SHIPWRECK DIVING  Artifact Location
The complete Diver's guide to the skills, and techniques of finding shipwreck artifacts.




   Capt. Dan Berg's Wreck Valley Collection   


By Capt. Dan Berg

Although many divers simply rely on what they happen to see while diving, there are a few things that a diver can do to hedge the odds at finding nice artifacts. Didn't you ever wonder why the same divers always find the portholes or bring up silverware or china? It's no trick, but the odds are stacked in his favor over yours. First, he probably has numerous dives under his belt, giving him trained eyes. Plus, after finding a good productive spot, he constantly returns to this spot time after time. For everyone else, it's hit or miss. Well here are a few hints that will give you a better chance. First, always listen very closely to the stories other divers tell, especially if they are willing to give you an area to look in. Second, be very observant of shapes as you swim over or through a wreck. Third, don't expect to be able to pick up and swim off with every great artifact you spot; many will require several dives and specialized tools as well as determination to recover. Fourth, metal detectors are great for finding small objects buried in the sand. Last, but certainly not least, be persistent. If you have located a porthole or a cage lamp or some other nice find but you can't retrieve it, plan on returning to the wreck in the near future. Plan your removal procedure during your surface time. Sometimes a little determination can be very rewarding. These four helpful hints may seem overly simple, but they will produce consistent results. Before I give some examples, I'd like to remind you that the more you dive, the better your chances are of finding and recovering historical artifacts.


Photos: Dan Berg with portholes from the Bronx Queen. Bottles inside the San Diego wreck. Metal Detecting in the Caesar Wreck in Bermuda

An example of how rewarding listening to other divers can be is evident in the following anecdote. In 1986, Captain Steve Bielenda, who runs the R.V. Wahoo, told me how he found three intact bottles on the Lizzie D Wreck, during a charter the previous day. This interested me greatly because the Lizzie D was a prohibition Rum Runner sunk in 1922, and for years local divers had considered her to be picked clean. After getting off the phone with Steve, I called my dive buddies, and the next morning we were anchored over the wreck. During the previous three years, I had been on this wreck may be ten times and never found anything but an occasional lobster. On this dive, by digging around the spot where Captain Bielenda had found his bottles, we discovered over thirty intact prohibition whiskey bottles. There were three different styles, and five of them still contained booze. We would never have found any of these if I hadn't listened and learned from another diver.

Being overly observant also pays off. I once watched about twelve novice wreck divers swim over the same area of a wreck, then Rick Schwarz came by, slowly scanning the rusting hulk for shapes and brass. He picked up a brass cage lamp plus a four pound lobster after everyone else had raced over the seemingly barren area.

Determination, as I mentioned before, pays off in the end. Back a few years ago, in August of1985, Bill Campbell and I were diving around the stern of the USS San Diego wreck. As we swam into a wash out, I noticed some brass that was almost completely covered by sand. We both dug it out and were pleased to discover it was the backing plate of a porthole. In other words, it was missing the glass swing plate and brass storm cover. Bill swam away, but I decided to lift it, figuring if I ever found a swing plate off the San Diego I'd have a nice artifact. Unclipping a 250 pound lift bag from my buoyancy compensator, I quickly rigged a line and started to fill the bag. Much to my surprise, this started a two year ordeal.

As the lift bag filled, I was amazed at how little my artifact moved. In fact, it hadn't moved at all, and the bag was now overflowing with air. I signaled Bill, who quickly came over and offered his 250 pound lift bag. Within minutes, Bill's bag was rigged, and we found the sand under us starting to move. The rim (a piece of brass weighing no more then twenty pounds) was still firmly attached to a huge steel plate weighing somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds. We sent the whole thing up tied to an up line, which is a line tied to the bag, and then attached to the wreck. This prevents lifted artifacts from drifting away during a diver's ascent and safety decompression hang. When Bill and I climbed back aboard the Wahoo, the normally friendly crew informed me that my up line had snapped, and the mate had to take a swim to secure a line to my drifting bag. They proceeded to tell me that it took five of them to haul it onto the Wahoo's swim platform, and I now owed them all a drink. This was a good deal considering the fact that I still needed help getting this huge piece of steel into my truck.

Once at home, I began to separate the porthole rim which was still firmly bolted to solid  steel. This in itself was no easy matter, and after many nights of pounding, prying, and chiseling, I  realized I was getting nowhere. The owner of a local gas station came to my assistance and managed with the use of his air tools to loosen the brass bolts which had been threaded directly into the armor plated steel. I returned home and stored the rim in my backyard while waiting to recover the missing parts.

