Teacher Mark Riley also a treasure hunter

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 2, 2011

By Mark Riley
For the Salisbury Post
Have you ever thought about treasure hunting? A Salisbury businessman and entrepreneur, Terry Wood, asked me to meet him for lunch to discuss his new idea.
He and I have tried many business ventures together in the past, but this one was very different and intriguing. He began telling me of lost treasures off of the Florida coast, scuba diving and GPS locators. He gave me books to read and names and contacts with whom he’d already met.
The 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet of 12 ships was loaded with treasure, and 11 of the ships sank off the coast between Sebastian and Fort Pierce. Five of the ships have yet to be accounted for, as well as eight treasure chests of gold and jewels that were personally made for the Queen of Spain.
Wood, the owner, purchased and refitted a boat, procured a dry storage lot, purchased a dredge, and received leases from the state and the museums to be one of the few recognized crews allowed to hunt and salvage treasures off of the Florida coast.
So we were off to Florida to buy the rest of the gear needed. I needed new fins, mask and weight belt since I hadn’t been diving for years. Actually, I am a fine arts teacher and department chair of the Fine Arts Academy at Jesse Carson High School. I am also one of the divers, and since I had the summer off, I was good to go, with new equipment, maps, leased area registrations and a new Hookah System, a system that creates air that is pumped to the divers instead of tanks.
Right off the bat we had to learn patience. The seas were too rough for several days and there were thunderstorms in the afternoons. We checked and double checked equipment, visited the local Mel Fisher Museum, the reclamation center where the divers turn in their finds to be authenticated and cleaned to look like new, and we visited McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet, Fla. During the days I would swim for hours and visit the Sebastian River, where I got to experience close encounters with dolphins and manatees.
Finally, all operations were “go,” and we were in the water. Oh, it was beautiful!
The first day of many to come we faced several technical errors and a dredge machine that refused to prime. As I came out of the water lifting my mask off, I heard a voice behind me, “You seen any sharks?” The guy was swimming off shore and continued to swim past, to the ladder. He climbed up until his feet were at eye level, and I noticed that his toenails were gold!
“Who are you?” I asked. His reply was, “Oh, I’m Bob.”
Right away I realized this was a treasure hunter known around the area for his somewhat unique personality. We met many colorful individuals throughout the summer, including Bonnie Schubert and her 87 -year-old mother Jo Schubert. Jo captains the boat while Bonnie dives. Last summer, they found a large 24-carat golden bird appraised at $885,000!
They have been in this business for many successful years and have found a lot of treasure worth plenty of money. They are still humble, ocean-loving lasses who will do anything to help you succeed in your own exploration and discovery.
Anyhow, Wood and I had many good days, but they became better when Wood found John Paul Bertrand, a local artist and diver knowledgeable about the waters and wrecks in the area. Bertrand agreed to dive for a percentage of the finds.
The first day he and I were in the water for five and a half hours. We found the timbers of a wreck, the ballast, a skeleton, and spikes. Bertrand then found a 1700-minted silver, real and in excellent shape. We marked the area with the GPS and fled in fast due to a strong storm. The clarity of the water and the underwater life that a diver sees is awesome.
The finds are still coming in as Bertrand and another diver will continue to work through the end of December. They have turned in a large cooler of “EO’s,” encrusted items that are not recognizable until they are placed in an acid bath and cleaned.
Anticipation! I will spend my Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations there diving, and then put everything away for winter.
Wood and I already have plans to partner and purchase another boat. We will be taking groups of four to six individuals out to shallow waters, 10 to 15 feet, and take them down along the reefs to see the beauty, and hopefully to find more treasures. John Paul will continue to be a major player; he has a very strong work ethic and uncanny diving skills. The trips will be four-hour trips and no certification is necessary with the hookah system.
We hope to see many of our Salisbury friends taking time from Disney to enjoy the waters off of Florida with us. The beaches are much, much less crowded than Myrtle. We hope to show many of the finds at Carson High School’s media center. Good hunting and fortunes to Mr. Wood, John Paul, and the rest of the treasure hunters.
Riley is department chair of the Fine Arts Academy at Jesse Carson High School.