cups just long enough to glance at his phone. But they said the word Joe wanted to hear: gold.

    Joe also told a few middle-aged fishermen about his discovery and asked whether they knew anything about underwater photography. He just wanted to talk a little shop, get some ideas. But he quickly learned it was impossible to have a casual conversation about sunken gold. He noticed a strange, glazed expression in the eyes of the men, “like they were in a trance,” he recalled.
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    He also shared the picture with his three daughters and three sons. All started making lists of things they would buy once the family was rich.

    Grazia finally watched the videos too. She saw what Joe had seen, shiny rectangles on the seafloor. Trusting his instincts that it was gold, she pitched in and began researching shipwrecks online. But she never let herself think that her husband’s discovery would make them multimillionaires. “It’s kind of like winning the lottery — what if I had the winning ticket?” she said. “It would be nice. But it’d have to be in front of my face to believe it.”

    Joe realized he wasn’t getting any closer to the treasure. He needed to find some experts. He Googled “deepwater exploration” and found companies specializing in recovering objects from the bottoms of lakes and oceans — treasure, forensic evidence, minerals, trash. One company, Global Diving & Salvage in Seattle, had positive customer reviews. Joe decided to text his photo to one of its experts, Danny Broadhurst, an Australian-born diver with three decades of experience.

    “I remember it like it was yesterday,” Broadhurst recalled. At the time, he was the company’s diving operations manager, based in a satellite office on Mare Island in Vallejo. Over his long career he had explored shipwrecks off Spain and Andalusia, recovering bits of gold and silver.

    His immediate reaction to Joe’s photo was that it looked like the real thing. What struck him was the shine of the rectangular object in the image. Most metals deteriorate underwater. They rust, they fade, they develop crusts of sea creatures on their surfaces. “But gold? It looks like nothing has ever happened to it,” Broadhurst explained. Even if an ingot has been underwater for hundreds of years, it seems brand new, as shiny as the day it was forged. “That’s why it’s so valuable, I guess. Gold is gold is gold. It’s beautiful, and I wish I had a lot of it.”

    Though he had no idea who Joe was, Broadhurst called him right back. “That is exactly what you think it is,” the diver told him. “And remember this: There’s never just one bar.”

    Joe felt the skin on his arms tingle.

    Until this conversation, he’d allowed for the possibility that the objects in the videos might not be gold. That this was all just wishful thinking. But now, an expert diver was validating his hunch and sharing all kinds of facts about gold, like its great density and weight; gold is 1.7 times heavier than an equal volume of lead. As someone who often worked with scrap metal and was always welding iron bars to his boat, Joe found it incredible that gold could weigh almost twice as much as lead; the number 1.7 stuck in his mind.

    What the diver said next, as unsettling as it was, gave him even more confidence. Broadhurst urged Joe to keep his discovery a secret.

    Joe thought the diver was warning him about thieves who might try to steal the treasure — during dives in Spain, Broadhurst and his crew had carried semiautomatic weapons on their boat for that reason — but the diver meant something else. In Joe’s recollection, Broadhurst told him to be “very careful for you and your family,” because people might try to kidnap his children to get information about the gold.

    (Broadhurst does not remember that comment but said via email that he would “certainly agree that the allure of gold can make individuals a bit wacky.”)

    Joe himself was starting to feel the pressure of his fantastic find. The stereotype of a fisherman is that he brags and exaggerates, living by stories instead of science, and Joe would struggle against this perception in coming years.

    Then again, he wasn’t just telling a typical fish story. He had the videos. He had a hero shot of what looked for all the world like a brick of gold. He had a completely credible story of how the videos came to exist. Something was down there. And the promise of retrieving it was real enough to captivate people who knew a lot more about treasure than he did.

    Joe had spent his whole life as a fisherman, trying not to get killed by the ocean. Now he was about to enter a completely different world — one that, in its own way, was just as perilous.

    Chapter 7. Fish Out of Water
    San Francisco fisherman Giuseppe “Joe” Pennisi stepped into a taxi at the Seattle airport, clutching a beat-up laptop computer in an old bag and wearing his favorite pair of Ariat cowboy boots, crusted with fish scales. He gave the driver an address. The taxi delivered him to a shiny tan and black skyscraper overlooking downtown.

    It was November 2014. For weeks, Joe had been buzzing with energy, ever since he showed his video of the ocean floor to expert diver Danny Broadhurst. The diver had told him what he wanted to hear: The rectangular object in the video was almost certainly a gold bar, something valuable enough to change his family’s life — if he could get his hands on it.

    At first, Joe had thought he could use his fishing boat, the Pioneer, as a launchpad for an expedition. He figured he could take the boat back to the spot of the discovery and use a sonar machine or an underwater rover to take more detailed pictures of the objects on the seafloor. But when he asked his longtime insurance broker whether the Pioneer could be insured for such a journey, the broker said he was getting way ahead of himself. First, the broker said, he needed a lawyer.

    Joe had a lawyer: David Hollingsworth, a family friend who had represented his father for decades and ran a small solo practice out of a home office in Monterey. But the insurance broker urged him to speak with an expert in maritime law — someone who understood the legal obstacles to recovering treasure — and gave him the name of a firm in Seattle. Visit the firm in person, and show your video, the broker suggested.

    The idea made Joe nervous. Making presentations in boardrooms was not part of his usual routine, and he didn’t own a suit. He dug through his clothes for his best pair of jeans and his cleanest shirt. But he decided to wear the beat-up cowboy boots, which attracted flies, too. Grazia found them disgusting. “You’re not going to wear the fish-scale boots, are you?” she asked.

    The taxi dropped him at the 47-floor skyscraper that housed Holmes Weddle & Barcott, a century-old commercial law firm handling maritime disputes across the Pacific Northwest. A young man in a tailored suit and slicked-back hair emerged from the elevator, hand extended. The guy looked like James Bond, Joe thought — nothing like his personal attorney, Hollingsworth, who was 77 and wore stained polo shirts.

    They rode up to the 26th floor.

    The way Joe remembers what happened next, it was like he stepped onto the set of a legal drama, with men and women whisking important-looking papers to and fro. He was ushered into a large conference room, where several people sat around a long table, apparently waiting for someone important to arrive. It took him a second to realize that the important person was him.

    Joe said a nervous hello. He pulled out his old laptop and plugged in a cable to connect to the television.

    The lights went down. The fisherman pressed play, and the room fell silent.

    On the screen, they watched a school of fish swimming along the seafloor. Suddenly, there was the flash, that now-familiar rectangle that sped by as quickly as it had appeared.

    One attorney immediately said it looks like gold.

    “That’s the only thing that shines like that underwater,” he said.

    When the lights flicked back on, the room buzzed with chatter and the clacking of laptops.

    According to Joe, the attorneys pulled up the regulations controlling the Monterey Bay sanctuary and, after reviewing them for a few moments, explained to Joe that federal law is clear: Unless he could get a special government permit, the only thing he is allowed to touch on the seafloor is fish. The law explicitly banned underwater salvage and recovery operations in the sanctuary, including the use of human divers and robotic submersibles. Other rules outlawed possessing, moving or damaging any objects of historical or cultural significance. Penalties were as high as $100,000 per day. If Joe tried to mount an illegal operation and got caught, he stood to drown in debt and could lose his fishing permit.

