A vigorous account of modern-day treasure hunting.
First-time author Jessop, writing with maritime journalist Hanson, began his career as a diver as a means of escaping the poverty of his North of England youth just after the end of WWII; hauling up sunken barges and pleasure craft and selling the wreckage for scrap, he realized, could earn him a thousand quid a year, “the sort of money that only bosses made.” More important, he writes, it made him “a free man,” one of the few in his grim industrial town who was not a wage slave in a mine or factory. After learning his craft in Yorkshire’s murky lakes and rivers, Jessop made for the open sea, where he acquired skill and considerable renown by recovering military vessels destroyed in battle and storm, among them galleons of the Spanish Armada. His successes, he writes, were the result not only of his skill in operating diving equipment and setting explosives, but also of his ability to ferret information out of his fellow working-class fishermen, who would “point out sites where they’d lost lobster-pots, a good indicator of something unusual on the sea-bed.” Jessop later turned his sights on British military craft sunk farther off the coasts of England, including the Chulmleigh, which carried a huge cargo of metal, and the Edinburgh, the grand prize, a destroyer that sank in the Barents Sea with a hold full of gold evacuated from the Soviet Union during the German advance on Moscow. Jessop eventually found both craft, finding that the Chulmleigh had already been looted but that the Edinburgh still carried its fortune. His account is full of clichéd true-adventure twists and turns, but few readers will be prepared for the harrowing finale of Jessop’s tale of finding the Edinburgh’s lost gold—one involving not sharks or swells but ravenous agents of the Inland Revenue.
Entertaining as armchair adventure, and a useful primer for anyone seeking to find a fortune beneath the waves.