Clifford and I are making a short carhop from the crew's group house to the Burntisland docks, and we've hit a relationship shoal. My fault. By phone a few weeks ago, Clifford told me that Kiesling was shortly going to be slapped with a whopping libel suit, so I asked about it. Clearly annoyed, he says that it's best to address any further Whydah questions to "others who were there" and temporarily clangs a manhole cover on the subject.
Not that Clifford is averse to talking. He just prefers a perkier topic: his life story, the Horatio Alger saga of a self-starting youth "I was dyslexic as a kid, and I busted my ass to overcome it" who grew up hunting and fishing in the woods and marshes that surrounded his Cape Cod hometown of Brewster.
There he was infused with magical tales told by his Uncle Bill, a "dreamer" who liked to spin treasure yarns, especially ones about the Whydah. During the first few years after his graduation from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, Clifford forgot treasure fantasies as he got on with life—marrying, starting a family, divorcing, returning to Cape Cod, remarrying, and teaching high school physical education. Eventually, treasure fever started to burn, and Clifford began doing salvage work on the side while he researched the Whydah. Though the costs of his quest were high including a second divorce , he triumphed over the naysayers to make a find that, in retrospect, seemed fated.
Now hard at it in Scotland, Clifford says he's tapped a similar psychic vein: It's as if he's meant to be here. It's almost like I've come home. Shortly Clifford and I turn into the docks—a cluster of rusting structures and cracked concrete left over from Burntisland's long-gone days as a major shipyard. We crunch to a stop on a gravel lot, and Clifford jumps out and legs it down a concrete ramp to where Calypso is docked and bobbing. Himself a multifaceted enterprise, Clifford spends as much energy on side ventures as treasure hunting, sometimes with results.
Today a freelance film producer from the United States is on hand with a two-man Scottish camera crew, shooting footage that she'll use to pitch a cable-channel documentary on the Blessing search. Clifford essentially spends the day playing himself, and he's surprisingly stiff at it. Periodically, the cameramen encourage him to pep it up as he talks about blue dots and sonar.
Off camera he's the same, and you get the feeling that the real Clifford could be hard to pin down. With his flat voice and cold gaze, he has an android quality that is hard to penetrate. The closest I ever come to "knowing" him occurs after my visit, when we settle into an ongoing, usually friendly scrum about Clifford's enemies. During these debates, the Clifford that emerges is partly an entertaining phone pal, partly an insatiable attack dog.
His second-favorite target, after Kiesling, is an older foe, Ricardo J. Elia , an associate professor of archaeology at Boston University who favorably reviewed Walking the Plank in Archaeology magazine. Finally I decide that Clifford isn't the underwater Antichrist so much as a hyperactive, often slippery salesman. Clearly passionate about treasure hunting, he's equally determined that somebody else should pay for the risk.
When it serves his purpose, he's more than happy to open the hype nozzles, hitting the media with a steady gush that conveys the desired message: that the search is going well, that the treasure is the biggest and best, and that success is just around the corner. Chameleon-like, he also tailors his image to the project at hand. It was "romantic wild man" in the freebooting Whydah days. He's Barry Clifford, son of Scotland, doggedly helping his people unearth their heritage.
Problem is, these personae sound scripted, and Clifford undeniably does tell fibs. In , for example, he announced that he'd found the spot in Boston Harbor where the Boston Tea Party chests were dumped. A neat trick, because the site, Griffin's Wharf, was known to be under landfill, as Ricardo Elia pointed out at the time. Are the whoppers flying in Scotland? Well, yes, but they're mainly a salesman's jabber, stretchers that are consistent with what almost all treasure hunts are really about: selling the allure of a "treasure" that in fact may never be found.
For example, it turns out that Charles's coronation journey has been written about—at length—and many historians chuckle at the idea that this search could "rewrite" British history. According to an expert on the Firth of Forth, that happened some 40 miles away from the Blessing search site. The plane story also brings Kilgour into sharper focus. Whether he knew anything about Clifford's controversial past when he brought him aboard—oddly, Clifford says he did, Kilgour says he didn't—he's clearly comfortable with hype.
In fact, he sometimes outdoes the master. When I asked Clifford about the plane in Scotland, he smiled wryly and instantly dismissed it. It's the morning of our second day out on Calypso, and the American and Scottish crewmen are happily pitching wisecracks.