    That was the bad news. But there was good news too: Certain litigation strategies could help him navigate around those obstacles and stake a claim for the gold, the attorneys said. They were interested in representing him but needed time to research his find.

    Michael Barcott, a senior lawyer with white hair and thick glasses, made a suggestion: The TV in the conference room was on the smaller side, and he happened to have a larger one at home. Why not watch the video there, to get a better look?

    So later that day, the group reconvened in Barcott’s family room.

    When Joe arrived, he fell into conversation with Barcott, and soon they were talking shop about fishing. Barcott had grown up in a fishing family and has represented fishing companies in the Pacific Northwest for 43 years. He was impressed with Joe’s earnest approach to his livelihood. “He seemed genuine,” Barcott recalled. “He’s got a terrific trawl operation in a very sensitive area in Monterey. He’s figured out how to trawl over coral. … He’s really proud of the product he produces, too.”

    Barcott turned off the lights and pulled down the shades, and Joe queued up the video on a large-screen TV. The guests sat on couches. The video scrolled. The brick-shaped object floated into view.

    Pause it, Barcott said.

    After some rewinding and fast-forwarding, they managed to freeze the video with the object right in the middle of the screen. In 43 years as a maritime law expert, Barcott had never seen anything like it.

    “I’m a skeptical person by nature, so I was skeptical about this from the beginning,” he recalled. “And this was the first point at which I thought: Maybe this was the real deal.”

    In the next few days, the firm told Joe it was interested, and Barcott and his colleagues devised a legal game plan. “There are a tremendous amount of legal obstacles between finding gold on the bottom and putting that gold in the bank,” Barcott said. “But. But! It seemed like there was a chance. Yeah.”

    Chapter 8. The Ocean Cops
    Before the trip to Seattle, Joe figured the treasure was as good as his. He knew that the act of getting his hands on it might be tricky, but he assumed the obstacles were straightforward. Whenever he thought about those ingots deep in the ocean, he felt like he was soaring.

    At first, the meetings in Seattle fueled that feeling. People with money and expertise had fussed over him like no one ever had, and told him the video images looked like gold.

    Still, as he packed his bags and headed back to Monterey, he felt like he “had fallen out of the sky a little bit.” The next phase of his quest, he now realized, would involve a long slog through the court system. Even if he succeeded in getting his hands on the treasure, it would take years of battles before he owned it outright.

    And going down that route meant confronting an institution he had come to fear and loathe: the federal government.

    The government monitors fishermen to protect fish stocks and ocean habitats. But to Joe, it feels more like a cop who is watching him all the time. Federal agents are there with him on the boat when he goes out to sea. They are there when he releases his net, and they are waiting on the dock when he gets back to the wharf. Like G-men in a movie, fish and wildlife officers regularly watch him while he sells fish, observing him and his crew from a parked car or a nearby restaurant.

    Experiences like these have shaped Joe’s politics, though not always in the most predictable way. He is a guy who donates thousands of pounds of fish every week to the soup kitchen at Glide Memorial, a progressive Methodist church in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. He also has two Donald Trump bumper stickers on his pickup truck. “DON’T STEAL,” reads a sticker plastered on the crusty refrigerator in the Pioneer’s galley. “THE GOVERNMENT HATES COMPETITION.”

    All of which is to say that Joe’s relationship with the government is a complicated one, flavored by mutual suspicion. His meetings in Seattle had only intensified his paranoia, especially when he learned he’d need a federal permission slip to hunt for his treasure in the Monterey Bay sanctuary.

    America’s marine sanctuaries sprawl across 600,000 square miles of water, a network of underwater parks established to preserve ocean and freshwater regions that are particularly beautiful, fragile or historically significant. One sanctuary off the coast of North Carolina protects the grave of the Monitor, an iron-hulled ship that fought a famous Civil War battle against a Confederate ironside and later sank in a storm. Other sanctuaries extend through Hawaii, the Florida Keys and the Great Lakes. Along the California coast, the state owns the waters out to a limit of 3 nautical miles, and generally, just beyond that invisible border, the Monterey Bay sanctuary takes over, controlling a huge stretch of coastal waters from San Luis Obispo County to the Marin Headlands.

    The sanctuary’s ban on unlicensed treasure-hunting exists for a good reason, said James Delgado, the former sanctuary official. “ ‘Finders keepers’ doesn’t work, because not everything that is down there (on the seafloor) is abandoned,” Delgado said. “There may very well be an owner. And property rights is a key aspect of what makes this country run, as well as the rest of the global economy.”

    It was difficult for Joe to see it this way. He and his family were fishing in the sanctuaries long before they were designated as such, and he had always felt a sense of pride and freedom on the water. Now he was learning exactly how insignificant the government considered him to be. It didn’t matter that he and his family had spent their lives fishing the seafloor. It didn’t matter that he knew the bottom better than anyone else. He was not allowed to reach down and touch a single thing, even one that could put his six kids through college.

    One way around the ban was simply to ask the government to make an exception. In rare cases, the National Marine Sanctuary awards permits for underwater exploration, allowing divers or an underwater rover inside sanctuary borders. But those permits usually go to large science organizations or corporate salvage boats, not lone fishermen, which is why the Seattle law firm urged Joe to consider a second option: going straight to court. The attorneys said he could file a type of federal lawsuit called an in rem action, also known as an admiralty arrest.

    The concept goes back to 2,000 B.C., said Charles George, an Atlanta maritime lawyer who specializes in admiralty arrests. The idea is to haul up part of an abandoned shipwreck and present it to a judge, thereby announcing your intention to learn more about it and claim ownership. The piece of the ship can be as tiny as a single bolt or scrap of wood. “It represents the wreck. It’s kind of like the title to the car,” George said. “It gives you time. It sort of stalls everything.”

    But an admiralty arrest is just the start of a legal process. Once it has been filed and the treasure announced, other parties can intervene, laying claim to the treasure in court. It might be an insurance company like Lloyd’s of London, which still holds policies on ships that sank centuries ago, or a country like Spain, which can still claim ownership of the gold carried in any number of sunken galleons. A treasure hunter might spend millions to retrieve a shipwreck and the gold within, only to be forced in court to hand it over to another party, like Spain, which, of course, originally stole the gold from any number of indigenous peoples.

    Every shipwreck hunter seems to have a story about a treasure recovery gone horribly wrong. One of the worst belongs to Sir Robert Marx. Back in the 1980s, he tried in vain to salvage a shipwreck off the coast of Point Reyes, in waters controlled by the National Park Service. Three decades earlier, during a dive, he believed he had discovered a centuries-old Manila galleon called the San Agustin, which sank during a storm in 1595. The wreck was potentially full of treasure, and although it was tantalizingly close to the surface — just 30 feet deep — Marx said he couldn’t persuade the Park Service to let him conduct a salvage operation. California officials weren’t much help either, even though the state would have recovered a piece of lost history. Government agencies later tried to locate the ship themselves but failed. Marx died in July at age 85.

