Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea

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"White knuckle reading...with generous portions of adventure, intrigue, heroism, and high technology interwoven."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review

This enthralling true story of maritime tragedy and visionary science begins with a disaster to rival the sinking of the Titanic.

In September 1857, the S.S. Central America, a side-wheel steamer carrying passengers returning from the gold fields of California, went down during a hurricane off the ...

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"White knuckle reading...with generous portions of adventure, intrigue, heroism, and high technology interwoven."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review

This enthralling true story of maritime tragedy and visionary science begins with a disaster to rival the sinking of the Titanic.

In September 1857, the S.S. Central America, a side-wheel steamer carrying passengers returning from the gold fields of California, went down during a hurricane off the Carolina coast. More than 400 men--and 21 tons of gold--were lost. In the 1980s, a maverick engineer named Tommy Thompson set out to find the wreck and salvage its treasure from the ocean floor.

With knuckle-biting suspense, Gary Kinder reconstructs the terror of the Central America's last days, when passengers bailed freezing water from the hold, then chopped the ship's timbers to use as impromptu liferafts. He goes on to chronicle Thompson's epic quest for the lost vessel, an endeavor that drew on the latest strides in oceanography, information theory, and underwater robotics, and that pitted Thompson against hair-raising weather, bloodthirsty sharks, and unscrupulous rivals.

Ship of Gold is a magnificent adventure, filled with heroism, ingenuity, and perseverance.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
June 1998

"The bailing was continued vigorously all night, my own dear husband taking his turn and when exhausted returning to my side; and when a little rested again resuming his place.... All that fearful night we watched and prayed, not knowing but that every hour might be the last.... We resolved that when the moment came we would tie ourselves together and the same wave would engulf us both." — From the journal of Adeline Mills Easton, survivor of the Central America

In 1857, the SS Central America, a side-wheel steamer laden with 21 tons of gold from the California Gold Rush and carrying 600 passengers and crew, sank 200 miles off the Carolina coast. It was the worst peacetime disaster at sea in American history, and a wreck that remained lost for more than a century.

In the early 1980s, a young engineer from Ohio was determined to do what no one — including the U.S. Navy — had been able to do: establish a working presence on the deep-ocean floor and open it to science, archaeology, history, medicine, and recovery. As bestselling author Gary Kinder explains in the book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, the sinking and recovery of the Central America has advanced science, marine technology, maritime law, and our understanding of history. After years of intensive efforts, Tommy Thompson and the Columbus-American Discovery Group invented a deep-sea research robot, found the Central America in 8,000 feet of water, and, in October 1989, sailed into Norfolk with her recovered treasure: gold coins, bars,andnuggets, plus steamer trunks filled with period clothes, newspapers, books, journals, and even an intact cigar, which had been underwater for 130 years. Life magazine called this discovery "the greatest treasure ever found."

A human drama on two levels, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea alternates between the tale of Thompson's decade-long pursuit of the wreck and a powerful re-creation of the ship's downfall, based on survivors' accounts. Kinder chronicles the events of September 1857, during which the passengers and the cargo of the Sonora were transferred to the Atlantic steamer Central America for the nine-day final leg of the trip, from Panama to New York. It was during this voyage that the Central America met a hurricane described by the Charleston Daily Courier as a storm of "almost unprecedented fury and violence." The ship battled strong winds and 35-foot seas, which eventually leaked into the steam engines. As the 60 women and children onboard huddled in fear, 500 men bailed water. Eventually the women and children were led into lifeboats manned by crewmen and were saved by a crippled bark. But at nightfall, with Captain Herndon standing on the bridge, the Central America sank, taking 300 men with it.

Interwoven with this story is Kinder's account of the efforts of Tommy Thompson to make the deep ocean accessible to scientists. In 1973 the dean of the School of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State, asked his students a simple question: How are we going to work in the deep ocean? For the next ten years, Thompson pondered his mentor's question. In the early 1980s, while working as an engineer, Thompson began to research historic ships lost at sea, eventually focusing on the Central America. With help from his two friends, geologist Bob Evans and journalist Barry Schatz, Thompson had financial backing for his project by the summer of 1985. He led a group of engineers in creating a robot — the first of its kind — that could perform intricate tasks under thousands of feet of deep water, and in 1986 Thompson and his team set off to sea to find the Central America with sonar. Delays came about when competitors who had mounted their own expeditions to find the Central America appeared at the wreck site and tried to force Thompson off. It wasn't until 1988 that Thompson and his group first saw what few people could imagine: "The bottom was carpeted with gold. Gold everywhere, like a garden. The more you looked, the more you saw gold growing out of everywhere."

