Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ExcerpTuesday: Robert Walker

Today I welcome author Robert Walker to share a part of his new book, The Pier. Welcome Robert.
The Pier at Woods Hole Institute, Massachusetts, April 11, 2012

The screeching pelicans and seagulls overhead seemed quite out of their minds with the unusually early morning activity surrounding the bizarre-looking research vessel in its slip at the harbor. Human activity. Human excitement. It must mean food scraps for them. What else might it portend, wondered David Robert Ingles, feeling a bit like Ishmael of Moby Dick fame, readying for the voyage with the mad Ahab—in this case Captain and Doctor of Oceanography, Juris Forbes, a man obsessed with Titanic, but then who wasn’t?

The research vessel, Scorpio IV—four times the size of anything else docked here in Woods Hole—was jam packed with superstructure that supported two enormous cranes, affording sea birds all manner of handy perches; in fact, the birds patiently awaited any opportunity for scraps and fish heads to eat. However, the primary purpose of the two super cranes was hardly for the birds, but rather for lifting tons of weight from the depths of the ocean and positioning heavy objects weighing tons onto Scorpio’s deck. In a matter of weeks, the computer operated, hydraulic cranes would be hauling up treasures plucked from the mysterious interiors of the one-hundred-year-old shipwreck named Titanic. The treasures would be placed in sealed vaults to protect them from the change in pressure from the deep to the surface.

It was now April 2012—precisely one hundred years—the Centenary of Titanic’s launching and her demise when she struck an iceberg at 22 knots.

David Ingles took notice of the birds—thankful the seagulls weren’t a flock of albatrosses. He gave a flash thought to his reading of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, imagining he would undoubtedly run into an ancient sailor on board Scorpio this trip—old timers with short fuses and little patience for the young and foolish who got men killed at sea as quickly as scratching an itch. If the old timers aboard Scorpio knew his history, or his latest failed mission, they’d surely be wary of him the entire way out and back.

Ingles came aboard without fanfare and no one to greet him. Everyone on the pier and on board busily work at their jobs. It was obvious orders were to ship out within the hour.

At the center of Scorpio, Ingles found the ‘oil well’ over which the largest derrick supported a myriad of equipment strung with cable as thick as hemp on a Cutty Schooner. But this ship was far from a schooner, and while faster, hardly as romantic or beautiful. Essentially a high-tech outfitted drill ship, Scorpio’s primary drilling derrick stood amidships. But rather than use a traditional drill pipe, Scorpio’s gleaming derricks supported her enormous cables—hundred pound Cryo-Cable to be exact. Her cable could withstand the most frigid conditions on Earth—or rather below the seas—including the bottom of the North Atlantic exactly two and a half miles below the surface.

Ingles, carrying his gear, now ran a strong hand along the huge steel derrick. With her electronically controlled pulleys, Scorpio could hoist anything imaginable, even a Titanic-sized bulkhead if need be. If the Titanic were in one piece and not the ripped apart, pancaked-in-on-itself ship that it’d become, David had no doubt that the mighty little Scorpio could “Raise the Titanic.” She was that strong.

However, their mission was not to raise Titanic so much as to raid and plunder her. Some news accounts used the term ‘rape’ her, but Ingles didn’t see it that way. Not in the least. It was well documented in the literature that Titanic took down many treasures with her—far more than dishware—and the belief held that even the sealed hold that carried a treasure-trove of vintage automobiles would be perfectly preserved at the depths where Titanic resided. Even a sandwich at such depths would be perfectly preserved and edible unless found in a Stover’s lunchbox—which would be permeated then with corrosive salts and more toxic than sea water. So what of the stash of mailbags crossing the Atlantic in 1912? They resided in a sealed section of the ship. A wealth of letters, documents, and bank notes alone. So what of all the jewelry stowed in the safes aboard yet to be discovered? Not to mention brass and gold fixtures and shipboard items within the ship? The treasures that had survived all these years—museum pieces for world showcases, and each item itself worth a fortune!

It was just a matter of using modern means to salvage the treasures awaiting them from what remained inside the various safes aboard, the staterooms, the varied first, second, and third-class dishes and silverware, the mailbags, the secret cargo in the holds—like the rumored crates of Vickers automatic machine guns destined for the US Army, and a stash of now quite antique automobiles. Not to mention an Egyptian mummy on its way to New York.

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