    Another cautionary tale involves a Floridian named Tommy Thompson, who discovered the wreck of the Central America, a steamship that sank in an 1857 hurricane off South Carolina. The ship had been carrying 3 tons of gold prospected in San Francisco’s Gold Rush. After Thompson announced the extraordinary scope of his haul — $100 million to $150 million in gold ingots and other riches — a swarm of insurance companies filed claims for the treasure. So did a sect of Capuchin monks. Several investors said he stiffed them on the profits and sued. In 2012 he skipped a hearing and became a fugitive, and when finally captured three years later, he was living under an assumed name in a Florida hotel. He went to prison. His cousin told the Washington Post that Thompson regretted ever trying to retrieve the gold: “You don’t throw away your life for something that’s yellow and weighs a lot.”

    “Gold fever will turn nice people just dishonest and aggressive,” said Wings Stocks, the diver who recovered gold coins from the wreck of the Brother Jonathan. After he and his colleagues brought up the coins, the state Lands Commission made a claim for the booty, leading to a multiyear court battle that ended with California nabbing 200 coins and the salvors keeping the rest. “Once gold hits the table, all rules are off.”

    Continued,......
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  8. #8
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    Chapter 9. Dave and Joleen
    A week or two after Joe’s trip to Seattle, Michael Barcott, the maritime law expert, traveled to Monterey for a follow-up meeting. This time, they met at the home office of Joe’s personal attorney and family friend, David Hollingsworth.

    A tall, determined man with short-cropped white hair, Hollingsworth had recently moved his law practice from downtown Monterey to his expansive home in the city’s outskirts. Joe had always loved visiting this place, both for business meetings and the occasional dinner; the attorney was a great cook, serving scratch-made pizzas with magnums of Pinot Noir. He was in his late 70s and still played tennis nearly every day, either at Carmel Valley Ranch or on his own backyard court. His high-ceilinged home office, with windows looking out on his prized potted dahlias, displayed three framed courtroom sketches from a case in which he successfully defended a fisherman accused of threatening to kill a Coast Guard officer. (It’s a long story, but one that the attorney delights in telling; it involves a guardsman chasing a fisherman from a helicopter, only to be refused permission to board.)

    Hollingsworth had little experience with treasure. The maritime aspect of his law practice mainly involved collisions and other accidents on the high seas; for instance, he once represented Joe’s father when a member of his crew was inadvertently shot through the back of the head with a spear gun (he lived). Just as Joe took pride in being able to fix any machine, Hollingsworth saw himself as an attorney who could solve any problem, large or small, local or global — “a country lawyer practicing on the open range,” as he put it. From the moment Joe told him about the shiny flashes on his GoPro videos, Hollingsworth was transfixed, eager to get involved.

    That was fine with Joe. Hollingsworth had represented his clan for more than 50 years. When Joe was a kid, his father used to load him and his brothers in his beat-up station wagon and drive them to Hollingsworth’s law office, where a secretary would sit the kids on an ancient wooden bench while the two adult men argued.

    “Dave is a very strong-willed man, and my father was the same,” Joe said. “It sounded like people were fighting, but they were just talking.” Much later, Hollingsworth had come through for Joe in court, saving him “from the jaws of death” in the 2010 legal feud with the squid fisher. After Joe spent years defending the suit, selling real estate to pay legal fees, Hollingsworth eventually got the case dismissed.

    So when Seattle attorney Barcott came to talk about the treasure, Joe wanted Hollingsworth at his side.

    For the first time, the men discussed numbers.

    In exchange for representing Joe and filing a claim for the gold on his behalf, the Seattle firm wanted a percentage of whatever gold was eventually recovered, similar to an agent’s fee. This is a standard arrangement in treasure cases because of the risk involved: A firm can easily spend decades and millions of dollars researching the find and fighting others who make claims for the treasure — and that’s before a single piece of gold is released to the client.

    Hollingsworth was wary. He thought the Seattle firm was asking for too much money, and he wanted to keep some control of the project himself, as Joe’s longtime lawyer. Barcott declined to discuss the meeting in detail, but he remembered it being friendly: “I thought Joe thought we were on board with him.” Regardless, soon afterward, Barcott and his firm walked away from the project. “For reasons I am not comfortable revealing,” he said, “we just decided it was not a team we wanted to join.” They wished Joe good luck.

    Around that same time, another potential partnership seemed to fade. During the Seattle trip, Joe had also met with representatives of Global Diving & Salvage, the company that employed diver Danny Broadhurst, the guy who had first told Joe the object in his video was probably gold. Initially, Broadhurst’s colleagues agreed that the fisherman’s discovery looked promising, but company managers weren’t willing to front any money for a salvage operation. To use their divers and equipment to retrieve the gold, he would need to pay them tens of thousands of dollars per day.

    “So I said fine,” Hollingsworth remembered. “If you don’t want to do it, we’ll get it done.”

    Despite his unfamiliarity with treasure recovery, Hollingsworth was confident he could teach himself about it. Joe agreed, and let his family lawyer lead the quest.

    Hollingsworth began by calling an investor friend in Chicago and asking for a loan. He needed money to hire experts capable of evaluating Joe’s videos and confirming that they showed gold. Before long he connected with David Paul Horan, a maritime attorney in Key West, Fla., a mecca of historic shipwrecks.

    Horan is 77 and speaks in a sociable drawl. Senior partner at the Horan & Higgins firm, he is a veteran of some of the most contentious shipwreck and treasure-salvage litigations in modern history, including the Tommy Thompson case. After talking with Joe and Hollingsworth on the phone, he decided that Joe “absolutely, totally believes that he imaged the gold bars on the bottom,” Horan said. “We believed that he believed.” He checked into Hollingsworth and found him to be reputable, and the Key West lawyer found Joe’s videos intriguing, but not convincing: “I did see things that could be the gold bars. But until I was there or had it in my hands, I wasn’t going to say it was.”

    Deciding that Joe passed a basic, preliminary “sanity check,” Horan and his firm began preparing to file a federal claim on the fisherman’s behalf. The Key West lawyer also put Joe and Hollingsworth in touch with two marine archaeologists in Florida. The lawyer told Joe to share his videos and let them analyze the footage, at a cost of about $5,000.

    According to Joe, one of the two archaeologists who viewed the footage was able to determine the value of the bar-shaped objects. He concluded that each was approximately 8 inches long, 5 inches wide and 3 inches thick. If they were in fact ingots of gold, an extraordinarily heavy metal, they would weigh 50 to 100 pounds each, depending on their exact dimensions — and any one ingot would be worth no less than $1.8 million, the archaeologist told him, though the ultimate value could vary based on factors like the gold’s purity.

    Joe had counted a possible 30 bars. If the archaeologist was right, and all of those other bars truly existed, the fisherman was looking at a $55 million payday.

    But Hollingsworth was beginning to believe that the 30 bars were just a small part of a larger hoard from a long-forgotten Manila galleon, one of the Spanish trade ships that carried stupendous quantities of treasure. If that were the case, $55 million was chump change.

    “It stood to be the prize of a lifetime,” Hollingsworth said. “You’re talking big, big money.”