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea is a testament to the human will to triumph over adversity. Since the implementation of this underwater project, and the technology that evolved from it, scientists have observed, among other discoveries, 13 previously unknown life-forms, some of which may prove beneficial to mankind.

Dallas Morning News
Page-turning reportage. . .Vivid and immediate.
Detroit Free Press
An entertaining story of the sea and those who try to master it.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
There cannot be a doubt about the fact that the name of Captain Herndon will ever be held in grateful remembrance among all the heroes who have achieved triumphs upon the sea (1857).
Jonathan Miles
The pleasures of this big book are bittersweet. Great books seduce: They allure, bewitch, provoke and, with a smooth coup de grâce, deliver on their promise. Gary Kinder, a Seattle writer of two previous works of journalism, certainly delivers here -- having lucked into a story this compelling, it would have taken an act of malicious incompetence to have done otherwise. But his seduction is so flat-footed and drab -- Kinder writes like a bricklayer, one brick after the other, slow and methodical -- that this particular seductee nearly screamed aloud for him to get on with it. But despite Kinder's detail-obsessed long-windedness, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea nudged more than one evening's reading into the dark morning hours. Whatever flaws Kinder has as a storyteller are more than offset by the sheer might of his tale.

Which, more or less, is this: In September 1857, a side-wheel steamer christened the S.S. Central America, en route from Panama to New York City and laden with California miners and their gold, as well as a 30,000-pound government gold shipment destined to shore up the floundering northern industrial economy, sank in a storm 200 miles off the Carolina coast. It was a nautical nightmare, the Titanic of its age. More than 450 people sank with the ship, which came to a dismal rest a mile and a half down on the ocean floor. But this is merely half of Kinder's tale, interwoven throughout the book. The remaining half occurs 132 years later, in 1989, when a brilliant, iconoclastic engineer named Tommy Thompson led an expedition to salvage what amounted to more than $1 billion worth of gold coins and bullion from the wreckage, in the process all but reinventing deep-sea technology.

It was an accomplishment that inspired a federal appeals court to gush: "Their story is a paradigm of American initiative, ingenuity, and determination." Kinder puts it this way: "Tommy Thompson and about a dozen colleagues committed to developing a working presence on the bottom of the deep ocean. No one had done it; no one knowledgeable thought it could be done without the full force of the United States government and unlimited resources. Even then, some were skeptical, because the government had already spent hundreds of millions trying." With $12 million in private investments and a three-year time frame, Thompson and his group proved nearly everyone wrong -- and yanked up a tremendous amount of gold.

It is by all means a remarkable story, an action-packed maritime tale that might easily have caught the eye of a latter-day Melville. It would be egregiously unfair, of course, to suggest that Kinder aspire to such lofty heights, but not so unfair to wish that his Micheneresque exhaustiveness had been curbed just a smidgen. It's an extraordinary story of scientific adventure, one that might have been, were it a little more taut, an extraordinary narrative as well. -- Salon

