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Ed Fisher Autobiography Scuba Diving Adventures
Chronology of Projects Between 1953 and 1967
Keywords Laguna Beach, skin diving Miami, marine tropical fish collecting, dive blood and guts, 24-hour saturation dive, Florida cave diving, night diving, deep water technical diving, U. Miami Marine Laboratory, Keith Reef Skerki Banks, Xlendi Bay Gozo,
Xlendi Bay, Gozo, Malta, 1967
Keith Reef, Skerki Banks, Mediterranean Sea, 1966
In 1965 I had a terrific job, working at the University of Miami Marine Laboratory under a US Navy contract for the past seven years. I provided underwater photography services for both Navy experimental projects and for the various research programs in marine biology and physical oceanography. One of the perks of the position was coming in contact with some world class scientific minds among the Lab faculty. Dr. Enrico Bonatti had recently joined the Lab's oceanography department and one day as we were looking over a chart of the central Mediterranean he confided that if he were a diver like me...of all the places he would like to explore was the only location in the entire Med that had sea floor accessible to air dives that was in international waters. He indicated an area midway between Sicily and Tunisia that was captioned Skerki Banks and pin pointed a spot on the chart named Keith Reef. Enrico's Italian background was in Mediterranean oceanography and to his knowledge the several French and Italian diving expeditions he was aware of had failed to locate the reef. Taking his assumption that the location was virtually unexplored- over the next few months I researched everything I could find that would help me plan an expedition. The reef lay in the path of commercial and war ships that plied the seas as far back as the Phoenicians and the Punic wars and I figured if the reef claimed a victim only once in every hundred years, there would be at least dozens of antique wrecks there.
I had begun to free-lance some underwater photography services and earned a couple of thousand bucks on some private contracts and finally had enough spare cash to buy airfare and ship the gear (air tank compressor, etc.) I'd need to outfit a charter boat out of Malta for SCUBA diving. The best deal I could charter was the Yacht Tiercel at the rate of a hundred bucks a day. Just before departing, I approached one of the many young, adventuresome British gals hanging around the docks and for a promise of some adventure and two hundred bucks- Sarah hopped aboard as a companion to my venture.
First destination was to head for the lighthouse at Cap Bon, Tunisia as the plan was to take a bearing on a line drawn between it and where Keith Reef lay on the chart. We had to leave the Cap at night, keeping a course by the light and as daylight broke and the guide light faded, hope to keep on course until we could see breakers on the reef. The wind had picked up so that everything worked perfectly and it was my sharp-eyed companion who actually spotted the breakers first. What seemed an adventure unfolding perfectly suddenly met a totally unexpected hitch...the skipper of Tiercel and his Japanese wife mate were adamant that they could not anchor in these treacherous bottoms nor could they navigate to drop off and recover me with the winds picking up. There was no alternative but to accept the captain's concerns about his yacht's safety and watch the breakers fade from sight as we set a safe course for Marettimo in the Egadi Archipelago off Sicily. For three days we dawdled in a calm anchorage during which I skin dived up artifacts that were wedged in the sides of the numerous potholes scoured out in the rocky seafloor. Actually found broken chards that represented the entire human history of the site ranging from European china, Moorish ware, heavy Roman amphora tarred on the inside, delicate Punic ware and lastly a perfectly preserved flint scraper from a Neolithic settlement that I later discovered had been identified on this inlet's coast.