    His Spanish galleon theory was a patchwork of conjecture, personal experience and articles he’d read on the internet. During years of sailing his own pleasure boats off the California coast, Hollingsworth had often been battered by waves and wind; he could imagine an old galleon crashing on the shoals, especially in an era before lighthouses and radar navigation. He had read about the sheer size and cargo capacities of the galleons. It fired his imagination: The plunder from a single galleon could be worth billions, he thought.

    There were a few problems with Hollingsworth’s galleon theory. One had to do with geography. Though the wrecks of Spanish galleons stocked with gold coins have been discovered in places like the English Channel and the Caribbean Sea, that is unlikely to happen on the California coast. According to historians, even if galleons sailing to California had carried some gold, they would have been mostly emptied of gold by the time they reached the West Coast, having already offloaded it in Manila. Instead, the galleons usually held porcelain, silk and jewelry.

    Another key discrepancy involved the shape of Joe’s bars. Spanish colonies produced gold ingots that were rounded in shape, like disks or loaves of bread. The ones in Joe’s videos were rectangular. To Horan, they more closely resembled the ones recovered from Gold Rush-era steamers that had been produced in “an honest-to-God mint.”

    In any case, if Joe had truly discovered a centuries-old Spanish galleon, it might have been the worst news possible, because those ships and their cargoes still belong to Spain, under ironclad international agreements signed by the United States. And Spain is notorious for hardball litigation in defense of its wrecks. In 2012, for example, a judge ordered the American company Odyssey Marine Exploration to return $500 million in gold and silver coins it had recovered from a Spanish galleon that sank off the coast of Portugal.

    But whether out of wishful thinking or miscommunication, Hollingsworth was fully committed to the galleon theory. A picture had formed in his mind and gotten stuck there: a beautiful Spanish ship with three masts, 400 years ago, sailing past a Bay Area occupied by Ohlone people and hammered by ship-crushing storms. He believed he was on the precipice of a billion-dollar discovery, and all that remained was to hire the right dive companies and pull the right levers in the legal system.

    Plunging in with abandon and devoting dozens of hours a week to the quest, Hollingsworth called every expert he could find, trying to figure out how much professionals would charge to explore the wreck and recover any valuables. He learned that most companies charged retainers of $30,000 and day rates of around $10,000. That included several days of “mobilization” at the dock, all of which had to be paid even if the weather turned sour and they couldn’t go out to sea. Hollingsworth was unsettled by the high prices, but reasoned that he could raise more money if needed. He pushed forward, even developing a novel legal theory that because the galleons were merchant ships, not warships, they were therefore not subject to international agreements. The country lawyer from Monterey was preparing for bare-knuckle legal combat with the government of Spain.

    But as Hollingsworth’s passion grew, Joe began to worry. During each conference call with a new salvage company, Hollingsworth spent most of the time boasting about his own credentials, and Joe noticed that many of the companies didn’t call back. “Dave was such a bulldog,” Joe said. “He took over the whole thing.”

    He remembered the warning about how the hunt for gold could change people, and it now rang true: Hollingsworth didn’t seem quite like Hollingsworth anymore.

    The fisherman was starting to wonder whether the treasure hunt was becoming a liability. The project only seemed to deplete his time, attention and money — and he hadn’t seen a dime from it yet. It was also starting to interfere with his two day jobs. He was still fishing on the Pioneer, but to support his family of eight, he was also installing refrigerators on the side.

    As the weeks wore on, Joe struggled to keep the fishing part of his life afloat, increasingly depending on his deck boss, Joleen Lambert Skinner, to pick up the slack.

    Despite being deaf since birth and a woman in a male-dominated industry, Joleen won respect from the deckhands with her fierce work ethic, and she and Joe had developed a close bond. She compensated for his weaknesses. When Joe tended to get distracted, she forced him to focus. When he was too generous to customers or crew members, she reminded him about financial reality. When he was too trusting of strangers, she folded her arms and glared.

    Joleen reads lips and communicates in a mix of speaking and sign language; Joe doesn’t know sign language but understands her when she talks and can serve as an interpreter.

    “We are a good team,” Joleen, 52, said. “We have the same morals, the same work ethic.”

    “Joleen doesn’t just read your lips,” Joe said. “She reads your mind.”

    When it came to the treasure, Joleen’s attitude was the opposite of Hollingsworth’s: Gold didn’t really interest her. If Joe managed to retrieve the ingots and get rich, well, that was God’s blessing. But if not, she wouldn’t mind. She was often irritated by Joe’s focus on the gold, believing that it distracted him from more practical concerns, and she was starting to worry about his safety. The more people Hollingsworth brought into the project — attorneys and archaeologists and divers across the country — the more vulnerable Joe became to exploitation by dishonest or greedy people, she believed.

    “Joe is generous, and I’m more guarded,” she explained. “I know how people’s minds work.”

    Sometimes, when Joe showed her the videos, turning off the lights and opening his laptop, she would get excited when she saw what looked like a gold bar, exclaiming and pointing to the laptop screen. But she did the same whenever she spotted a cowcod — a protected species of groundfish that Joe and Joleen must avoid catching or risk big fines. A cowcod is peril; you have to keep your eyes sharp for them.

    “Cowcod,” she would say, her voice breaking the silence in the darkened room.


    Continued,.....
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  9. #9
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    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    Chapter 10. The Feds
    Because it’s so expensive to retrieve anything from the ocean floor, the first step in documenting a wreck is to take a picture, perhaps by towing a sonar machine from a boat or by sending human or robotic divers to the bottom. At the same time, underwater imagery can be deceptive, and even the most experienced treasure hunters can be fooled. Twice during his career, prolific wreck diver John Chatterton was certain he had identified a lost ship on sonar imagery. Both times, when he dove down to the object, it was just a rock.

    “It is as simple as: Sometimes, you see what you want to see,” Chatterton said.

    This is the reality of treasure hunting: There’s only one way to prove that you have really discovered gold. “You gotta put hands on it,” said Phil Sammet, the Monterey dive instructor. “You gotta squeeze it, grab it, put it in something, and bring it up.”

    And by the late spring of 2015, Joe, despite being nearly broke, was determined to try.

    He realized he could no longer prolong the inevitable: He needed to approach the federal government and ask for permission to explore the ocean site of his discovery and possibly move objects on the seafloor. Without dispatching human divers or a rover to bring back a piece of treasure or at least take a detailed picture up close, he couldn’t prove that the objects he’d glimpsed in his trawling video nine months before were truly gold.

    Through his lawyer, David Hollingsworth, the fisherman set up a conference call with six staff members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including historian James Delgado, then working for the National Marine Sanctuary. The officials expected they would be speaking with a “prospective permit applicant” about his “request to salvage cargo and treasure from a shipwreck,” according to an agenda circulated by email. But the call turned out to be an exercise in frustration for all involved, as the government and the treasure hunters danced around each other.

    Hollingsworth did the talking, speaking in roundabout legalese to the feds. Wary of showing his cards, he didn’t mention the word “gold.” What would happen, he asked, if his client had found something of historical interest on the seafloor? Was the sanctuary staff interested in learning more?