New York Times
A 24-carat sea classic. . . .Spellbinding.
Enough to satisfy fans looking for this summer's Into Thin Air and A Perfect Storm.
Ocean Navigator
Kinder's book is an incredible minute-by-minute account of the ill-fated steamship, [the] Central America....Ship of Gold is a fresh adventure story and exciting history.
People Magazine
Titanic tragedy meets Tom Clancy technology. Kinder has lashed together a thumping good narrative.
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea is non-fiction treasure....The book takes hold of you from page one and never lets go....History and heroics, science and suspense -- Ship of Gold has that blockbuster feel.
Time Magazine
The summer's best adventure story.
Library Journal
On September 12, 1857, the steamship Central America sank in a great storm off the coast of South Carolina and settled a mile and a half beneath the waves. Most of the 423 souls on board perished. Lost, too, was $2,189,000 (now worth $1 billion) in California gold. The Central America worked the Panama-New York route, bringing gold seekers to Panama and returning ex-miners and their gold to New York. In 1989, a group of investors and treasure salvagers equipped with the latest underwater equipment was able to bring back much of the cargo, including the largest treasure ever recorded. The discovery of this vessel and its riches led to protracted litigation between various claimants, and the case is still in the courts. Kinder (Light Years, 1987) has followed the story from its beginning. -- Stanley Itkin, Hillside Public Library, New Hyde Park, NY
Library Journal
On September 12, 1857, the steamship Central America sank in a great storm off the coast of South Carolina and settled a mile and a half beneath the waves. Most of the 423 souls on board perished. Lost, too, was $2,189,000 (now worth $1 billion) in California gold. The Central America worked the Panama-New York route, bringing gold seekers to Panama and returning ex-miners and their gold to New York. In 1989, a group of investors and treasure salvagers equipped with the latest underwater equipment was able to bring back much of the cargo, including the largest treasure ever recorded. The discovery of this vessel and its riches led to protracted litigation between various claimants, and the case is still in the courts. Kinder (Light Years, 1987) has followed the story from its beginning. -- Stanley Itkin, Hillside Public Library, New Hyde Park, NY
School Library Journal
YA-There's a lot of deep blue sea out there and the Titanic isn't the only ship it has claimed. In 1857, the SS Central America, carrying over 400 people and 21 tons of gold from the California gold fields to New York, foundered and sank during a hurricane 200 miles off the coast of North Carolina. There it lay for 132 years until Tommy Thompson, an ever-questioning, enterprising young engineer from Columbus, OH, thought to find it and salvage its cargo. This account of Thompson's indefatigable quest describes how he put together a research team, got funding to establish a company, and ultimately came up with the technology to conquer depths never before explored. An engrossing story.-Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Entertainment Weekly
A riveting tale. . .a soul-stirring account.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
There cannot be a doubt about the fact that the name of Captain Herndon will ever be held in grateful remembrance among all the heroes who have achieved triumphs upon the sea (1857).
LA Times Book Review
White-knuckle reading...with generous portions of adventure, intrigue, heroism, and high technology interwoven.
Orlando Sentinel
Kinder is a great storyteller....Ship of Gold is a rich and satisfying book that will be passed from friend to friend.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A tale pressing forward at flank speed, exhilarating the reader.
The Washington Post
Thompson and company. . .set out to do what never had been one before. . .not only to find the Central America but to excavate it with archaeological precision on the deep ocean floor using only undersea robotics. Nemo, their 12,000-pound remotely operated exploration vehicle, has the capability of recovering items as large as a 1,000-pound anchor or as small as a dime. -- From 'Storybook Treasure Found off South Carolina,' September 14, 1989
Kirkus Reviews
The truly fascinating tale of the first successful deep-water ocean salvage operation is a tribute to good, old-fashioned American ingenuity and grit, with a big dose of Titanic-like adventure to boot. In 1857, the SS Central America sank in 9,000 feet of water off the Carolina coast. Lost were nearly 500 California miners and their gold. It was the biggest maritime disaster in US history at that time, and the huge gold loss contributed to the financial panic of 1857. Because ocean explorers lacked the technology to work in blue water, the wreck lay undisturbed for 130 years. Then came Tommy "Harvey" Thompson, an innovative engineer and maverick thinker from Columbus, Ohio. Using sophisticated search theory and historical research to locate the wreck, Thompson and his talented helpers then designed and built a pathbreaking recovery robot (something the US government had failed to do, despite a huge expenditure of research dollars) in only months, using off-the-shelf components, on a shoestring budget, and in top secrecy.

