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Copyright © 1987 U.P.I.
United Press InternationalJuly 29, 1987, Wednesday, PM cycle
SECTION: Domestic News
LENGTH: 600 words
HEADLINE: Treasure hunters sip wine, confident of finding gold
BYLINE: By CHARLES GOLDSMITH
DATELINE: FALMOUTH, Mass.
The cocky crew chief of a treasure-hunting salvage team, cherishing champagne chilled for eight decades beneath the Atlantic, expects to zero in soon on a booty of gold coins aboard a luxury liner that sank in 1909.
A beaming Martin Bayerle, who says there may be as much as $1.6 billion in gold aboard the R.M.S. Republic, came to shore Tuesday with china, ashtrays and perfectly preserved bottles of 89-year-old champagne.
''Here's a bottle of Moet & Chandon, from 1898,'' said the T-shirt-clad Bayerle, who was ferried to a Cape Cod dock in a 38-foot power boat named Casino. ''It was actually quite good. Robust.''
Other artifacts recovered from the Republic, which sank off Nantucket Island after colliding with an Italian liner, included a fluted vase from the first-class smoking room, a creamer jar, a rusted electric light switch and a soiled black bottle of Hall's Hair Renewer.
One piece of china, dated August 1906, was inscribed with the logo of the White Star Line, which owned the Republic and the Titanic, which sank three years later. Ashtrays also had the White Star insignia.
Surrounded by television cameras and curious vacationers at the Green Pond Marina on the Cape's southern shore, the sun-drenched Bayerle said he was confident of soon finding the gold coins he has dreamed of for years.
''We've approached our target area and feel that it's here,'' he said.
The salvage leader said crewmembers were working near a floor lined with lead or zinc, and ''we'll probably know (Wednesday) whether it's what we're looking for.''
The artifacts brought to shore were trucked by a member of the salvage crew to Boston, where a special office of the London auction house Christie's was set up to evaluate the goods.
''Christie's wants to see what we have and to get a sampling of what we expect to find,'' said Bayerle, who drove to Boston for a flight to Tampa, Fla., where his salvage team has headquarters.
The mustachioed salvage leader plans a few quick hits on the television appearance circuit before rejoining the recovery operation, probably next week.
The items brought to shore were recovered by divers who remain in a compression chamber on board the salvage ship and descend to the wreck in a three-man diving bell.
Salvage team officials said Christie's representatives would probably begin preservation techniques immmediately on the items recovered from 40-degree waters 280 feet below the ocean's surface.
Bayerle said divers expect to recover up to 5,000 bottles of wine aboard the Republic, which could be worth thousands of dollars each.
Privately financed by Sub-Ocean Salvors International, the salvage operation costs $20,000 to $30,000 per day to maintain. Divers expect to remain at the wreckage site for at least two more months bringing relics to the surface.
The 46-member salvage team has been working around the clock for more than a month from the salvage ship Inspector, anchored 55 miles south of Nantucket.
Bayerle's research indicates the liner was carrying $3 million in U.S. gold eagle coins when it sank to the ocean floor after being hit by the Italian ship Florida on Jan. 23, 1909.
The coins, which Bayerle believes were being sent by France to prop up the ailing Czarist Russian government, would be worth $400 million to $1.6 billion today, he estimated.
Two people died on the Republic, which had set sail 14 hours earlier from New York with such wealthy passengers as Pittsburgh financier James Mellon. Four died on the Florida, which was carrying immigrants from Italy to New York. More than 2,000 were saved.