|>> home : press clippings : 1984|
Copyright © 1984 Skin Diver Magazine
Skin Diver MagazineJuly, 1984
[Added to Clippings July 23, 2005]
SECTION: Page 18 +
LENGTH: 1,862 words
HEADLINE: Adventure! Treasure! High Risk & Mystery In The Race For The REPUBLIC
BYLINE: By Ellsworth Boyd
A modern-day James Bond thriller is shaping up off the shores of Nantucket as divers clamor to retrieve the booty of the luxury liner, SS Republic, one of the most publicized treasure ships of our time. The story of the Republic has more sub-plots than a Russian novel, including spies, pirates, an imposter, missing documents and lots of money.
The protagonist of this real life drama is Marty Bayerle, of Martha’s Vineyard Scuba Headquarters, an intrepid sport diver turned treasure salvor and front runner in the race for all the marbles. The marbles in this case consist of $70 million in coins, plus inestimable riches in jewels, silverware, rare wines and cultural artifacts. Bayerle has fought long and hard, including winning a case for salvage rights in Boston’s U.S. District Court. His attorney, Dean Cycon from Dennis, Massachusetts, proved that Bayerle’s firm was first on the site and continued in good faith the survey and reconnaissance work necessary for such a massive undertaking.
Bayerle has researched the Republic since 1979, sometimes working ten hours a day. He took frequent trips to Washington, D.C. to search records in the National Archives and the U.S. Treasury Department. One of his buddies who was helping Bayerle dig into the records reported that he was followed by government Secret Service and Treasury agents. Bayerle and his pal hope they were government agents because rumors ran rampant that the mob, backed by drug money filtered through a Caribbean island, was interested in backing a Republic expedition.
Even though Bayerle has exclusive rights through Admiralty Law to dive the treasure ship, and has buoyed it with a keep off court order claim, a modern day band of pirates from Florida anchored on the wreck and put several divers down. But they were sport divers lacking sophisticated equipment and left after retrieving a few cups and saucers.
“The depth is prohibitive to sport divers,” Bayerle explains. “We’re talking about 235 to 260 feet. What’s more, we think the gold is in a section of the ship that’s buried in 20 feet of sand.” Bayerle figures it will take $3 million to penetrate that section and other compartments of the Republic. A mother ship with a 50 man crew, decompression chambers, a bell/sat team, plus back-ups in men and equipment costs $33,000 per day. “Weathered down time,” when the diving is postponed due to inclement conditions, costs $15,000 per day. The same conditions that plagued Peter Gimbel on the Andrea Doria - which lies only seven miles from the Republic - haunt Marty Bayerle. The wreck is in heavily trafficked shipping lanes, currents are strong, visibility varies, the water is cold and sharks frequent the area. Furthermore, there is no actual proof that gold is aboard the Republic. But that’s where the mystery and intrigue shroud the ship like a ghost swirling through a haunted house.
“Somebody,” Bayerle says, “has done a blatant sanitizing job of the ship’s records, which are missing from the National Archives and other government files. I reviewed a 107 page report of payroll operations of the Great White Fleet and pages 45 through 95 are missing.”
The Republic was a White Star Line steamship. She carried 440 passengers, a general cargo, relief supplies for the Messina, Italy earthquake victims abd 500 tons of military supplies for Admiral Sperry’s fleet – part of the Great White Fleet – our Atlantic battleship flotilla, off Gibraltar. A payroll and money for food stores for Perry’s [sic] men - $3 million in $10 gold eagle coins – was purported to be aboard ship. That was the gold value in 1909 when the vessel went down … the same gold today is worth $70 million. The coin value is close to half a billion dollars.
“You can get a manifest for a 1700s Spanish galleon,” Bayerle says, “but you can’t get one for the Republic.” He has been able to document only 394 tons of the 500 ton military cargo and suspects that secret documents may account for the remaining 106 tons.
It was common practice in those days for gold shipments to be recorded aboard one vessel and shipped out unrecorded on another. This thwarted robbery attempts and allowed the gold to go straight to its destination undetected. A secret gold shipment such as this was usually carried in the second class baggage room of the ship, another clandestine effort to throw off crooks. Bayerle has been able to locate a schematic of the first class baggage section, but none is available for the second class room. His research has, however, revealed that the U.S. government rented the entire second class baggage room of the Republic. Bayerle also uncovered verification that the ship had carried gold on at least two other voyages.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the ship was not listed on anti-submarine charts of World War II. Sunken vessels in the heavily trafficked North Atlantic shipping lanes were leveled by depth charges to prevent German U-boats from using them as cover. While the United States Navy was deliberately blowing up other wrecks in 1942 the Republic, an enormous underwater obstruction, was left intact.