Kinder (Light Years: An Investigation into the Extraterrestrial Experiences of Eduard Meier, 1987) alternates between Thompson's decade-long quest to gather the necessary investors and technicians and a gripping re-creation of the doomed ship's voyage based on survivors' accounts. (Unlike the Titanic, the Central America tragedy occasioned great heroism; male passengers bailed relentlessly for hours and other ship crews risked their lives to evacuate women and children.) The driven genius Thompson and his crew brought a scientific approach to ocean salvage sorely missing in the operations of the typical hit-and-run treasurehunters who plunder shallow water wrecks. Greater than average scientific, financial, and archaeological dividends are their rewards. Kinder's well-told tale of the Central America recovery (which represents nothing less than the opening of a new frontier in the deep ocean) is one of the great scientific adventure stories of our times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871134646
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/21/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.37 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Kinder is the author of the best-selling books Victim and Light Years. He began researching this story in 1987 and was aboard the Arctic Discoverer in 1989, when Thompson announced his find to the public. Gary Kinder lives in Seattle with his wife and two daughters. He teaches advanced writing seminars to lawyers across the country.
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Read an Excerpt

Outside Battelle, Tommy was now amassing voluminous notes on underwater technology, beginning to formulate relationships with suppliers, and corresponding with historical archives at several libraries on the East Coast. For years he had collected information on deep-water, historic shipwrecks, and the list had grown to forty. He and Bob met more frequently, together refining what they called the Historic Shipwreck Selection Process and narrowing the targets to a project Tommy could present to investors. "We developed the language as we went along," said Bob, "the selection criteria for projects in general, and then we analyzed the risks involved with each ship."

They divided risk into intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic risks were those inherent to the site: probability of previous recovery, accuracy of historical documentation, and the environment around the site. All deep-water shipwrecks scored high in the first category; most of them scored high in the second category; few of them did well in the third. Shipwrecks with a high total score then advanced to form a universe of "Feasibly Recoverable Shipwrecks with Low Intrinsic Risk."

Next, they assessed the extrinsic risks, those that had to do with recovery: Favorable Operational Factors, Positive Site Security, Legal Rights Obtainable. Is the technology available to access that site, can we guarantee site security in that area of the world, and do we have legal protection?

Once they had eliminated all ships but those with low intrinsic and low extrinsic risks, each ship had to pass a final test: Was there anything on board worth recovering?

The Titanic was a hunk of steel seven hundred feet long that would burn a hole through a sonar chart; even if it rested in mountainous territory, they could probably find it, and the abundant historical documentation would help them narrow the search area. But the Titanic presented two insurmountable risks: Her steel hull would be impossible to penetrate even with the technology Tommy saw on the horizon. And if they could get inside, she carried nothing worth recovering; some loose jewelry perhaps, rings and bracelets and necklaces scattered in various small cubicles, but no treasure centrally stored, nothing they could use to make the payoff attractive to investors.

"In terms of financial risk," said Bob, "the Titanic was not a good project."

Other deep-water ships presented similar problems. Myths had arisen around some of them that tons of gold lay stored in secure compartments. But no historical data supported the myths. In 1909, the British White Star luxury liner Republic had gone down fifty miles off Nantucket, and for decades, rumors had circulated that it had taken millions in gold coins with it. But no official records existed. "Sure, there were a lot of rich people on board," said Bob,"but how much was in the purser's safe? Nobody knows."

The Andrea Doria, an Italian liner hailed by her owners as the "Grande Dame of the Sea," collided with another ship in dense fog in 1956 and also went down just off Nantucket. She was a glistening seven-hundred-foot floating museum of murals, rare wood panels, and ceramics designed by Italian artists, and her passengers also were wealthy, but once again myth about the treasure on board sprouted from rumor with no documentation.

Tommy and Bob were convinced that the San José had carried more than a billion dollars in treasure to the bottom when British warships landed a cannonball in her munitions cache and sank her in 1708. But the San José was off the coast of Colombia in murky, turbulent waters.

After many deep-water shipwrecks were run through the selection process, the sidewheel steamer SS Central America rose to the top in every category. It had sunk in an era of accurate record keeping and reliable navigation instruments. Dozens of witnesses had testified to the sinking, and five ship captains had given coordinates that placed the ship in an area where sediment collected no faster than a centimeter every thousand years. The extrinsic risks looked as favorable: She had a wooden hull, which would be easier to get into, and massive iron works in her steam engines and boilers that would provide a good target for sonar, even if much of the iron had corroded and disappeared. And it was off the coast of the United States, so they wouldn't have to negotiate with a foreign government and they could more easily provide site security.

One other thing appealed to Tommy and Bob: the ship was American and its treasure symbolized one of the most defining periods in American history, that narrow window running from the California Gold Rush through the Civil War. If they could find it, they would open a time capsule representing an entire nation during a crucial period in its formation.

