Bringing up the past: Utah divers bring up a revolutionary war ship

Published: Sunday, Nov. 14 2010 12:10 a.m. MST

Blum also took the company public to help finance what can be expensive undertakings. It's on the stock exchange as DPBE.

Some underwater salvage companies specialize in hauling up modern-day wrecks, but there aren't very many that go after history. Blum says there are fewer than a dozen worldwide. Getting started is about meeting others and forming contacts. It didn't take Deep Blue long to locate others who could either use a hand or were willing to give them one. Before too long, Deep Blue's crew was busy harvesting relics of the past from the ocean floor, as subcontractors on permits that Bowden had been issued by the Dominican Republic government. They went to work on Le Scipion in 2007.

It's easy to be mesmerized by the shipwrecks, especially when you're watching Blum reach into a trunk to pull out bits and pieces of American history. However, there are other jobs the company tackles that are as technically demanding, though not quite as romantic. Early on, they had a subcontract to help bring up a giant crane that fell into the Colorado River below Hoover Dam. They helped Utah's other underwater recovery company, Cross Marine of American Fork, recover the light plane which crashed into Lake Powell in 2007 with Olympian Rulon Gardner on board.

But they are particularly fond of historical wrecks. Blum and Champion, for example, long to bring up the Bluenose, a famed Canadian racing and fishing vessel that's been depicted on the Canadian postage stamp and dime. It foundered on a Haitian reef in 1946.

In July, Deep Blue added two new contracts of its own in the Dominican Republic: One gives Deep Blue the rights to explore and excavate in approximately 40 miles of coastline on the north shore of the island. And the recovery company has signed an agreement with the Punta Cana Foundation to do research and recovery in a specific area near Punta Cana, a port town on the eastern-most tip of the Caribbean island.

The company brings up the past with four boats, which bear the names of the women in Blum's life. The Kerri Lynn and Karli Ann are identical 78-foot boats that are Deep Blue's boat twins, named after the human twins who dive from them. The Lady Laura, owned by Capt. Billy Rawson, is a smaller 40-foot dive boat used for daily transportation to the wreck sites. Laura is also the name of Blum's wife. The last boat bears the name of Blum's nondiving daughter, Amber Jane, 28, and is used to identify the remains of shipwrecks. It is Deep Blue's research ship, now dry-docked on the coast of Florida while the thrust system is reworked, then it will anchor at the Punta Cana site.

Strict rules govern an underwater dig of historical merit, but they vary from country to country. In the Dominican Republic, a government official must be on site, watching to see what rises from the depths. When something's found — and often it will be barnacle-clearing, sand-removing days before they really know what they just pulled off the ocean floor — it must be photographed in place, then drawn into the detail map that staff archeologist Alejandro Selmi maintains with great precision. All this must take place before a find can be lifted aboard the ship and taken to the conservators who clean and catalog items. Deep Blue gets a portion of whatever is recovered from a wreck site, while the government gets the rest.

In September, Deep Blue opened a tiny but extremely well-stocked museum in Samana Bay, a gift to the community. It is rich with remnants of life on Le Scipion. Old sails drape across the ceiling of the 1,000 square foot museum. Visitors snake back and forth past exhibits ranging from the replica brick oven to the authentic chunk of silver that bears the stamp marking the king's portion. The museum is small, says Champion, but packed with history, each bit of space well-used. As visitors wend through the narrow aisles, creaking sounds create a surreal experience. It is to this museum Blum donated his favorite pieces of history: two lovingly restored 18-pound cannons which now grace the deck outside the museum. The 18 pounds refers to the weight of the cannon ball; such a projectile is accurate up to 600 meters.

The past and the present meet in the museum's gift shop, where replicas of historic items are displayed beside T-shirts and Deep Blue's own line of suntan lotion.

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