Founded by Dr. Clive Cussler, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) is a non-profit, volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.

Clive Cussler, Founder of NUMA

Shipwreck Has Tie-in With the “Real Rhett Butler”

Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind

Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind

When biographer Darden Asbury Pyron wrote the life story about the renowned author of Gone With the Wind (Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell) he discovered close ties between real people and the characters in her 1936 epic. It’s believed that Mitchell’s characters were based on members and friends of her extended family and incidents in their lives, although she never admitted it for fear of being sued. One of her major characters—Capt. Rhett Butler—could have been George Alfred Trenholm, a handsome, rugged Charleston entrepreneur and backer of blockade runners.

Trenholm’s life is chronicled in Ethel Nepveux’s book, George Alfred Trenholm and the Company That Went to War, 1861-1865. Mrs. Nepveux, a Charleston historian and Trenholm’s great granddaughter says, “There were numerous resemblances between my great grandfather and Rhett Butler. I read and reread Gone With the Wind and Butler’s comments about blockade runners were exactly like those of George Alfred Trenholm. Mitchell must have researched my great grandfather’s career and used his background and personality to help shape Butler’s character.” more »

Shipwrecks of the Chesapeake

John Kellett & Jesse Levovics of Bladensburg, MD position the bow cannon of a replica of one of Barney's Barges. Barney sank his flotilla to avoid its capture.

John Kellett & Jesse Levovics of Bladensburg, MD position the bow cannon of a replica of one of Barney’s Barges. Barney sank his flotilla to avoid its capture.

An estimated 1,800 wrecked or abandoned ships, sailing during Colonial times to modern days, lie on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. From the Susquehanna River to Cape Charles, they foundered in storms, ran aground, blew up, were rammed, ice-crushed or scuttled. Schooners, sloops, steamers, ferries, frigates, freighters, barks, bugeyes and barges met their fates in murky waters that claimed passengers, crews and cargoes.

The Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet comprises one of the largest maritime graveyards in North America. Hardly a bay, it’s just a narrow gouge in the shore along the Potomac River, Charles County, Maryland, but shelters nearly 100 shipwrecks in its shallow, dark waters. Nicknamed the “Ghost Fleet,” this depository of wooden steamships was hastily built during World War I when President Woodrow Wilson ordered them to be constructed in a hurry to thwart marauding German submarines. Ninety were christened in one day in 1917, but ran into trouble when their coal-burning engines were rendered obsolete by diesel power. By the time the war ended in 1918, no one wanted the vessels which were salvaged for parts and then scuttled. Throughout the years they became shallow water derelicts with trees and bushes replacing rotted wooden decks. But recently, they acquired a new life. The Federal Government, recognizing the area’s historical and ecological significance, declared the area a National Marine Sanctuary. Now, visitors can explore the 14-square-miles of land and water, some of them opting to kayak or canoe past these hulks of another heyday.  more »

Sunken Sub Reveals Surprise

Navy Salvage Ship USS Current

Navy Salvage Ship USS Current

Last month, in a “Voice From the Bottom of the Sea,” Okino (Oakie) Sasaki, told his story of being aboard a Japanese two-man midget submarine during the December 7, 1941, attach on Pearl Harbor. When his vessel lost power and sank in the harbor, he escaped, swam ashore and remained a prisoner of war until 1945.

Author Ellsworth Boyd remembered reading about a midget sub being recovered from the harbor by U.S. Navy divers in 1960 and wondered if it might have been Oakie’s. This was a one in five chance since four others were lost in or near the harbor that day. more »

A Voice From the Bottom of the Sea

Pearl Harbor Attack

Pearl Harbor Attack

In the late 1960s, when I met Okino Sasaki, better known as “Oakie,” he was bartending at the Jade East Restaurant in Towson, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. A small, quiet man, he was efficient behind the bar and always smiling, but he never said much. But on one winter evening, when business was slow, Oakie revealed some of the fascinating turn of events in his life.

He told me he had been confined to a prisoner of war camp from December, 1941, through the duration of WWII. When the war ended, he was released and signed aboard a tramp steamer as a steward’s helper. When the ship put in to Baltimore, he met and fell in love with an American-born Japanese girl who persuaded him to stay and work in her father’s restaurant. They were married, raised a fine family and Oakie became an American citizen. His account of the incredible chain of events that led to an escape from a suicidal mission, to his internment as a prisoner of war, attests to the adage: “Truth  is stranger than fiction.” more »

Unlucky Lady of Grenada



While some divers consider the demise of the Bianca-C, an “unlucky break,” others call it just plain stupidity. At any rate, it has provided them with one of the best shipwreck dives in the Caribbean.

When the 600-foot-long cruise ship caught fire in October, 1961, while anchored in the harbor at St. Georges, Grenada, it appeared that standard procedures could douse it quickly. But that didn’t happen as the engine room blaze spread, a result of inadequate fire-fighting equipment. A boiler explosion was blamed for the fire which began upon the start-up of one of the diesel engines. Three of the ship’s crew died and eight others were injured during the explosion and fire. Seven hundred of the vessel’s passengers and crew were saved, many of them by local residents who launched an armada of anything and everything that floated. The rescue efforts took two hours, while explosions burst below decks and smoke poured from the hatches. more »


photo of Clive Cussler © Los Angeles Photographer Rob Greer