"The Central America," said Bob, "scored much, much higher than any other project when subjected to this selection process."

And her gold shipment was documented: With gold valued at $20 an ounce in 1857, the publicly reported commercial shipment totaled between $1.210 and $1.6 million. Although many of the Central America's records, including her cargo manifest, had been destroyed in the Great San Francisco Fire of 1906, some accounts estimated that the gold carried by the passengers at least equaled the commercial shipment. And the Department of the Army recently had confirmed a story approaching myth that had circulated for years: that the Central America carried an official secret shipment of gold destined to shore up the faltering northern industrial economy. The letter, dated April 2, 1971, acknowledged that the information about the shipment had been declassified, and it verified that secreted in her hold the Central America had also carried six hundred fifty-pound bar boxes, or another thirty thousand pounds of gold.

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Table of Contents

Ship of Gold........................................................17
The Deep Blue Sea..................................................241
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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, June 5, welcomed Gary Kinder, author of SHIP OF GOLD IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA.

Moderator: Good evening, and welcome to the live Auditorium. Author Gary Kinder joins us to chat about the extraordinary account of the sinking of the U.S.S. Central America, and the ultimate discovery of its sunken treasure, in his latest book, SHIP OF GOLD IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA. Mr. Kinder joins us via telephone this evening. Good evening, Mr. Kinder! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you tonight?

Gary Kinder: Doing just great.

Cheryl from Illinois: Where and when did the ship sink?

Gary Kinder: The SS Central America sank in 1857 off the Carolina coast.

Elise from Brooklyn, NY: What type of research did you do to get the information of what happened prior to the USS Central America's sinking?

Gary Kinder: There were a lot of survivors of the tragedy, and when they got to shore they told their stories, which were in newspapers for weeks, so we went through all the newspaper accounts and discovered journals that currently belonged to families that had been passed down in the families, written by passengers.

Paul from Are you still in touch with Tommy Thompson? What is he doing these days?

Gary Kinder: Yes, I am still in touch with Tommy; he just called me last week, although I was out of town. I am not sure what exactly he is doing these days. I only know a little bit about it, and what I do know I can't talk about. Stay tuned, you will be hearing a lot more about Tommy Thompson, who is continuing to work in the deep ocean.

Hank from What was your favorite part to write of SHIP OF GOLD? I have recently started it and am amazed at how elaborately detailed so many aspects of this story are.

Gary Kinder: As always, it is talking to the people. I had a few favorite parts. I really liked hanging out with Tommy, Bob Evans, and Barry Shot. They are funny, creative, imaginative, and really bright people. I also think it is interesting being on the ship while they were working on the bottom. It is a very, very arduous life out there. I was only out there for short periods of time, but it was a fascinating experience.

Dave Anderson from NYC: What is Tommy Thompson like?

Gary Kinder: Tommy Thompson is unique, you don't know anybody like Tommy Thompson; as my editor once said, he has an elegant mind. He is frustrating, he is a very demanding person, he pushes people way beyond what they think they are capable of, but he is also brilliant and by pushing people the way he does, he gets them into areas they never thought of going to. He also is very funny and interested in everything you could imagine. As I mention in the book, he hardly ever sleeps and has tremendous amounts of energy. I think that in the future, you will read about him in the same paragraph with Bell, Edison, Ford, Gates, etc.

Chad from New Jersey: Why do you think Thompson was able to accomplish what the Navy's engineers couldn't?

Gary Kinder: Tommy went back to the fork in the road and looked at the landscape and reexamined the path that led to conventional wisdom and figured that everybody had gone off in the wrong direction. He simply rethought the entire approach conceptually to working the deep ocean. And he had people in the Navy who were deep ocean experts -- who had been involved in many deep-water recoveries -- who told him he could not do what he was about to do. If you notice pictures of the vehicle, Nemo, you will see the front of this 12,000-pound robot, with all the sexy instruments, cameras, manipulators, thrusters, etc., but you never see the back end -- that is where all the conceptual thinking went. And one more thing about Tommy is that he looks at each step, isolates each step, and analyzes it and looks at it from all different angles and asks why can't we do this little part and figures out that you probably can figure out this little part. He then goes to the next one and does the same thing. It is just his methodical, creative approach.