Finally the weather cleared and we made another run back to Cap Bon and back to Keith and this time I was ready to get dropped off with my dive gear and camera as Teircel stood off a safe distance from the reef. The first impression I got of the bottom was a highly irregular, dark, colorless, algae-covered rocky slope of about 35 degrees descending to unknown depths. At this point the depth was about 60 feet so I swam just below surface upslope to find the top of the reef. The first impression was that the site was littered with WW II unexploded bombs of all sizes- stuck where they hit the reef (which with its oblong profile from the air could easily be mistaken for a submarine) Also evident were all kinds of chains running like spokes from the hub of the reef down the slope. Cannon of all shapes and sizes were scattered everywhere. As I came to the top of the reef where the rocks probably had likely been bombed down to just below the level of the sea surface on a calm day, I saw evidence of fresh keel and impact scars in the rocks. This may have accounted for the failure of previous expeditions to find the reef. Winds had to be just right so that the only breakers would be over the reef. If seas were too calm nothing would be visable. Searching with a fathometer on a large vessel underway would be highly hazardous as the reef rises abruptedly from the surrounding banks. I took some pics around the top of the reef and then started a transect down the east slope. At about 40 feet I spotted a Roman lead anchor stock and took its picture.
Continuing down I saw a shelf on the slope with fairly flat sandy bottom with all sorts of unidentified artifacts peeking out or outlined under the surface. I descended to the sand- now at 120 feet- and spotted a bronze ship's bell lying half-buried and attached an inflatable buoy on a reel of fishing line and sent it as a marker to the surface. My no-decompression time up, I started to return to the surface and suddenly saw the dark shadow of a guy skin diving hauling down on my buoy line. I didn't see him during my retrieve by Tiercel but once aboard noticed a big workboat had come in and anchored some hundred yards from the reef. It flew a French flag and I presumed they were salvaging artifacts but spunky Sarah volunteered to run the Zodiac over to see what they were about. (These were the days before piracy, hijacking and abductions in the high-seas became worrisome.) She reported as we suspected that they were treasure hunters but they had not revealed what success they'd had. Sarah wanted to make a dive even despite my caution that white shark had been caught in the Med, so I figure she had earned her own adventure and outfitted her for a dive. After she was retrieved I made a quick dive to attach a halyard to the bell with which we winched it aboard. With my charter funds running low we had to quit Keith Reef that day and head back to Malta.
Back in Miami I corresponded with some potential sponsors for an archaeological survey of Skerki Banks one of who had been involved with some of the George Bass expeditions but after the primary fund raiser got ill, my dreams for a return to Keith Reef faded and my only memorabilia of the adventure was the bronze bell that I hung up in the ceiling of my little apartment in Coral Gables, FL. A couple of years later after buying and selling some real estate (including an old mansion in the Chinese Village in Coral Gables) to move up to a motel-lodge I had bought in N. Carolina, I sold the bell at a garage sale
for 50 bucks.
Excursions Along the Shores of the Mediterranean: In Two Volumes By Edward Delaval Hungerford Elers Napier, 1842 (see Vol II, pp 121-122) - "On the morning of the 23rd, we passed the small island of Pentellaria; - the Botany Bay of the kingdom of Naples, and to which she sends all her mauvais sujets. The famous Skirki Rocks, commonly called the "Squirks", and whose existence was so long doubted, we left behind during the night. That they do exist is beyond all doubt; as was sufficiently proved by the catastrophe of H. M. frigate "Athenian", which struck and went to pieces on them, with the loss of half her crew. It is related, that immmediately before this happened, Captain Raynsford, who commanded her, examining the chart, exclaimed- "If there be such a thing as the 'Squirks', we are now on them!" and the words were scarcely out of his mouth, when the occurrence above related took place. It is, however, a curious fact, that the whole French fleet, when pursued by Nelson, before the battle of the Nile should have passed through the channel without seeing them".
Medieval Charts Many small crosses, once called vigias, denoting hazards to navigation, appear on the late medieval portolan charts of the Mediterranean. The fact that most appear far at sea over abyssal depths has classed them as mariners' delusions. Indeed, "vigia" has been defined, perhaps partly in jest, as "Numerous imaginary dangers - traditionally inserted in all Ocean Charts". (Abstract from Google search 'Skerki Banks'- suggesting a reference to a vigias appearing on antique charts in the vicinity of the Skerki Banks in the full article text.)
