Melvin A. Fisher, President, Treasure Salvors, Inc.
(Photo by Don Kincaid © 1976)

The Dream Weaver

By Joseph B. Maclnnis

KEY WEST September 20, 1985:

MEL FISHER has a new dream. You can see it in his eyes. On this particular evening he is outside where he belongs, in the fresh air, away from the turmoil of the office, under a pink cloud sky and a sun easing itself below the western horizon.

Friday evening marks the end of a long, hard week, and

Mel Fisher and his staff at Treasure Salvors are hosting a party on the sun-deck, poolside at the Ocean Key House, in Key West. More than 200 people who have come here from as far away as Alaska and California have come for one reason.

“He would steal the hubcaps off your car,”

“No one can find treasure like he can.’

“He’s unscientific. And he doesn’t give a damn about our heritage”

“He’s given more opportunities to more people than anyone I know’

What does Fisher think of all this? It’s hard to tell. To see him moving through this crowd of well wishers is to see a man at ease. He is one of them, And they know it. Treasure is in their blood. In each chest gathered tonight on this sundeck, including a clutch of visiting scientists, beats the heart of a gold seeker.


Fisher’s beginnings in the

To see The Man.

To get close to the magic, maybe even talk to Mel Fisher,

the world’s greatest treasure finder. Even close up, Fisher is like a pointillist painting a man whose outlines are hard to make out. He is 63 years old and stands six feet, four inches tall, The soft grey eyes look out at the world through sun reflecting glasses; a gold doubloon hangs carelessly around his neck. He walks through the crowd of admirers, a Benson and Hedges not far from his lips, smiling, shaking hands, frequently laughing.


 
Atocha gold bars, silver bars, and Columbian emeralds.

 

There is a gentle irony here. Fisher, who has spent half a lifetime searching for treasure, has now found so much of it that he has invited these good people to the first annual “Mel Fisher Treasure Hunt.” Would you like to play a game? Tucked away somewhere in the leafy streets of Key West


Intricate gold chain.
(Photo by Don Kincaid © 1976)

or buried under its gritty coral or submerged below its blue waters is a $10,000 Colombian emerald and a $50,000 Spanish gold bar.

Fisher has a rough, cornhusk sense of humor. Refreshingly self mocking. In his office is a note pad with the inscription: “To err is human but it sure feels great,” In an hour.

during the “official” part of the evening, he will tell the audience: “It took an act of Congress to chase the pirates out of Key West and they are still here.”

Like all individuals who have outdone themselves, Fisher is aware of his reputation. He has been glorified and pilloried beyond the boundaries of logic. Some samples:

“Mel Fisher is a giant, a living legend”

game are now history lie was born in Indiana. with a rusty spoon in his mouth. He quickly learned there was no free ride. He also quickly learned the nuts-and-bolts of entrepreneurship, the get-in-there-and-get-your-hands-dirty stuff. There was the SCUBA shop and school in California. The thousands of pieces of equipment sold and thousands of divers taught. The underwater films. The travel to faraway places. And the first sniff of treasure.


 Bronze astrolabe from the Atocha's pilot.

By 1963, Mel Fisher was in Florida and in partnership with the late Clifford “Kip” Wagner, founder of the treasure hunting outfit known as Real “8”. For months they dove and divined the sea-reaches south of Cape Kennedy, peering through thee masks for the elusive glitter.

Surrounded by friends and his wife Deo, he dove and he built and he dove and he schemed and he dove and then one day he hit it a carpet of gold. Coins, thousands of them, sun hot to the eye, lying on the sand. So many of them that when he took his wet suit off and laid it down they covered every square inch of it.

More important than finding the gold, he was developing a style. The Fisher style. Gutsy. Unpredictable. Sometimes outrageous. A highwire act of bravado and brinkmanship.

In the late 1960’s, Fisher caught the scent of the Atocha, perhaps the richest
Spanish treasure galleon to leave the New World for the Old and sea smashed
by a hurricane in
1622.

Fisher moved to the Florida Keys. For 16 years he ran magnetometer lines and sandblasted the seafloor. Every day under a blazing sun and in an ocean that sucks up men’s ambition faster than money disappears from a wallet, he ran hundreds of thousands of “mag” lines and blasted away hundreds of thousands of tons of sand. In his spare time he found investors, raised money, repaired equipment, eluded creditors, and fought with ar­chaeologists and state and federal bureaucrats.


 Diver uncovers gold bars with a hand blower.
(Photo by Don Kincaid © 1981)

He was supported by a Topsy-like circle of blood relatives, friends, associates and staff. When things got tough they circled the wagons and tried to protect him from the crossfire. “There were times, say old friend and Treasure Salvors photographer Don Kincaid, “when the air was so thick with invective or sadness that it was hard to breathe.”

In some indescribable way, in some salute to human tenacity, Mel Fisher and his band have managed to survive. For now the lean days when there was no money for fuel and sandwiches, let alone salaries are over. This evening everyone is walking in sun­shine. Two months ago, on July 20th, they found the “Big Pile” the “Mother Lode.”

Here is the mind-numbing calculus of big treasure. Picture a wall of silver ingots almost as high as a man. Stacked one on top of the other. A wall six feet thick. Four feet high. Ten feet long. Inhabited by a family of spiny lobsters on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

On a day that brought champagne and chaos to his office, the world press to his door and mist to his eye, Fisher had a neat way of summing things up. “Lobster and silver bars are in season today.”

Finding the “Main Pile” has brought a sea change to Mel Fisher’s life. He and his associates are looking into themselves, trying to gauge the future,

 R. Duncan Mathewson III, Fisher’s salvage archaeologist since 1973, is leading a charge to get a handle on the river— the flood of informa­tion and artifacts streaming up from the seafloor. Fisher, who is not wedded to conventional ideas about the usefulness of higher education, is supporting him. They have asked a number of leading archaeologists, including Walter Zacharchuk and John T Dorwin for help in audit and control. A computer-intensive program is on the way.

Before he leaves the sundeck and his friends, Mel Fisher separates himself from the crowd and ambles over to the teak railing that looks out to the sea. The sun has gone down and the sky is filled with a radiant pink. Fisher, with his open shirt and tan slacks, is wearing the uniform not of an administrator but of an oceangoing muse. Here is the individual, the ‘nan who struggled for

 four decades and makes people believe they can succeed at anything they try.

Fisher takes a deep drag on his cigarette and fixes his eye on the horizon. He has a new dream. Now that he’s found his “Big Pile” he wants to get back to the simple things. Back to where it all started. One of the ocean’s living legends wants to go diving.

Joe Macinnis is an MD, and underwater explorer who pioneered scientific diving in the Canadian Arctic. He is a widely published author on shipwreck discovery and the hu­man quest for knowledge beneath the sea.

 Reprinted with permission from Seafarers,
 Journal Of Maritime Heritage Volume 1

 An Official Publication of The Atlantic Alliance For Maritime Heritage Conservation
PO Box 1528
Key West, Florida 33041-1528

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