    It was within the government’s ability to partner with Joe and help investigate a possible wreck site. A few years earlier, in 2013, Delgado had begun a search for potential historic shipwrecks inside the sanctuary, joining state and federal agencies to survey those underwater sites with sonar and robots. The project explored the remains of several ships, including the Conestoga, a sunken Navy tugboat, and the Independence, an aircraft carrier poisoned by atomic bomb tests.

    But now, during the phone call, the sanctuary staffers were wary of making any promises to the fisherman. His story was too vague. “We listened carefully and talked openly,” recalled Delgado, who now works for a maritime archaeology research firm in Florida. “It was: OK, what about this, what about that? Trying to see what he wanted to do, and also to understand what we were dealing with.”

    One of the call’s participants, James Sinclair, a marine archaeologist hired by Joe and Hollingsworth, wasn’t surprised by the government’s reluctance. In his experience, federal officials and academics tended to approach shipwrecks with the opposite of urgency, sometimes driving treasure hunters nuts. Given a choice between leaving a historical object in place and seeing it sold into private hands, a government agency or university would choose inaction every time, hoping the object might one day land in a museum, Sinclair later explained. Caution and delay could be weaponized to protect history.

    But Joe didn’t see it that way. He felt the officials were threatening him in coded bureaucratic language. Whatever the case, the officials didn’t seem at all excited by the possibility of finding a lost ship, and Joe found it stressful and unpleasant simply to have an extended interaction with federal officials. It got his paranoia flowing. As the feds volleyed cautiously with Hollingsworth, the fisherman imagined sitting in a prison cell, missing his daughters’ softball games.

    After the call, it was obvious to Joe and Hollingsworth that a permit would never happen. And without that, they couldn’t touch anything on the ocean floor. No permit, no treasure recovery. No permit, no gold.

    But they weren’t ready to give up.

    Their last option seemed like a long shot, but it was the only one left: They could try their luck in the court system, revisiting the idea of an in rem action, or admiralty arrest — a federal lawsuit asserting their right to recover the shipwreck, if one existed, and any associated treasure.

    For a while now, David Paul Horan, the Key West lawyer, had been nudging them down this path, explaining how it could succeed when all else failed. With an admiralty arrest, the goal is to “arrest” the treasure, gaining title to it. The plaintiff in the case is the treasure hunter, and the defendant is the shipwreck or the treasure itself (a famous case from 1960 bore the name Wiggins v. 1100 Tons, More or Less, of Italian Marble; another case was called Gardner v. Ninety-Nine Gold Coins). The treasure-hunter goes to federal court and presents evidence of his find, and depending on the strength of that evidence — and the persuasiveness of any competing claims to the booty — he wins the case or he loses. If he wins, the treasure is eventually brought up from the bottom and delivered into his waiting hands.

    The advantage of an admiralty arrest, as Horan explained to Joe and Hollingsworth, was protection. Once they filed their claim in court, they would draw a legal force field around the objects on the seafloor. Competitors couldn’t touch them without filing a claim of their own. And, generally, the government couldn’t either.

    In other words, it meant that the restrictions of the Monterey marine sanctuary weren’t necessarily a deal-breaker for Joe. Horan’s law practice was in Key West and he had often represented clients who found treasure inside the huge Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. While the legal nuances of treasure cases are complicated and the opinions of attorneys may diverge, Horan believed that admiralty law “doesn’t end at the sanctuary border.” Even if Joe’s gold was inside the sanctuary, he could still lay claim to it through the admiralty arrest process, essentially forcing the government to fight it out in court.

    There was a huge catch, though: To actually “arrest” the treasure, you have to tell the court what it is that you want arrested and where it is. And Joe didn’t know those things, exactly. Not yet.

    Horan could easily draft an in rem action for Joe, but to prevail in court, Joe almost certainly needed some hard evidence that historic and valuable manmade objects were really down there — a gold bar, a scrap of wood or metal from a ship, or, at the very least, detailed and persuasive photographs, for starters.

    “If somebody says they found a Spanish galleon,” Horan recalled, “the first thing I ask them is, when are we going to go diving? You gotta go down and pick it up.”

    It still wasn’t clear to Joe how he was supposed to do that without getting caught in the act by NOAA staff or sanctuary officials, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to file a lawsuit. Did he really have the stomach, or the cash, to spend the next five to 10 years of his life in court?

    But by this point, he was itching to do something. There was a huge part of Joe, not necessarily a logical or calculating part, that just wanted to see the gold bars up close. To feel one of them in his hands. Hollingsworth was getting impatient, too. They wanted to know what they were dealing with.

    They started planning a small expedition. As much as it scared him, Joe would take the Pioneer back to the spot of his discovery. He would figure out a way to explore the bottom, get a precise fix on the location of the gold bars from his videos, and search for other signs of a shipwreck.

    The expedition would be a Hail Mary of sorts, an improbable and desperate expedition on a shoestring budget. Because of the federal rules governing marine sanctuaries, he couldn’t dive or use a rover there. If he anchored his boat in one spot for even a few days, he might attract the attention of NOAA or other fishermen. As always, Joe was terrified of giving the government even the slightest cause for suspicion. Whatever he did, it would have to be quick, cheap and improvised. It would probably brush right up against the lines of the law. And if it didn’t work, he might have exhausted his options. But he was determined. It could be his last chance.

    Chapter 11. The Cannon
    In any underwater recovery operation, the first challenge is to find the object on the seafloor, which is not as simple as it might seem, even with a boat full of fuel, a high-quality GPS system and an exact set of coordinates. The boat sails to the spot and drops anchor; the crew prepares to explore the depths below. But the surface of the ocean doesn’t stay still. Even an anchored boat can be rocked by waves and swell and drift out of position.

    And Joe faced an additional difficulty. While he knew the approximate spot where his boat had been when the GoPro captured the initial videos, he didn’t know the exact location of the treasure, because the GoPro was clipped to the trawling net, which trails several hundred feet behind the boat, swaying with the currents. The gold he sought might have been anywhere within a circle several hundred feet in diameter.

    According to David Mearns, an accomplished shipwreck hunter and oceanographer in the United Kingdom who has located wrecks around the globe, if an underwater search circle is as small as 200 meters (650 feet) across, it’s still “virtually impossible” to locate an object like a gold ingot on the seafloor. It would be like trying to find a lost iPhone in a park the size of four football fields — in the dark. Joe’s search area was substantially larger: According to his calculations, the gold bars were spread out over a quarter-mile stripe of seafloor, with a few hundred feet of uncertainty over where that quarter mile started and ended.

    But Joe had one more piece of information that could help: the location of the Pioneer when its net got snagged on a large underwater object in the same area where the videos were taken. He knew from experience that a snag like that is typically caused by a shipwreck and had marked the spot on his plotter, an electronic chart that displays a vessel’s coordinates.

    Whatever was down there, he was going to need some new imaging equipment to document it. The GoPro video cameras alone wouldn’t work, because they operated blindly; Joe could switch them on and send them underwater, but he could see the videos they captured only after the fact. He needed a live camera to use as a sort of inverted periscope — a way to see what was going on underwater as he navigated.