An Early Imperial Shipwreck In The Deep Sea Off Skerki Bank by Anna Marguerite McCann
The archaeological discoveries in the deep sea in the international waters off Skerki Bank document a new ancient trade route over the open seas between ancient Carthage and Rome (fig. 1). At a depth of about 800 m, eight individual shipwreck sites, ranging in date from the first century BC to the nineteenth century AD were discovered in 1989 and 1997
R. D. Ballard/A. M. McCann et al using advanced deep submergence technology. Deep-Sea Research 1/47/9, 2000, 1591-1620.
Skerki Bank 1989-2003 Roman, late Medieval, and 19th century shipwrecks, plus "Amphora Alleys". Skerki Bank is a geographical feature in the western Mediterranean Sea, located along the route between ancient Carthage and Ostia, the port of ancient Rome. In 1989, Dr. Robert Ballard led a team of engineers and archaeologists on a project to discover and document an ancient shipwreck near Skerki Bank. Dr. Anna Marguerite McCann was the chief archaeologist on that project. Using the Jason ROV, the team investigated the site of a 4th century A.D. late Roman vessel which they named Isis.
Deep Submergence technology R.D. Ballard, et al (color map) The Skerki Bank Project was the "first interdisciplinary effort to determine the importance of the deep sea to the "field of archaeology. Over a nine year period from 1988 to 1997, its various "field programs resulted in the discovery of the largest concentration of ancient ships ever found in the deep sea. In all, eight ships were located in an area of 210 km2, including "five of the Roman era spanning a period of time from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D.,
Roman Shipwrecks From the Wine-Dark Sea R.D. Ballard, et al (color map) The John C. Rouman Lecture Series in Classical and Hellenic Cultures 1 October 17, 2001 Anna Marguerite McCann. The first exploration in the Deep Sea with the new robotic technology took place in 1989 in international waters off the coast of Sicily 4, just north of Skerki Bank, a treacherous reef that lies just below the surface. (Fig. 1) The collaborative team was headed by Robert D. Ballard, director of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn. (smallscale map)
Oceanography December, 2007 Archaeological Oceanography - Special Isue On Ocean Exploration By Robert D. Ballard (hi-res illustrations)
The discovery of ancient history in the deep sea using advanced deep submergence technology (PDF) Deep Sea Research Part I Oceanographic Research Papers September 2000 by Robert D. Ballard, et al
The Skerki Bank Project was the first interdisciplinary effort to determine the importance of the deep sea to the field of archaeology. Over a nine year period from 1988 to 1997, its various field programs resulted in the discovery of the largest concentration of ancient ships ever found in the deep sea. In all, eight ships were located in an area of 210 km2, including five of the Roman era spanning a period of time from 100 B.C. to 400 A.D., documenting the existence of a major trading route in the central Mediterranean Sea between ancient Carthage, Rome, Sicily, and Sardinia.
The Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage: Before and After the ... By Roberta Garabello, Tullio Scovazzi critique of Ballard salvaging deep-water artifacts Skerki Banks
Olavi Madonia Blog (terminated)...for the friends simply Olaf, is the proud owner and the skipper of the M/Y Ivalom. He begun his career on the sea when he was twenty years old as a professional diver. Around the early eighties he was among the most famous and appreciates protagonists of the "race to the red gold", the red coral of the Skerki Bank, about 80 km (sic) NW of Sicily. In a very few years hundreds of divers and boats for the coral fishing worked on the Skerki Bank coming from all the ports of the Mediterranean sea and carrying to the surface red coral for a equivalent value of more than five million dollars.
Secret Sub to Scan Sea Floor for Roman Wrecks by William J. Broad, NY Times, February 7, 1995
Based on the previous expeditions, he estimated the total area of known wreckage at more than 20 square miles. "It's massive," he said during a briefing back at the sub base, adding that the site had been protected from the ravages of deep-sea fishing trawlers not only by its depth but probably by the nearby presence of the Skerki Bank, which is a notoriously treacherous shoal. "This has been a trade route for millennia," he said, indicating its path on a Mediterranean map. "It was critical. From Europe to Africa, this was the shortcut."
Skerki Banks Wikipedia
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