End of the Line
'There are various ways of looking for shipwrecks. The first and most common being to tow a magnetometer behind a boat. The use of the Fluxgate Magnetometer was discontinued in the 1960s on account of the mercury contained in its tubes and the Proton Magnetometer replaced it. The latter was useless in Bermuda waters, owing to magnetic anomalies that surrounds the sea mount that supports the island’s coral reef. The next best choice was the side scan sonar but it too was useless, due to the high coral heads that completely surrounded the outer Bermuda reef, where ninety percent of the wrecks around the island lie concealed. So we were left with visual searching as our only practical option.' Teddy Tucker
Sometimes scanners and detectors are no substitute for experienced eyes
Salvage work funded the search. They had a boat, a crew, and equipment and now, whenever the weather permitted they went hunting.
‘We went out diving every single day of the year if the weather was suitable – it was like detective work really enjoyable – it was a story unfolding and a wonderful atmosphere.’ Edna Tucker
Necessity being the mother of invention, the wreck hunters adopted a low-tech but effective search technique called towing. Two divers would be pulled on lines 100 or so feet behind a boat cruising across the reef. If they saw anything that looked like ship's ballast, a scrub mark (reef that had been flattened as a ship was dragged or swept over it) or man-made they would drop down for a closer look. It took practice – but to an experienced eye this method yielded many successes. Cold, exhausting work especially through the winter months it also had its risks. Wreck hunters being dragged behind the boat soon attracted the attention of sharks. They would follow as close as a few feet behind waiting for sudden movements.
‘I don’t know if my dad knew – I think he probably did but he never said anything but I would shorten my line a bit. I thought a shark might bite my leg or foot, so always kept my tow rope shorter! I figured as long as my line was a little shorter than the other guys then I should be alright. I wanted to look for wrecks, but also a little leery of being shark bait.’ Wendy Tucker
'I found a shipwreck on the first day and then they couldn’t get me down'
In a bid to cover more ground from a more comfortable vantage Teddy theorized that it could be possible to spot some wrecks from the air. He had built a boat slip on his property and shared the space with a friend, Colin Plant who had a sea plane. They would go out on calm days and look for the outline of more intact wrecks or the scrub marks where stricken vessels had bounced across the reef. Spotting from above did yield some wrecks but the plane created turbulence on the water limiting its effectiveness at lower altitudes.
‘Teddy decided that a helium filled balloon would really be the answer – so we got a balloon – I thought we were going to get a drab olive green balloon, something they used in weather or something – the airlines called and said that the balloon had arrived and it was calypso pink. They put me in the balloon first and the seat was made with a little piece of thin plywood … but I was young and happy and it didn’t matter to me.
I did find shipwrecks actually, I found a shipwreck on the first day and then they couldn’t get me down and the boys all stood on the rope and were discussing the situation and then they went and had lunch down below and I thought I don’t believe it! I was hanging onto this knot on the boatswain's chair that was snapping up and down.’ Edna Tucker
Outrageous, bordering on the comical but the balloon was an effective, if cumbersome means of spotting wrecks in the shallows of the reef platform.
Over his career, Teddy found over 125 shipwrecks representing four centuries of ocean travel. He developed excavation techniques and equipment, learned how to accurately record a wreck and how to date and occasionally name a wreck from the array of artifacts held within its skeleton. His friend Mendel Peterson coined the term 'Time Capsule' referring to these collections of shipwreck artifacts. Teddy became an expert in underwater archaeology, ceramics, glassware, armaments, coins, stoneware and ship design and materials.
'"There are no holidays", Teddy would say. It was hard work, up and away from the dock at dawn and back home at dusk and reading the records of the dives that Teddy kept meticulously at the end of each day I see that over one 28-day period we were out on site 20 days, whenever the weather permitted. But there was a lot of fun too. They were all good friends.' Wendy Tucker