East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Hunting sunken treasures


The first comment I got when I shouted “Wow! This is just great!” was along the lines of “Sounds like the sort of junk Clive Cussler writes.”
Talk about feeling alienated.
But let’s proceed with order.

1111bigOne of the few perks of living smack in the middle of Southern Piedmont is, in two hours I can be on the Cote d’Azure.
The sun, the sea, acres and acres of nubile, scantly clad young women stretching on the beaches…
And I normally end up in some antiquarian bookstore.
They even publish (or used to) a map of antiquarian bookshops in the Nice area.

So a few years back I was browsing the stalls of one such small Alladin caves of librarian wonder, and I caught me the three volumes of the Born Free series, first edition, and to round up the bill, I threw in a weird little book called Treasure Diving Holidays, by Jane and Barney Crile.
The book – a 1954 first edition – once bought and brought home, was placed on a high shelf together with other sea-oriented books, and soon forgotten.
Which is all right – I’m quite convinced books should be read at the right moment, so sometimes forgetting them on a high shelf is just what’s needed.
Then, when the time comes… I need some color and information for some seafaring stories I’m planning, and I go and rediscover this hidden gem.

What’s it all about?
The Criles, a middle-class family from the United States, started dabbling in “skin diving” in the late ’40s, when Barney Crile (a surgeon) started designing his own diving equipment – with somewhat mixed results.
In the early ’50s, Barney and Jane decided that spending long stretches of time at sea, teaching their four children about life in the oceans and the pleasures of discovery, would be a good idea, and a good way to raise the young ones to be independent and free.
Sure as hell it worked.
Not only the Criles developed their own style – and technology – for ocean exploration, but soon chanced upon another facet of underwater adventure: treasure hunting.
They found the remains of H.M.S. Loo, lost at sea in 1744.
And so they started actively looking for more.
So they wrote the book, which is a highly representative piece of those sea-obsessed years (in the same years, Jacques Cousteau was doing his researches and experiments in the Mediterranean, Folco Quilici was filming his ground-breaking documentaries, Thor Heyerdahl was sailing theseas on strange vessels…)
And the book is interesting, refreshing in its plain style and its enthusiasm, filled with great photos and a variety of anecdotes and details.
A thing of beauty.

The book also reminded me, for tone and style, the old National Geographics my father collected in the ’50s and ’60s – there is this passion for adventure, this “can do” attitude, which seems to have vanished, and is regarded as somewhat silly by a large part of the current public.
See the Cussler snark mentioned at the top*.
Too many package vacations have blunted the very human passion for this sort of non conformist approach to travel, probably.
Back then, they compared pictures of strange faunas.
Today we compare menus of ethnic restaurants.

But some of us still feel a strange yearning, and cherish this kind of thing.


* Incidentally, I have nothing against Mr Cussler’s books, to me essential beach reading in the ’80s. Fine romps, and entertaining.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Hunting sunken treasures

  1. Interesting! I love discovering old books like these off some dusty shelf. Anything to do with sailing or the sea especially. Found the book “The Cruise of the Cormorant” cc 1915 that way, about a boy going off the sail on the “Spanish Main”. The writing is old style, but that just adds to the charm.


    • I love old books about the sea, too.
      Old books have character – they have personality.
      Something a new book will only acquires through time and multiple readings.
      And sometimes, picking an old book from a shelf somewhere, feels like rescuing a castaway.


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