Timothy from Cleveland, OH: I saw the "Dateline" piece the other night, and I am very interested in this story...this is one of the few times that I was happy to hear that somebody got superrich. Do you think that it is a pretty common sentiment to have people happy for Thompson's tremendous fortune?

Gary Kinder: Yes, it was the old David versus Goliath. In Newsweek's review, the last line was, "Who would have thought you could have so much fun reading about other people getting rich." You realize, too, that these guys didn't win the lottery. They didn't get lucky. He had many 20-hour days, many setbacks, and people telling him he couldn't do it. And he perceived and ultimately prevailed. I think it is very common for people to root for him.

Jennifer Sternberg from Oak Park, IL: From what I have read about your book, it seems like it is not just an account of what happened, but also quite a dramatic read. What sort of book is it, in your own words? What was it like to write about the lives of the passengers? How did you learn about these details?

Gary Kinder: SHIP OF GOLD is as near as can be documented of what happened; nothing is made up. All this is based on the interviews that were given by the survivors and some collateral research about the times and steamships back then. It was interesting reading about these people. I think what really moved me about the historical aspect was the heroism displayed by those 500 men. Only about 30 of them had family onboard, and yet they bailed without food and sleep for 30 hours, nonstop, to try to save the ship long enough to get the women and children off. And the heroism of the captain...he is someone I would love to have dinner with. There is a wonderful love story, that is true, between Ansell and Addie Easton. I got a phone call this morning from a great-great-grandson of the Eastons, and he was literally in tears. It was interesting and gratifying to make that contact.

Dorsey from Lebanon, NH: Does your book cover the lawsuit brought up by the various insurance companies that had to cough up money for the insured gold? Was that a huge trial for its day?

Gary Kinder: The lawsuit was resolved at the end of '96. I do not go into much detail about the trial. It is actually included in the epilogue, where I explain what the lawsuits were about, the different courts that heard the lawsuits, and the ultimate decision.

Joe from Westchester, NY: Have you read THE PERFECT STORM? What are a couple of books that you have recently read and would recommend?

Gary Kinder: I have read about half of THE PERFECT STORM. I think that Junger did a wonderful job making a story out of that. Currently I am enthralled with COLD MOUNTAIN. It deserves everything that it has gotten.

Kingsley Keaton from Bradenton, IL: What sort of hurricane was it, on a modern scale? Was it as big as, say, Hurricane Andrew, which hit South Florida a few years ago?

Gary Kinder: I don't know...we can only guess -- once we get to a certain point we don't know. I actually downplayed that point, I described 75- to 80-knot winds and 35-foot waves. They could have been 60-70 feet and wind at 130-140 knots, but I wanted to stay within reasonable parameters. We do know that a lot of seamen who were caught in the storm described it as one of the worst they had ever seen.

Kristie Johnson from Greenwich, CT: Did you know that "Titanic" would create such a rush of enthusiasm for books like yours when you wrote it? Also, from what you know about the sinking, what did you think of the film?

Gary Kinder: I will spend the rest of my life explaining to people why the timing of the publication had nothing to do with the movie "Titanic." I began researching SHIP OF GOLD in 1987, long before there was any attempt at a modern film on the Titanic. We tried to get the book published for three or four years and for various reasons, which included Tommy's willingness to divulge additional secrets about his technology and his capability and the lawsuits surrounding the story, we couldn't publish it until this spring. SHIP OF GOLD was actually cataloged by my publisher four times. For the movieI loved it and thought it was wonderful and was completely engrossed in it for 3-1/4 hours. And yet to get that movie made, James Cameron had to have a lot of the same belief in himself and the same steely resolve to see it through that Tommy Thompson had to accomplish what he did in the deep ocean.

Ryan from XXx: Have you ever personally been to the bottom of the ocean? What is that like?

Gary Kinder: No. Nobody in Tommy Thompson's group has been to the bottom of the ocean. I have scuba [dived] down fairly deep. Tommy Thompson's very first decision was no man submersibles.

Bob Weller from Concord, CA: What were you more personally interested in the story of the ship or the story behind the discovery of the gold?