Another fascinating angle, involves efforts of millionaire J.P. Morgan. Morgan, in an effort to monopolize shipping, was acquiring steamship companies in those days. He acquired the White Star Line, but left the name intact beneath his umbrella network called International Meredith [sic, should be Mercantile] Marine Company, the same company that owned the Titanic. The Titanic went down three years after the Republic and the company was besieged with lawsuits. The Titanic was short on lifeboats and hundreds of lives were lost as a direct result. Although only four people died as a result of the Republic disaster, Morgan apparently panicked, fearing retroactive litigation and destroyed some of the ship’s records.
There have been two other expeditions, one in 1919 and another in 1963. The first, a venture by an Illinois deepsea salvage syndicate, was unsuccessful because of the depth. The second involved an expedition called Top Cat, divers bound for the Andrea Doria who stumbled on the Republic. They drew a blank too, because as Bayerle points out, “The technology for diving and working at extreme depths has only been developed in the past 10 to 15 years.”
Modern technology might unlock the secrets of the Republic in 1984, just as it saved the lives of most of its passengers and crew in 1909. The protagonist today is diver Marty Bayerle, but back in those days it was radio operator Jack Binns who used the new Marconi wireless telegraph to summon help from other ships. It was the first time the wireless, a brand spanking new invention, had demonstrated its reliability and significance in a disaster at sea.
Less than 15 hours out of New York, the Republic, cruising gingerly through a blanket of fog, was struck broadside by the bow of the Florida, a small Italian liner that was steaming 30 miles off the prescribed course for inbound ships. The Republic’s engine rooms flooded immediately, indicating that the Florida had knifed more than halfway through the 68 foot beam of the White Star Liner. Like gladiators locked in mortal combat, the ships remained like one while both captains signaled a call to quarters and assessed the damages.
Aboard the Florida, Captain Voltolin [sic, should be Ruspini. In early reports, Capt. Voltolin was thought to have been the Florida’s Captain.] ordered his carpenters to shore the bow’s leaking bulkheads with timbers and get out quickly because he was backing off. Intuition, experience and the horrible sight of his ship almost cut in two prompted Captain Sealby of the Republic to abandon ship. Lifeboats were lowered and guarded while panic-stricken passengers, most dressed in night clothes and robes, assembled on deck. They had no time to dress or bring any possessions with them.
This was Jack Binns’ 41st trip between America and Europe. On every one of them he had practiced what he would do in case of emergency. Now his practice became a reality, but Binns had a difficult decision to make. The SOS had been adopted recently as the national radio signal indicating distress. But CQD – Come Quick, Danger [sic, CQ “all stations”, D “distress”] – was still in use particularly in the United States. Binns decided on CQD and remained at his wireless while everybody else was abandoning ship.
In a small shack on the south shore of Nantucket, a ship’s traffic controller picked up the signal and relayed it to all ships at sea. Within a few hours they had enough ships to start a navy at the collision site. The Baltic, Lucania, Gresham, La Lorrain and Senega [sic, Seneca] all responded.
The Republic’s passengers boarded the Florida while they waited for help to arrive, then all passengers were transferred to the Baltic. It took 10 hours and 83 boatloads – 1,650 people – to complete the transfer, one of the largest ever recorded at sea and the greatest open water maneuver in history. The Florida limped back to port while Coast Guard cutters tried to tow the Republic to shore. But her bulkheads caved in and the 570 foot luxury liner – the second largest of its kind to sink (the Titanic was the largest) – sank to the bottom stern first.
Bayerle has dived the Republic. He and some buddies retrieve knives, forks, spoons, a butter dish, a ceremonial sword, portholes and the ship’s nameplate. The stern of the Republic sits upright with the stack in place, perfectly straight as if the ship were still steaming toward the Mediterranean. When she sank stern first, she apparently settled and snapped in two. The remainder of the ship is resting 90 degress on her starboard side.
After the sinking of the Republic and Jack Binns’ heroic efforts in using a new fangled invention called a wireless, a New York Times reporter wrote: “In the on-going battle of the age of technology, who could doubt after this near disaster that science was triumphing over nature?” Seventy-five years later, Marty Bayerle is doing the exact same thing – using the age of technology to try and conquer nature, an almost impregnable guardian of her deep environment.
“We’ve got the technology to stay down and penetrate the Republic,” Bayerle maintains. “It’s costly and dangerous, a high risk venture, but if the risks weren’t there, the gains wouldn’t be either. Remember, this could be the largest find on record for recent times, of a shipwreck other than a Spanish galleon. It’s a mystery too, one that somebody’s got to solve. We intend to go for it!”
The Republic still leaks oil, a result of corroded bunkers that periodically pop a rusted seam, launching a spiral of emulsion topside. It’s as if she were alive and sending some sort of signal to the adventurers waiting in line to explore her. But is her signal a summons or a warning? Marty Bayerle is the frontrunner who is trying to answer that question and many others that remain in the mysterious cargo of the White Star Liner.