    Hollingsworth and Joe settled on a product called a SeaViewer, a small camera that takes real-time underwater video and transmits it to a monitor on the ship. They spent about $15,000 of their dwindling funds to purchase two SeaViewers equipped with powerful lights to illuminate the seafloor. Because these new cameras would provide a live feed only, with no ability to record the images, Joe planned to use the SeaViewers to pinpoint the exact location of the shipwreck. The GoPros, operating simultaneously, could record it.

    Even now, Joe won’t reveal exactly how he decided to deploy the SeaViewers. But he built a custom contraption to hold them in place, relying on the same sort of skills and scrap materials that he and his daughter used to make the Fisheye, the hydrofoil that housed the GoPro cameras.

    In the meantime, Horan and Hollingsworth drew up paperwork for an admiralty arrest. “COMPLAINT IN REM,” it read, “FOR AWARD OF FIND AND/OR SALVAGE.”

    The language of the complaint spoke to the oddities of maritime law, its precepts shaped by merchants and empires. Joe’s fishing company, GGP LLC, was the plaintiff. The defendant was “THE UNIDENTIFIED, WRECKED AND ABANDONED VESSEL, her tackle, armament, apparel, and cargo located within 3,000 yards of two points with a line drawn between them located at”— and here the lawyers left a space to fill in the rough coordinates of the find. The document went on to say that the defendant (the wreck) was in a state of abandonment and the plaintiff was willing to spend a great amount of time and effort to salvage it. Depending on what Joe actually discovered during his upcoming dive, the lawyers would tweak the wording.

    With the legal paperwork drafted and the new gadgets loaded onto his boat, Joe was ready to sail back to the site of the snag. He decided to ask his deck boss, Joleen, to join him. She was the only person in his professional circle whose eyes didn’t bug out when he talked about gold; the prospect of recovering sunken treasure hadn’t changed her in any way.

    They followed their normal fishing routine, which meant leaving in the middle of the night from Moss Landing. Joe started the engine at around 2:30 a.m. From his ratty captain’s chair, Joe piloted the Pioneer through the harbor’s narrow entrance to the Pacific. Once in the open ocean, he increased his speed to 7 knots (around 8 mph) and headed west into the Monterey Bay sanctuary.

    About five hours later, with the sun rising, they approached the site of the snag. Joleen brought eggs and toast up to the wheelhouse on paper plates. Saying little, they ate the breakfast, dropped the recording devices in the water and started watching a large flat-screen monitor displaying the live images from the two underwater cameras. Each SeaViewer documented a 10-square-foot patch of seafloor and relayed a grainy black-and-white feed to the screen.

    All through that day, and continuing after sunset, they stared at the screen as Joe steered the ship around the target area, first back and forth, then in slow arcs, planning to circle the approximate spot until he found the wreck, like fishermen do when they hunt for a missing net or crab pot. There was little to see: bare ocean bottom, seaweed, rocks. Meanwhile, the GoPro cameras whirred, filling their precious memory cards with useless footage of silt.

    Midnight passed. Joleen started to get tired. Then, around 2 a.m., the view on the screen suddenly changed.

    An object loomed into view, covered in seaweed and barnacles. It was cylindrical. And massive. It stuck out of the mud at a 30-degree angle. It seemed to be about 14 feet long.

    Joe knew instantly that the object had to be man-made. It was perfectly symmetrical.

    He looked closer. The object appeared to be perched on a pedestal.

    He thought: That’s a cannon.

    At that moment, Joleen happened to be glancing away from the screen. She couldn’t hear the long string of swear words Joe uttered, nor was she positioned to read his lips. He touched her arm; she swung her head. He pointed at the image on the monitor. That’s when Joleen saw something she had never seen before in her thousands of hours at sea.

    “I was speechless,” she later recalled. “I was afraid to talk.”

    To Joleen, the cylinder looked like the chimney of an old steamboat, the kind you’d see in a painting or a History Channel documentary. That was her instant reaction. It was followed immediately by another one, equally strong: It can’t be a shipwreck. The idea that they’d actually found a lost ship just seemed too fantastic.

    The two gaped at the screen for more than a minute.

    Joe felt a giant sudden surge of gratitude that Joleen was there. Of everyone in his life, she was the least invested in the gold and the most pragmatic. How could he possibly be hallucinating a lost shipwreck if she was seeing it too?

    For him, a cannon just made sense. It was the last piece of a puzzle that his entire family had been assembling for a hundred years, never being able to see the full picture until now. All the thousands of days when they had scraped their nets across the seafloor, all those times his father and grandfather had snagged their nets, all the machines Joe had rigged up to shoot video of his net in action, all the thousands of hours he’d spent training his eyes to pick out shapes and colors in that footage of dark water — all that labor and pain had finally wrenched this new fact from the bottom of the ocean. Something big and man-made was actually down there, Joe realized, and any professor or shipwreck diver or treasure hunter or lawyer who doubted him could bring his own boat to this spot and see for himself.

    As he and Joleen continued staring at the screen, the Pioneer’s underwater gear drifted dangerously close to the cannon-like object. Joe quickly took the boat out of gear and turned the wheel hard to starboard to avoid getting snagged again.

    The maneuver snapped him out of his reverie. And suddenly, he realized something awful: The GoPro cameras’ memory cards had room for only 10 to 12 hours of footage. He and Joleen had been searching for the wreck for more than 20. The cameras had long stopped recording. They hadn’t captured any video of the huge cylinder.

    For a few breathtaking minutes, the fisherman had seen a sunken ship. But he had no way to prove it. All he had was a story.

    The trip dissolved into more frustration and bad comedy. Though Joe circled back for a closer look, there wasn’t much more to see: The cannon-like object was covered in so much algae it looked like an old man who hadn’t cut his hair in decades. Joe also managed to catch sight of a few rectangular objects with shapes similar to the ingots in the original videos, but because the image was in black and white, he wasn’t able to tell whether they had the telltale glow.

    After 48 hours at sea, with nothing to show for it other than another dead end, he felt defeated. He pointed the Pioneer east and returned to shore.

    Chapter 12. The Wharf
    He never went back.

    The decision to end his treasure hunt had nothing to do with the gold itself, its existence or nonexistence. After seeing the image of the cannon, Joe was more convinced than ever that there were gold bars there and that they belonged to a lost ship on the seafloor. A serious expedition, he believed, would find the wreck, and the gold.

    But after months of hoping and planning and dreaming, he saw no way to get it done himself. He’d done what he could with the tools at his disposal, but it wasn’t enough. The tinkerer in him was still confident that he could invent a contraption to scoop up the bars on the cheap — a dredging sled, maybe. But if he tried anything like that, the feds would catch him and he could lose everything.

    The frustration had added up. The severity and seeming illogic of the federal rules. Fear of going to prison for breaking them. The distraction from his fishing business. Hollingsworth’s zealotry. Joleen’s disdain. The byzantine weirdness of maritime law. And most of all, maybe, the emotional toll. The pain of wanting something so badly, something that seemed so close, and grasping for it over and over, only to come up empty.

    So in the late summer of 2015, Joe called everyone involved and let them know he had reached a breaking point. He didn’t want to raise money for another expedition. He didn’t want any more Hail Marys or distractions from his normal life. He didn’t want to risk prison. He was pulling the plug.