Also on board are Clifford, his longtime friend and crewmember John Beyer, and the boat's young Scottish skipper, Stewart Taylor. Away on other errands are Clifford's technical expert and his dive-safety chief. If you were on board as a potential investor—something you could arrange to do by making the right rich-guy noises to Kilgour or his American counterpart, Clay Hutchison, Clifford's year-old business manager—the crew would provide both reassurance and additional confusion. They're all nice guys, and they work hard, like Nebraska farm boys squeezed into scuba gear. On the other hand, they don't have enough to do.
And they've obviously been programmed to say nothing about certain topics. On the boat, after a prolonged futz, we chug away from Burntisland and curve left into the Firth of Forth's dark, sun-dappled chop. There's no great hurry, because strong tides allow only two dive "windows" per day, and today's are at roughly A.
With time to kill, we putt around in lazy patterns, using Calypso' s sonar to look for new targets. With a call from Clifford—"You guys getting dressed up? The water here is deep dives are from 60 to feet down , cold, and coffee brown. There's plenty to get tangled in. Aside from containing tremendous amounts of outright crap, the Firth of Forth has swallowed up an armada of ships. In his book Shipwrecks of the Forth , Scottish diving writer Bob Baird estimates that the entire estuary, a shipping lane for centuries, has claimed at least vessels since Along with groundings and wartime sinkings, one cause has been the generally lousy weather that can quickly whip up into gales.
Search work in this part of the Forth is especially tedious because the water is blackened by drifting silt. In due time, Spiegel dons his helmet and lumbers into the water to dive on another beguiling hump. Clifford tells him, "Twenty minutes, Wesley. If we rap on the hull, that means come up.
Clifford's Scottish researchers—Robert Brydon, Howard Murray, and Martin Rhydderich—say that by combing Great Britain, they've found heretofore ignored documents that convince them of the following: Charles I took his silver-plate dinnerware to Scotland, but it never came back. A new set was produced. When Oliver Cromwell cut off Charles's head after winning the Civil War, he melted down the service, which was actually the replacement set. The original lies waiting in the Firth's refrigerated mud.
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Is there anything to it? Only the Blessing partners know for sure. The project plans to publish books on its archival finds, but for now it has passed on the academic gesture of plopping its findings in refereed history journals. Until then it's anyone's guess, and opinions range from fascination to scorn. Kevin Sharpe, a history professor at England's University of Southampton and the author of a biography of Charles I, says, "If they've come up with an archival cache that I've never set eyes on, I'd be interested to see it.
I've heard stories—not from them—of this dwarfing the Mary Rose.
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The most immediate comments on the shipwreck make it sound small scale. Let me quote. Sir James Balfour of Kinnaird a contemporary : 'His majesty with no small danger recovered his own ship Mary Rose. In the end, investors have to decide whom to believe, but they'll want to think long and hard, since they assume all the risk. In exchange for your money, you're promised only that there's a very good chance you'll lose it all. Almost a half-hour after going down, Wesley comes up with nothing to show.
We chug in for lunch, and I head off to hit a few hotel pubs, searching for man-on-the-street clues to the Ronnie Morrison mystery. Inside the Bankhouse Hotel, a small establishment on Burntisland's main street , the proprietor and bartender, Graham Alexander, says that he not only knows the "whole sorry tale" behind this search, but knows Ronnie Morrison, too. Graham goes on to say that Morrison was an original partner on the project but was shoved aside to make room for Clifford.
You'll have to ask Ronnie. I dial Morrison at his diving company down the road in Inverkeithing. He's not in, so I leave a message. When I return, Graham has good news. Be here Saturday afternoon at woon o'clock. To get the Earl of Elgins! Prince Andrews! Buckingham Palace researchers! Every one of us, like Barry Clifford, myself, we've all been analyzed, and to have a member of the royal family That's Kilgour, talking about the big shots who have endorsed the Blessing search and highlighting the day in when Prince Andrew showed up in the Forth to command a minehunter, HMS Cottesmore , as it tried to "pinpoint targets.
Kilgour isn't going on like this unprompted. I've been nagging him about Morrison, and he's steering me back to the high road. In time, though, he sighs and confirms that Morrison was an original partner and briefly served as head of diving operations but was fired because he allegedly did a slipshod job. Kilgour says that Morrison had a contract to do three months of diving but worked only three days and that his equipment was subpar.
We pull into a long, winding driveway that leads to the Earl's sprawling mansion. Four of us Kilgour's assistant and my wife are along, too are escorted upstairs, past rooms the size of small-plane hangars, into a huge sitting room that contains more than a dozen large, white, chunky Greek friezes. We're under strict orders not to ask about these babies, which serve as a fine symbol of the cross-cultural, cross-class appeal of loot. Kilgour says they're the privately held remnant of the Elgin Marbles , the world-renowned collection swiped from the Acropolis by the Earl's ancestor, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin.
