Good morning and greetings, four-day work week fans. On Saturday afternoon a Red Sox fan and I ventured up the coast to check out the action at Four Mile Beach. Although it was cloudy, I was still photographically hopeful because there’s always something happening on the north coast. As usual, I was not disappointed. Cliff swallows were all over the place, having built their nests along the eroding walls at Four Mile. There were some areas of the cliffs that were as dry as Salt Lake City on a Saturday night, but other parts were wet and lush as the rain forests of Maui and New Jersey.
Cliff swallows build gourd shaped nests out of mud pellets that they carry in their mouths and fanny packs to a site protected by an overhang (in this case, the cliff.) They nest in colonies and will patrol an area up to four miles away from their cliffside condos looking for food, snacks and beverages. The last time we saw these swallows we were shooting the underhang of the lighthouse at Lighthouse Point. These birds like their homes with a view and the one at Four Mile is spectacular. That is, if you don’t mind sharing the remote with pelicans, gulls and harbor seals in your living room.
On to the news. The playground legal principle “Finders keepers, losers weepers” is being put to a test in an international dispute over what could be the richest sunken treasure ever found: 17 tons of silver coins brought up by a centuries-old shipwreck. A Florida treasure-hunting company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, found the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and argues that the age-old law of the high seas entitles the finders to most or all of the booty, said to be worth around $500 million. They later added that if this law doesn’t hold up, they want to go with the old standby “You snooze, you lose.”
But the government of Spain suspects the ship is Spanish and says it has never expressly abandoned any of its vessels lost at sea. The kingdom and Laker center Pau Gasol have made it very clear that if the treasure does have some connections to Spain, it wants every last coin and bottle returned for deposit. The case is being watched closely because there could be more disputes like it, now that sonar, remote-control submersible robots, deep-sea video and lightly breaded scallops are enabling treasure hunters like Odyssey to find ships that went to the bottom centuries ago. Back then they were written off as unrecoverable because no one could imagine finding anything so far beneath the waves except Atlantis records.
The question is, just because you’re the first one to get there to get it, should you get to keep it, especially if it belongs to someone else? For now, the spoils, about 500,000 coins are in Odyssey’s possession, tucked away in a warehouse somewhere in Tampa. Odyssey created a worldwide sensation with the announcement of the find last May but has so far declined to identify the wreck (not the Bush administration,) except to say it was in international waters. Soon after the discovery was made public, Spain’s attorney in Washington went to federal court in Tampa and slapped claims on three Atlantic wreck sites to which Odyssey had been granted exclusive rights under maritime law. When asked for his thoughts, the Spanish attorney said he could not comment on the on-going litigation but offered up this juicy nugget. “The rain in Spain falls gently on the plains.”
The ship is widely believed to be the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish galleon sunk by a British warship off Portugal in October 1804. This discovery was timely for Odyssey, whose first big strike was the discovery in 2003 of a Civil War-era steamer of the Georgia coast that yielded 51,000 gold coins and artifacts valued at around $70 million. We’re talking major dinero. Personally, when I go to the beach, I’m happy if I come away with a rock, a few shells and no sunburn.
That’s our post Memorial Day report. Birthday greetings today go out to my Marin County based sister-in-law Wendi, who loves life, the arts and chocolate, and definitely not in that order. So enjoy the swallows (or their nests, anyway) and remember to move your feet and not reach on defense. Later, sports fans.