During my next few visits to the wreck, I covered as much ground as possible. While swimming along the outside of the hull on one dive, I found what I was looking for: an intact porthole, and the glass was not even cracked. All I had to do was find a way into the wreck, drive the hinge pin out, and the porthole would be freed. I swam aft and found an opening that led into the admiral's quarters. This was an area heavily trafficked by sport divers, so I couldn't imagine how a porthole would remain untouched. After penetrating the wreck, I followed a row of porthole openings  and  then came to a wall. Since I thought I had gone too far anyway, I went back, dropped down to the next deck, and did the same thing. Still I saw no sign of any intact glass. Retreating once again and swimming up two decks to repeat my procedure, I still found no sign of this elusive treasure. Now, out of time and running low on air, I  exited the wreck and cruised back over the porthole.  It was a mere fifteen feet from the admiral's quarters opening, but was somehow hidden inside the wreck's rusting interior.

Two weeks passed by before I was able to return to the San Diego. This time I measured the distance from the porthole to the opening by counting body lengths. This was repeated on the inside of the wreck with no better results than two weeks earlier. On the second dive of the day, I approached my dilemma a little differently. From the outside of the hull just above my artifact, I noticed a corroded hole, about the size of a dime, through the San Diego's outer hull. With a sledge hammer and a chisel, I proceeded to enlarge this hole to about the size of a fist, and then once again, I penetrated the interior, not looking for the porthole, but for the location hole. When I found it, I knew what had gone wrong. Due to the angle at which the wreck is resting, and the amount of silt and debris piled up, much of the interior wall is buried. I had been swimming over it without ever knowing. On the next visit to the wreck, I dug out enough debris to see the top rim.  Fortunately, because the San Diego is upside down, the hinge pin  was located on top and within easy reach. With a sledge hammer and drive pin, I soon found that there was absolutely no room to work. Right next to the rim on both sides were steel beams preventing any type of hammer swing. By this time I was frustrated, but still very determined. I studied the size and shape of the rims hinge at home, and designed a metal pin pusher that could drop over the rim and, by means of a bolt and ratchet wrench, drive out the pin while still working within the confined quarters determined by the beams. Over the winter, I made up this new device and eagerly waited to reap its benefits. "Mind over matter,"  was my new motto. This, of course, didn't even come close to working. My dive buddy, Rick Schwarz, almost died of laughter as he watched my engineering masterpiece crumble in my hands. The hinge pin didn't even have the courtesy to slightly budge from position.

Once again I planned to retrieve the porthole. This time I welded a small drive pin to along crooked handle made from a bent shaft. The idea was that the drive pin could be held in position with my left hand out of the way and hopefully leave enough room for me to take small taps with a hammer. Although this new tool was made and had been stored with my dive gear, for one reason or another it wasn't used until the summer of 1987.

I had gone on a diving  vacation to Bonaire with my wife, Denise, and when I returned, Captain Bielenda informed me that while I was away, a group of divers had located a storage room in the bow of the San Diego that was filled with china dishes and that some beautiful pieces had been brought up. He was now running special dive trips to the San Diego and anchoring above the china hole, so I signed up for as many trips as possible. On one trip we anchored in the stern, and, since I didn't feel like swimming to the bow because of a very strong current, I decided that this would be the perfect time for one last try at that stubborn porthole. Five minutes into the dive, I had dug out a pit which exposed the top half of the frame. After fifteen minutes, the hinge pin was out, and I thought to myself, this is too easy. Deciding to wait until the second dive, I ascended to the Wahoo and impatiently waited out my surface interval. I proudly boasted to all on board that it should only take another ten minutes of bottom time for my lift bag carrying a porthole to hit the surface. After a  three hour interval, I suited up and was all ready for a nice easy retrieval.  After doing a giant stride entry, I immediately realized that this was not to be the case. Sometime during my topside time, I had managed to slice a big hole in the left chin of my dry suit, and was flooded with ice cold water instantly. Once again I was left with nothing to show for my efforts. All of the following week, I was concerned that anyone else who dove the wreck could easily recover what I had worked so hard for. On Thursday when I returned, the Wahoo was anchoring in the bow, so divers could head to the china room. This was great for everyone else, but  I had to go to the stern which was 450 feet up current. With a propulsion unit in hand I calculated five minutes to travel astern, another fifteen minutes to remove and send up my lift bag containing the swing plate, and then five more minutes to return to the bow and ascend on the anchor line. All went as I had planned. Within four minutes  I had my hand on the swing plate , but the only problem was that it wasn't moving. Digging down in the mud, I found two bolts (dogs) securing the swing plate closed. Although I was able to quickly loosen them, it still wouldn't budge. Removing my crow bar from its mounted position on my back, I tried to pry it loose. Twenty minutes later,  after digging more debris away and breaking the seal, all my efforts were finally rewarded. As I climbed back onto the Wahoo, I anxiously asked if my lift bag had come up. Don Schnell, who was the first mate, supplied the answer by pointing. About 500 feet away was my yellow lift bag, floating high in the calm sea.  Even on the surface, this porthole was giving me grief. Exhausted from all the hard work, I had to jump in the water once again and retrieve my lift bag.