The bulk of the marbles are in the British Museum, and the collection is a famously touchy topic. The Greek government has been demanding the return of the friezes for decades. After introductions, we chat about the project, a pleasant exercise that reveals that the Earl, a florid, balding man in his late sixties, knows a lot about local history but little about the search.
Has he gone out on the boat with the boys? Later, Graham Alexander will come down especially hard on the Earl's expertise. He don't know nuttin' about it! On the drive back, Kilgour glows with pride—until I gratingly mention Ronnie again: "I've been asking around and people have mentioned that they think Ronnie was screwed, but they're vague on how.
He never turned up! He's upset because he's not getting articles in the paper about Ronnie Morrison. The last morning aboard Calypso is like the first two. The men do their jobs; little happens. And today we seem to lack a coherent mission. Clifford's not on board.
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Wesley Spiegel says he's off meeting Morrison. After we chug into the open water, a double rainbow appears, visibly touching down on the shoreline rocks. As Pierre Benson grunts into his tight black drysuit, Eric Scharmer jokes about "pots of gold" and turns his hat inside out to make a "rally cap.
Benson goes down for a half hour, emerges with a woman's shoe in his belt, and reports on what he saw: "Nuttin'. Rocks and a big moody trench. The next day I skip Calypso altogether and head for the Bankhouse Hotel. Morrison doesn't show. On the phone he unapologetically says he "couldn't make it" and surprisingly adds, "I have no problem with Barry Clifford anyway.
Alexander Hawke is a go-to guy for the President. Hawke is a very rich man, Chairman and CEO of a major conglomerate, who loves adventure and hates injustice. He also happens to be a very close friend of the President of the U. Additionally, he is on occasion intimately familiar with the female Secretary of State. When he was 7, he was cruising the Caribbean with his parents when they ran afoul of modern-day pirates. Hidden by his father, he watched in shock their brutal murders, trauma which affects him to date.
Rather than cripple him, however, it strengthened him and gave him a deep need to fight bad guys whenever he can. It is a bitter irony that Hawke would realize later that he was a direct descendant of a legendary English privateer who had also prowled the same waters. With the death of his father, young Alexander inherited an incredible fortune and an estate and title in England, making the boy the latest in a line of Lord Hawkes.
As he grew into manhood, Hawke chose to put aside the privileges of wealth and join the Royal Navy and during that lengthy service became very skilled in naval combat, earning numerous medals and commendations for his actions.
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Eventually the duties of his company demanded his attention and he reluctantly left the military to become head of his corporation. Hawke is assisted in his adventures by a varied and extremely interesting band of people. The action often moves to these other players but the author is very good at making sure the excitement never leaves.
I really recommend this series. In a modern world of publishing, books have to be bigger than ever, which the Hawke series definitely is, but Mr. One of the best things that the author does is to have such outstanding supporting characters who get into exciting scrapes of their own and do not need to be constantly rescued by the main hero.
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In fact, they often do the rescuing, which is a huge plus for the series. The adventures are wild but not over the top and the timing will grab you and hold you and, best of all, wanting the excitement to go on.
Well done, Mr. I hope Alexander Hawke keeps flying for years to come. My Grade: A-. Sorry but I've tried two of these and although they had elements that normally capture my imagination the totality of the effort just didn't work. Boys own stuff. My dad passed Assassin on to me. I was caught up hard within a few pages. Alex Hawke is better that Bond. I love this series. I can't read them fast enough. This is the one current series that I truly can't wait for the next installment. B, at best at this time. Too wordy, must be being paid by the word. Again it gets a bit wordy and off track with descriptions that muddle the tale.
The writing is a constant up and down between- "why is this here, too much information" to "hey, this is good stuff" very staccato in its presentation. Makes to want to skip over stuff. The most uneven of the current top thriller writers Bell is prone to some absolute drivel his England never did exist not even when P. Wodehouse was writing about it Hawke is so wonderful you half hope he'll fall on his face, and there are huge gaffs in one book he informs readers Hawke drove from Gibraltar to Cannes in two hours what at, light speed, it's close to 1, miles by land, the whole Spanish Corniche and most of the French one.
Fell look like realism. But he does manage some high nonsense of an entertaining type, and I keep coming back thinking he will get his act together.