Gary Kinder: Probably the story behind the discovery because I am fascinated by people who spend their lives doing what other people say they can't do. People who look at insurmountable odds and find ways to surmount them. I also was very touched by the Eastons and the captain of the SS Central America.

Gerard Finkell from Key West, FL: Did you visit the site where the ship sank? Could you describe it to us?

Gary Kinder: It is at 8,000 feet. I have visited above the site and was aboard the Arctic Discover twice. It is 160-170 miles out. Again, nobody goes down on the ship, in fact they just drop the rope out and 1 to 1-1/2 hours later it hits the bottom. All the people sit in an air-conditioned control room and sip on their hot coffee while doing the work, and I did exactly that except I don't drink coffee.

Frank from Greensboro, NC: What do you think of the sea as the Earth's final frontier? How has new technology changed the exploration of the ocean?

Gary Kinder: It is a new frontier; we are still exploring space as well, but the ocean is so inhospitable that we know so little about it. Everybody knows that water covers about two thirds of the earth's surface, but what we haven't stopped to contemplate is that life on land exists in a space of about 300 vertical feet; the ocean is 10,000 feet deep, and we are slowly discovering that the entire volume is filled with life, which means that probably, instead of two thirds of the Earth's surface, 97-99 percent of the volume of the living habitat on Earth is in the ocean. I have to give credit to a New York Times science writer, William Broad, who made this statement. We can do a lot of things on the bottom of the ocean, we can film, take photos, recover crude oil, but Tommy Thompson wanted to establish what he called a "working presence" on the bottom of the deep ocean. He wanted to stay down there, [with] tools to do anything that we could do on land. He wanted these tools to be interchangeable at will while remaining at the bottom. He wanted to be able to perform delicate, intricate, and heavy work. And these were the things that nobody else had been able to do. At the Central America site alone, scientists have already ID'ed 13 new life-forms. And Tommy's technology has allowed archaeologists to open a time capsule that was sealed on September 12th of 1857. There will be many more advancements. I believe from what little I know that that is the wave of the future. No pun intended...

Mitch from Marlboro, MA: What would you consider the most surprising thing you discovered while writing this book?

Gary Kinder: One of the most surprising things, which really isn't that much of a surprise, is how dark it is down there. Below about 500-600 feet, the ocean becomes pure black. That is why all of these pictures you see of the Titanic are artists' renderings. Because the lighting can only illuminate about 30 feet into the darkness. Every time I picture the Central America, I picture it moldering on the bottom, as though I can see it, but in reality it is moldering in complete darkness unseen.

Sid from Baton Rouge, LA: What are you working on now? Can we expect anything new from you in the near future?

Gary Kinder: I am taking a break from writing for a while. I am just now starting the tour. I have a lot of slides -- gold on the bottom of the ocean, the vehicle, crew members, the recovery ship, etc. I will be doing that the next couple of months, and around the country I teach an advanced writing seminar to lawyers, and my next book will probably be about that, but other than that I have no nonfiction projects on the drawing board.

Martin from Springfield, VA: Will you be going on a tour for this book? Any chance you will be speaking in the D.C. area?

Gary Kinder: On the East Coast I will be in Charleston on Friday, June 26th, Saturday I will be in Savannah, Monday the 29th I will be in Philadelphia, and Tuesday the 30th I will in Washington, D.C., at Olssons at 1200 F Street at 7pm ET. Annapolis on Wednesday, July 1st, and I will be at the B&N on Solomons Island Road. Then I will be in Norfolk on Thursday, July 2nd, and I will be at a B&N at 7 30 that eveing in Newport News.

Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Gary Kinder. It has truly been a pleasure. Congratulations on the book! Before you go, any last words for your readers?

Gary Kinder: Once again, I have this fascination with people who strive to achieve the impossible, and I hope it spurs others, especially young people, to stretch.

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Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001

    Gold, Double-Eagle Excitement!

    I've read and re-read this awesome book. If ever there were a true story of deep interest to all numismatic collectors and treasure-hunters, this is it. It's beautifully narrated -- it's no cliche that you can't put it down -- it's a fact! The preceding review by Barnes & Noble about says it all; however, it's extremely difficult to describe the true excitement that this book generates! I give this book an unadulterated FIVE STARS. --

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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