    Horan, the lawyer in Florida, moved on to other projects. Joleen was glad to return to their old fishing routine. (“Life is not about money or gold,” she said. “Life is about people, relationships, friendships, love.”) Grazia agreed it was time to move on. If someone with the means wanted to search for the treasure one day, she figured, she and Joe could just hand over the GPS coordinates — for the right price. The most crucial part of the secret was still theirs, after all.

    “We have the spot. We saved it,” Grazia said. “And we haven’t forgotten about it.”

    Even Hollingsworth, the family lawyer, realized that Joe needed to get back to his livelihood: “If he’s prospecting, he’s not fishing.” But of all the people who had joined the quest, Hollingsworth took the news the hardest. “It almost makes me want to cry,” he said. “It’s a lost opportunity, you might say.”

    Joe tried to push the gold to the back of his mind. He focused on reviving his fishing business, with some success. He drew positive attention for his eco-sensitive trawling techniques and earned praise from the environmental watchdog group Oceana. The groundfish populations were recovering, and the government was raising catch quotas, meaning he could make more money trawling. He and Grazia moved the family to Chico, where the schools are better and they could rent a larger house. And Joe relocated the Pioneer’s home port to San Francisco, the same wharf where his grandfather had gotten his start in America.

    In 2017, he led a successful campaign to relax Port of San Francisco rules that prevented fishermen from selling whole fish straight from their boats. The Chronicle wrote about Joe’s effort, and before long, he was selling his catch directly to customers at the wharf, thousands of pounds at a time. Joe, Joleen and their crew would return from fishing late on Friday and stay up all night sorting and icing up to 40,000 pounds of fish. At sunrise on Saturday, they’d hang a poster advertising their wares: bocaccio ($3 a pound), chilipepper rockfish ($3), petrale sole ($5), black cod ($5). Some mornings the line of customers snaked for 20 or 30 yards.

    Despite these successes, Joe still struggled to make a living. A typical fishing trip, which took place about twice a month, might gross him $28,000. But after paying $20,000 in expenses for each trip, including labor, diesel fuel and quota payments to NOAA, plus monthly insurance costs and other boat-related expenses, he was lucky if fishing put $5,000 a month in his pocket. To tide the family over, Grazia had to take a job as a janitor at California State University, which at least provided health insurance for the family.

    By summer that year, Joe’s life had essentially returned to normal. But he still thought about the lost gold from time to time, and as the months went by, he started to feel guilty about staying silent. Did he have some responsibility to tell people about his find, so that other, better-funded explorers could try to recover the wreck and put a name to it? Unless he told the world what he’d found, it was destined to remain lost.

    “I can’t go to the grave knowing I never did anything about this,” he said. “At my age, it’s not like I have a tremendous amount of time.”

    Chapter 13. A Curious Object
    One weekday afternoon in July, after Joe and Joleen made a delivery of donated fish to a food pantry in SoMa, they drove Joe’s truck to the San Francisco Chronicle building at Fifth and Mission streets. From the lobby, a reporter escorted them up to the third floor and into the newspaper’s wood-paneled meeting room, where another reporter and an editor were waiting.

    Joleen wore her hair in a ponytail fastened with a yellow plastic zip tie. Joe was dressed in a blue T-shirt, jeans and his crusty boots. He said he was sorry if he stank of fish.

    From a canvas bag, he pulled out his laptop and five ragged sheets of yellow paper scrawled with his handwriting. They were notes he had taken while watching his videos of the ocean floor. The sheets were filled with numbers indicating time stamps in the videos, and next to the numbers were scribbled phrases noting what he thought he saw at those spots: “solid shine,” “objects to check out,” “BAR.”

    “I wish I’d labeled this stuff better,” he said, shuffling the sheets and spreading them out on the meeting room’s long wooden table.

    With his laptop connected to the room’s teleconferencing screen, Joe clicked on a clip and pressed play. For the first time, the reporters watched several more of Joe’s videos.

    By that point Joe had been talking with us for more than a year and a half, ever since he texted Tara Duggan out of the blue in September 2017 — Do you want to see something that I found on the bottom of the ocean with my camera — and shared the picture of what he’d decided was a gold bar. After that, Joe had told his story little by little, making time for interviews between fishing trips and construction jobs. Talking to the press was something he’d strictly avoided during his pursuit of the treasure. But now, after abandoning his quest, there was no point in keeping the secret, he explained. And maybe something good would come of the publicity.

    Maybe a rich or powerful person might read his story and intervene. Maybe Donald Trump, a famous gold aficionado, would call up and offer assistance. Maybe Joe would answer his phone one day and Elon Musk would be on the line, offering to invest in an expedition.

    As Joe recounted his adventure over the months, we worked to confirm the story, reaching out to the divers and lawyers he said he had met along the way. His story checked out; although Joe sometimes conflated events or mixed up names, people remembered meeting him and said he was telling the truth. The only part that confused us had to do with the GoPro videos — Joe’s evidence.

    Early on, he had shared one of the 18-minute clips. We could easily make out the obvious rectangular object — the thing that looks like a gold brick — at the five-minute, two-second mark. But Joe said he could discern additional bars that appear later in the video, and we couldn’t see them, no matter how many times we replayed the clip.

    So we emailed the video to five independent experts, including the shipwreck diver John Chatterton, two other experienced divers, a marine archaeologist and James Delgado, the former marine sanctuary official. Their reactions ranged from curiosity to skepticism.

    Delgado said the object at 5:02 “certainly looks like a single gold ingot,” calling it “a fascinating find.” But he didn’t see any signs of a shipwreck. The other four experts called the video inconclusive, agreeing that while Joe might have captured an image of a lone gold bar, they would need more detailed imagery to say for sure, and they didn’t see any additional bars in the footage.

    The diver and shipwreck hunter David Mearns cautioned that the yellow tint of the object wasn’t its true color, because red wavelengths of light don’t penetrate deep water. He and Chatterton also pointed out that if the object were gold, it probably wouldn’t be sitting exposed on the seafloor — the extremely heavy metal would be buried in the soft muck. They suggested that the object could be something else, like a piece of another kind of metal recently dropped into the ocean, or even a chunk of colorful trash.

    “He has seen something in his video that needs further investigation,” Mearns wrote. “But the whole story is moot unless he can return to the exact spot and put divers down to recover the object.”

    “The ocean floor is littered with all kinds of trash,” emailed Thomas Levy, a professor of archaeology and anthropology at UC San Diego and co-director of the Scripps Center for Marine Archaeology. He apologized that he couldn’t be “more helpful or enthusiastic,” as if he felt bad for dashing the fisherman’s hopes.

    When we told Joe what the experts said, he didn’t seem flustered or disappointed. He said the experts had seen only one of his video clips, not the full set, and his other footage was full of intriguing objects. We asked to see those additional videos, and that’s how he and Joleen ended up at The Chronicle’s office, where Joe guided us through three GoPro videos that he said he had never shared outside of his inner circle.

    Every so often, he pressed the pause button and pointed to something he thought could be treasure.

    “See it?” he said, freezing on an image of a reflective whitish object half buried in the seafloor. It seemed to have three slightly curving tines, like a fork — or part of a metal hand, he said. He thought it was a fragment of a gold statue, though none of his own expert consultants had agreed with that assessment. “Isn’t that trippy?”

