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

Key West Shipwreck Museum: A Wrecker’s Tale

A ship in Key West Harbor similar to the Isaac Allerton.

A ship in Key West Harbor similar to the Isaac Allerton.

When my friend, Rick Shipley, returned to Maryland after attending a wedding in Florida, he thanked me for urging him to visit the Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum. One of the city’s many Historic Tours of America attractions, the interactive nautical museum features exhibits, films, actors and artifacts spanning 400 years of shipwrecks and salvage in the Florida Keys.

I was elated when Rick described some of the vast collections of artifacts salvaged from the Isaac Allerton, a three-masted bark that sank during a hurricane in 1856. This wreck is special for me. I dove on it in 1987 with Ray Maloney, a local diver who had discovered it two years earlier. With no formal academic background, he studied archaeological methods and techniques in an effort to obtain an Admiralty claim on the ship from the state of Florida. When Malone’s research revealed family ties to the wreck, officials were impressed and granted him the claim and sole access to it. His great, great, great grandfather, Walter C. Maloney, was an attorney who represented the wreckers in salvaging the Isaac Allerton. more »

SS Central America: Ship of Gold Resurfaces

Wreck of the SS Central America

Wreck of the SS Central America

Tommy Thompson revolutionized treasure salvage in 1987 when he and a brilliant team of “high tech nerds” figured out how to retrieve a valuable cargo of gold resting in 8,000 feet of water. The saga of the SS Central America, a paddlewheel steamer that sank in 1857, is packed with as much intrigue as a Clive and Dirk Cussler novel. Pirates, bureaucrats, bankers and monks (yes, those from a monastery) were just the tip of the iceberg of obstacles that loomed over Thompson and his Columbus America Group (CAG).

Why would someone who legitimately discovered millions of dollars worth of treasure aboard what some call a “ship of gold” simply walk away from it? That’s what Thompson did after many years of court battles and bureaucratic entanglements. One of the most sought after “missing persons” on a priority list at the U.S. Marshall’s office, he’s nowhere to be found…along with a vast amount of missing treasure.  more »

Rouse Simmons’ Christmas Trees Need No Water

Trees being loaded aboard ship. Painting by Charles Vickery.

Trees being loaded aboard ship. Painting by Charles Vickery.

During the holiday season, your spouse might utter these words: “Don’t forget to water the tree!” This annual mantra is enough to compel families to visit Home Depot where they could purchase an artificial Christmas tree. But for divers who are familiar with the wreck of Lake Michigan’s Rouse Simmons, watering the tree, better still “trees,” remains an anomaly. The cargo of 5,500 trees went down with the ship more than 100 years ago.

The ship and circumstances leading to its demise became one of the most intriguing yet sad tales of Great Lakes lore. Not just the story of another storm, it remains an epic tale of a holiday ritual that went awry when Capt. Herman Schuenemann took a chance in bad weather. He had sustained the journey from Manistique, Michigan, to Chicago many times. Although the weather wasn’t bad when he left port, it remained “stormy November” when anything could turn up.  He had two valid reasons for the trip. First he was in debt for over $1,000 as one of three owners of the vessel and second, he was welcomed at dockside in the lucrative Chicago market, where the average tree brought one dollar. He gave many away to the poor who named him Captain Santa. more »

Sunken Ship Found in Arctic Bombarded Fort McHenry

HMS Terror Bombards the Fort

HMS Terror

What would the odds be on a ship that bombarded Fort McHenry in 1814 being discovered during the September, 2014 Star-Spangled Spectacular anniversary of our national anthem? A million to one you say? Probably so, considering Canadian Park Service officials had almost given up the search after many years of frustrating attempts.

But during Baltimore, Maryland’s grand bicentennial celebration of our national anthem and the battle waged against the British at the fort during the War of 1812, something else spectacular occurred. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the discovery of the HMS Terror in the Arctic Ocean off Nunavut, 1,800 miles north of Toronto. The Terror and its sister ship, HSM Erebus, launched mortar shells against the fort in the Battle of Baltimore, September 13-14, 1814. Both vessels were lost in 1846 during Sir John Franklin’s expedition to map a northwest passage to Asia. more »

Peabody Essex Museum is Haven for Ships and Shipwrecks

Peabody Essex Main Entrance - Image Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

Peabody Essex Main Entrance – Image Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

Ghost stories, spooky mansions and witchcraft hysterics are just a few of the paranoid presentations of Haunted Happenings in Salem, Massachusetts, at Halloween. There are tales of ruthless pirates, ocean demons and the woman in black whose spirit haunts the town where her child was accidentally killed. Anyone who sees her face will die, so they say.

But not to worry. For shipwreck buffs, Salem isn’t entirely characterized by ghosts, gremlins and gore. It’s also the home of the Peabody Essex Museum, a venerable institution that most of the Halloween revelers eschew. For 200 years, Salem was one of the richest and most renowned seaports in North America. Its ships’ captains, who founded the East India Marine Society in 1799, sailed the world in search of international trade. In addition to tea, spices, silks, ivory and jade, ships’ masters returned with extraordinary works of art and culture from exotic locales. A society entry practice required every master to contribute a rare work of art to the growing numbers. Competition became fierce and by the 19th century the society had a priceless collection on its hands. more »


photo of Clive Cussler © Los Angeles Photographer Rob Greer