With more than fifteen dives tied up in one artifact, I asked myself if it was worth it? I can only answer that by saying that I found another intact porthole on the San Diego, and I am now in the process of devising a plan for retrieval. I can only hope that this one will be a little easier!

A few years back, a local diver brought me to a luxury yacht wreck. He had worked the site for some time and considered it to be picked clean. The wreck sat upright and intact in only 30 feet of water. On my first dive, I recovered a porthole. On subsequent dives, Rick Schwarz, Steve Jonassen, Bill Campbell and I recovered over 18 portholes as well as assorted cage lamps and ceiling lights. The reason for our success was the method used to locate the portholes. The divers who had been to the wreck before us had probably entered the wreck and then searched each room for portholes. We did just the opposite. Our divers searched the wreck's exterior. When we found a porthole, one diver would shine his light through the glass, and the other would enter the wreck in search of the light. We found portholes inside closets and behind electrical panels. After completely searching the exterior, Steve Jonassen even found a spare porthole which had been stored in a cabinet.


Beach and Water
Treasure Hunting with Metal Detectors

A complete how to guide to discovering lost jewelry and coins from the sand and water. Includes sections on dry beach detecting, shallow surf, wading, scuba detecting and shipwreck diving.

only $9.95 6.5 MB instant download, printable  PDF file

Beach and Water Treasure Hunting with Metal Detectors is a 70 page downloadable, printable PDF booklet. The text is packed with information and hundreds of color images.

Ever go to the beach and watch a guy strolling down the waters edge metal detector in hand. That guy is not just searching for pocket change. He is looking for and most likely finding treasure. For the purpose of this text we will focus on Beach and Water Hunting. Learn why Metal detecting can be enjoyed as a hobby by those of all ages. Its one of the only activities that can quickly pay for itself while providing the hobbyist with outdoor fun, adventure and exercise. This text defines water and beach detecting into five distinct forms of treasure hunting. Please be aware that many of these types of detecting overlap. For example a beach hunter with a water proof detector will often venture into the shallow surf in search of gold rings and a scuba diver could certainly use his same detector on the dry beach. This text teaches the basics as well as tricks of the trade learned form years of detecting. These techniques make it easy and will greatly increase your productivity. Anyone can discover lost gold and this book will show you how.

This title is now available in soft cover Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.></a></font>
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The Shipwreck Diving E-Book  Instant Downloadable E-Book 

Shipwreck Diving, by Capt. Dan Berg is a complete how to book about the sport of wreck diving. This book is packed with information and heavily illustrated with over 80 sensational color photographs.



Shipwreck Diving ebook
The complete diver's guide to mastering the skills of shipwreck diving.

Buy Now   only $9.95
6 MB instant download, printable  PDF file

Shipwreck Diving is a complete how to ebook about the sport of wreck diving. This downloadable PDF e-book is packed with information and heavily illustrated with over 80 sensational color photographs. Daniel Berg, a noted wreck diver, instructor and author of ten shipwrecks related books, describes all the basics of wreck diving. Topics include everything from equipment modifications, communication, and wreck penetration to artifact preservation. Dan also tells how to navigate on a wreck and be able to return to the anchor line after the dive. Why some divers find more artifacts and explains how to catch lobsters. Shipwreck Diving also covers such diverse topics as shipwreck research, photography, spear fishing and how to use an underwater metal detector. This exciting book tells all the tricks of the trade that until now have only been learned through years of experience. Shipwreck divers of all caliber will find Shipwreck Diving informative, rewarding and entertaining

Check out Capt. Dan's other shipwreck and Diving eBooks



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