Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Salvage Men

[Vaguely Connected Things, From The School Of "One Damn Thing Leads To Another".]

Fictional Hero

My cousin JW finally got around to reading one of the Travis McGee books I gave him six months ago, which is how this long rigamarole of a post got started. I was reminded by it of how John D. McDonald’s fictional hero, McGee, always called himself a salvage consultant, but he was more of a private eye, an investigator who took on most cases with the expectation of getting half the loot or half the cash value of the missing items. If he could “salvage” it for you, he’d get paid. Otherwise, no pay. Between jobs he’d “take his retirement in installments”, living on a houseboat called The Busted Flush that he’d won in a card game and driving around Fort Lauderdale, Florida in his converted Rolls-Royce truck, Miss Agnes. When nearly broke, he’d hunt up another job. I love that eccentric Travis McGee character and have read most, if not all, of the 21 books in that series over the decades.

The Real Thing

The next salvage expert I knew anything about was a real one I saw a few years ago on a TV documentary. He salvaged everything at sea, from ships merely run aground to a ship full of crude oil lost on the bottom of the sea since 1952. In the latter case, the TV documentary described how an empty tanker was passing just as they were beginning to bring the oil up. The passing ship was contacted and a deal was struck to sell the crude oil then and there. Transfer was made of the oil on the spot and an electronic transfer of money put money straight into the salvager's Swiss account. Wheeler-dealer extraordinaire!

The guy spoke unaccented English; he couldn’t be nailed down as sounding either English or American. He spoke English like an International Spy, I thought—too perfectly. Wore a beard without any mustache. Seemed to have a great deal of expertise in engineering, and in fast and efficient business dealings, etc. I couldn’t help but imagine that he either had a lot of cash or a lot of gold and diamonds hidden away!

The Extreme Real Thing

I took the slim chance that I might discover that salvager’s name and bio on the Internet, and couldn’t find it—not so far, at least. In cruising those sites, though, I did run across sites about an Admiral Edward Ellsberg, an American Naval officer who was, if not famous in the world at large, well-known among Navy and salvage men. It is, however, a mystery to me—guess I have to read the book!—how he ever became an Admiral since most of the time during his extensive World War Two tasks of building and salvaging, the Navy brass didn’t like him.

The paragraph below is quoted from the Web Site noted further below.

”Sent to England to advise on preparations for the D-Day landings, he found himself in a difficult situation with little authority, as the British had prime responsibility for the naval side of operations. Responsibility for the provisions of the two Mulberry harbours was shared between the Admiralty and the War Office, which had not recognized the scale of the problem or the resources required for deploying the Phoenix concrete breakwater caissons. Once completed, these were grounded off Selsey Bill, to be refloated after the beachhead was secured and towed to Normandy. Ellsberg was the catalyst that finally got the authorities to recognize the scale of the salvage operation required to pump out and refloat over a hundred caissons in a matter of a few days - without which the whole artificial port concept would have been jeopardized.”

Read more about Edward Ellsberg in reference to a 1999 biography, "Salvage Man", by John D. Alden.
Thanx to P.S. at Changes In The Glass for passing along those reflections about Santa and madness. Now I don’t feel so extreme about acting as if there are connections between these disparate things!

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