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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 21 - July 27, 2005
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Republic's gold awaits former Vineyard dive shop
By David Irland
Ninety-six years ago, in
January fog, a very large ship went down about 50 miles off
Nantucket. Norman Gardiner, John Farrington, William “Dougie”
Campbell, and at least one other Vineyard man were among the crew of
divers when the wreck of the RMS Republic, 570 feet long and older
White Star Line sister of the notorious Titanic, was discovered in
1981. She lay in more than 200 feet of water, six miles from the
official coordinates made public by British and American authorities
just after she sank.
the air are dwarfed by the Republic's stack. Photos courtesy
of http://www.mrs-republic.com/ and Martin
Period ad for White Star Lines winter cruises creates
The RMS (for “Royal Mail Ship”)
Republic was notable for many reasons but most spectacularly for the
amount of gold she purportedly had stashed in her second-class deck,
emptied of passengers perhaps for that purpose. Anywhere between $1
and $15 billion worth in today's money went to the bottom with the
Republic after she was struck by the Italian liner Florida,
according to Martin Bayerle, 54, of New York, the impassioned human
engine behind the search, discovery, and rescue efforts that have
stretched over the last 25 years.
Last week, Mr. Bayerle
again made news with the decision handed down by US District Court
Judge Nancy Gertner granting him world salvage rights to the RMS
Republic, thus clearing the way for Mr. Bayerle's total commitment
to the recovery project.
On the day the Republic was found,
John Farrington, 54, and Dougie Campbell, now dead, his diving
partner, were among the first crews to go down. According to Mr.
Farrington, they dove to a level at which disorientation sets in,
around 180 feet.
Mr. Farrington a certified “hard-hat” and
salvage diver at the time, said the expedition was “on a shoestring.
Really we were just trying to locate it. I can't tell you how far
down we went after 180, whether it was 10, 20, 30 feet more. I think
we found parts of the ship around 220, 230. We had to have lights
He describes the ship that may eventually dwarf
every other treasure find in the world as “a big hunk of red rusted
material” in the dark before him. “We had the two tanks and then a
bail out tank. We didn't have much margin for error.” The “bail out”
tank, Mr. Farrington said, is a small tank of oxygen divers carry to
help them out of a jam.
“We were young, and it was exciting,”
said Mr. Farrington. “It was the lure of gold.”
In the summer
of 2006, when the salvage effort starts in earnest, Mr. Gardiner
will once again be part of Mr. Bayerle's crew, though his new job
description will be videographer, whereas in 1981 he was signed on
because he “fit the billet,” he said. “I was a certified diver and
Mr. Gardiner, who retired from his Coast Guard
diver's job many years ago, was stationed on Martha's Vineyard, in
Menemsha, in the early 1960s.
Islanders may remember Mr.
Bayerle's MV Scuba Headquarters, Inc. located in the building that
now houses galleries and a restaurant across from the Black Dog
Tavern. At the time, in the mid-70s, the storefront was “more of a
headquarters than a dive shop,” Mr. Bayerle said. Part of the
original backing team included Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi, who
wrote checks imprinted with “Black Ball Production Company.” And one
of the crew's initial meetings was held at James Taylor's house,
according to Mr. Bayerle. “He wasn't there, but a friend of his
said, come on over, so that's where we met.”
MV Scuba HQ,
Inc. closed in 1981 after Mr. Bayerle's initial research on the
Republic paid off, at which time he began to concentrate his energy
on the wreck that he and his team had found after years of homework
and two-and-a-half days of searching.
The partial, highly
debatable list of the Republic's theoretical cargo reads:
tons of newly minted American Gold Eagle coins valued at $3 million
- 15 tons of gold bars.
- A Navy payroll with
estimated current value around $70 million.
- Several tons of
silver, as well as passengers' jewelry.
Mr. Bayerle told The
Times that his company is now looking around for a vessel larger
than the one being currently employed, according to Mr. Bayerle,
“something large enough to accommodate the recovery effort we're
mounting, which will involve a 3D map of the entire search area.”
The inexhaustibly knowledgeable Mr. Bayerle said the composition of
a 3D map involves “three or four pingers [sonar devices] on the
bottom combined with a towed sonar array used with GPS to map exact
coordinates,” resulting in an exact map of the topography of the
area. The murkiness of the Atlantic, the depth of water and the
wreck size make photography impractical.
The project now is
waiting out the mandatory 180-day advance notice period to allow the
Coast Guard to broadcast a notice to mariners that a salvage effort
will be taking place in a major shipping lane, effectively closing
off this summer to any recovery efforts.
The sinking of the
RMS Republic is shrouded in unanswered questions, such as why no
formal inquiry into the sinking was held and why the second class
deck area was methodically emptied of passengers, according to White
Star Line records. The results of Mr. Bayerle's search are massively
documented, and the well organized research makes for good reading.
Find it all at http://www.rms-republic.com/.
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The MV Times
here for a view of the Vineyard Haven Harbor