    At some of the time stamps that were supposed to show a gold bar, nothing at all stood out, but Joe didn’t seem flustered. He simply muttered a soft “OK” and moved on to the next time stamp. And as we continued to watch, sometimes playing the videos in slow motion, we did notice two or three objects that sure enough resembled the original bar — rectangular shapes with shiny surfaces, though not as clearly brick-like or gold colored.

    “That’s gold,” Joleen piped up as a reflective surface flashed by.

    Joe said he disagreed with the argument that any true gold bar would sink instead of sitting on the seafloor. The ocean floor is hard in that part of the sanctuary, he insisted, a mix of sand and shale with the consistency of broken shards of concrete, so a heavy object wouldn’t necessarily sink. He also said one of his two heavy trawl doors could have dislodged a buried gold ingot and propped it up.

    Joe’s arguments boiled down to this: Yeah, he might not have a college degree or treasure-hunting experience, but he has spent four decades developing an intuition about the bottom of the ocean. It ought to count for something. After five years of struggle and frustration, Joe has accepted that he can’t lay hands on the gold or prove it’s real. But he’s certain someone else could. He remains completely convinced that there is gold on the ocean floor and that he is the only one who knows where to find it.


    Continued,......
    AARC likes this.

  10. #10
    Charter Member
    us
    Apr 2012
    West Coast
    AT Pro, AT Max, AT Gold - Tesoro Euro Sabre - Tesoro Bandido II uMax - Troy X2 - Tesoro Stingray - Mojave - Fisher 1280X- Fisher 1235X - and many more.
    237
    361 times
    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    “You guys gotta understand,” he said. “I’m a guy who has been staring at the seafloor for countless, countless, countless hours. And that”– he pointed to one of the objects frozen on the screen – “is not normal.”

    After a few more minutes in the boardroom, he closed the laptop, gathered his papers and stood. He noticed a few fish scales on his chair that had flaked from his jeans and brushed them off, apologizing to the reporters for messing up the conference room. Then he left with Joleen. They had to prepare the boat for that week’s 48-hour fishing trip.

    Even today, Joe says, he is still watching the videos. Some nights, he lies awake, laptop on chest, looking at the same stretch of dark water for the thousandth time, hoping to notice something new. He still visualizes himself holding one of the bars. When he visits metal supply stores, shopping for construction parts, he sometimes finds himself drifting down the aisle that contains ingots of soft lead, shaped like bricks. He reaches for one, picks it up, grips its cool weight. He remembers that gold is 1.7 times heavier than lead. He stands there, letting the bar press a shape into his palm.

    How we reported ‘The Fisherman’s Secret’

    The Chronicle’s Tara Duggan met fisherman Giuseppe “Joe” Pennisi in the course of reporting on the Bay Area’s seafood industry and fishing culture. In late 2017, he approached her with a secret he’d been holding onto for years. Since then, Duggan and fellow staff writer Jason Fagone dedicated more than eight months to chronicling Pennisi’s story, accompanying him out to sea, interviewing dozens of sources, and examining historical records and court documents. Chronicle photographer Santiago Mejia embedded with the fisherman and his family over the course of months, spending a pair of multiday fishing trips on the Pioneer as well as many days on the dock, at the Pennisi home in Chico and at Glide Memorial in San Francisco.

    Credits

    REPORTERS

    Tara Duggan •tduggan@sfchronicle.com

    Jason Fagone •jason.fagone@sfchronicle.com

    PHOTOGRAPHY | VIDEO

    Santiago Mejia •smejia@sfchronicle.com

    Gabrielle Lurie •glurie@sfchronicle.com

    Carlos Avila Gonzales •cgonzalez@sfchronicle.com

    Russell Yip •ryip@sfchronicle.com

    Guy Wathen •gwathen@sfchronicle.com

    Nicole Fruge •nfruge@sfchronicle.com

    AUDIO

    King Kaufman •king.kaufman@sfchronicle.com

    Julie Hancock •info@jhancockvo.com

    DESIGN

    Kazi Awal •kazi.awal@sfchronicle.com

    Evan Wagstaff •evan.wagstaff@sfchronicle.com

    Daymond Gascon •dgascon@sfchronicle.com

    John Blanchard •jblanchard@sfchronicle.com

    Danielle Mollette-Parks •dmollette-parks@sfchronicle.com

    Elizabeth Burr •eburr@sfchronicle.com

    COPY EDITOR

    Warren Pederson •wpederson@sfchronicle.com

    PROJECT EDITOR

    Paolo Lucchesi •plucchesi@sfchronicle.com

    EXECUTIVE EDITORS

    Kitty Morgan •kmorgan@sfchronicle.com

    Tim O’Rourke •torourke@sfchronicle.com

    Michael Gray •mgray@sfchronicle.com

    Ron Kitagawa •rkitagawa@sfchronicle.com

    EDITOR IN CHIEF

    Audrey Cooper •acooper@sfchronicle.com

    VICE PRESIDENT MARKETING

    Sarah Morse Cooney •scooney@sfchronicle.com

    PUBLISHER

    Bill Nagel



    And I should get some credit for dragging this over here.

    Brother, more of a book than a story
    OldWest, AARC and lukdiver like this.

  11. #11

    May 2014
    214
    205 times
    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    I knew when I read the name James Delgado that you didn't have a h-in-h of getting a permit from NOAA. James Delgado and NOAA have been in the shipwreck hunting business off of California for years under the disguise of looking for corals or testing new equipment. James Delgado and Search Inc have been given $94 millions from some government agency to continue their shipwreck search under the pretense of Archaeology.
    AARC and Bum Luck like this.

  12. #12
    us
    Pirate of the Martires

    Feb 2005
    Port Richey, Florida
    Aquapulse, J.W. Fisher Proton 3, Pulse Star II, Detector Pro Headhunter, AK-47
    3,532
    1790 times
    Shipwrecks
    Enrada it is all fueled by greed. The archies want the credit for finding the cache without doing any research.
    AARC, enrada and Bum Luck like this.

  13. #13

    Mar 2014
    419
    641 times
    Is no one going to mention the elephant in the room... fishing in the Marine Sanctuary..... this doesn’t even begin to hold water. See what I did there...
    AARC and Jason in Enid like this.
    Using Tapatalk

  14. #14
    us
    Jul 2013
    Vietnam, Saigon
    669
    396 times
    All Types Of Treasure Hunting
    Without artificial light the gold color will not show up. Does he use lights at a thousand feet?
    And the pressure on those light bulbs at a thousand feet is enormous. I doubt a humble fisherman buys expensive equipment just to observe fish.
    Last edited by Mekong Mike; Nov 08, 2019 at 12:34 AM.
    AARC likes this.

  15. #15
    pt
    Oct 2009
    Lisbon
    909
    241 times
    Really nice reading. Thanks for that.

    Would love to know how they made the Gopro's go to 1000 feet.

    Anyway, my two cents - it´s all a pipe dream. But I take this line from the article : “Life is not about money or gold - life is about people, relationships, friendships, love.”
    Last edited by Alexandre; Nov 08, 2019 at 03:19 AM.

 

 
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