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By James P. Delgado

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From that time forward, huge ships, small boats and men have vanished in an unending surge beneath the waves into dark watery depths that have yet to resurrect their dead. Except for divers holding their breath and diving in shallow water, shipwrecks seemed as impossible to reach and touch as a rock on the moon. Finally, less than two hundred years ago, divers in hard hats, breathing air pumped down from the surface, started working on the sea bottom and riverbeds. At long last, the sea begrudging began to give up her secrets.

One of the trapped men, Fireman 2nd Class John Vaessen, got through a battle grate just before it slammed shut, trapping his shipmate Joe Barta. As the ship capsized, Vaessen said, “Batteries began exploding. ” Taking a wrench, he beat against the hull to call for help. “I got an answer then silence, then rat-a-tat-tat. I thought that was a pneumatic tool. ” Japanese planes, firing at men in the water and across the hull of the overturned battleship, were claiming more lives. Vaessen’s rescuers did not give up and used a blowtorch to cut open the hull and pulled him out of the steel tomb.

ISABELLA: COLUMBIA RIVER, MAY 3, 1830 The Hudson’s Bay Company supply ship Isabella had survived a long and hard six-month voyage from London’s docks to the “North West Coast,” marked by rough seas, a stormy passage around Cape Horn that had damaged the ship and a mutinous carpenter whom Captain William Ryan had clapped in irons for several weeks. Scanning his chart, Ryan squinted at the coast. For over a day, they had maneuvered off Columbia’s bar, searching for the channel and a safe entrance.

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Adventures of a Sea Hunter by James P. Delgado


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