Below the Horizon
“From the south pole it is obvious, the earth is covered with one ocean which connects the continents. Seventy percent of our resources are under the sea.”
I opened the mail and read the 17th rejection of my last musing when a call came from my
“It’s getting harder to sell your material. It’s lost its sizzle.” He said. “Needs more push,
Sheldon.” He always addressed me formally, never Shelly or Hewett as I preferred. “Step up the pace,” he advised.
I agreed. I had nearly memorized my journal, reading and re-reading treasured passages,
hoping one would explode into the theme for my next book. I needed a change of pace, a change of scene. A new perspective from the other end of the world. Discounting Tahiti and a number of other exotic locals, I settled on the Florida Keys. Hemingway, Frost, and Tennessee Williams had found inspiration there. I told myself I would take a sabbatical on Key West. After notifying my landlord and neighbors that I would be away for an extended period, I locked up the apartment and left Chicago.
I like to walk. It’s my primary form of exercise and affords me the opportunity to gather sights
and sounds to use in my writing. Settling into the accommodations I had chosen, the Walden
Guest House, in the late afternoon I set out to explore the key on foot. Using a map secured from a collection of brochures in the lobby. I chose first to stroll a route which would take me past the Curry Mansion and Wreckers Museum on my way to the Hemingway house, Mecca of my pilgrimage. I eventually arrived at Front Street, base for Discovery, Underwater Tours and Sebaso Catamarans. Nearby, ready to serve returning seafarers, was a lounge bar; Bogart’s, I surmised the name was a play on Humphrey Bogart’s fame, misplacing his association with the movie, Key Largo.
I stepped into the bar intending to imbibe to a tranquil state and at least temporarily alleviate
my discomfort. Florida, even in the evening is unbearably hot to one who has just escaped from the breezes off cold Lake Michigan.
I sat on a stool near the door. At the far end, the bartender mopped the counter in front of a
cluster of men, apparently entertained by his patter.
“Let me tell you about the time I earned $120,000 in one day,” he boasted.
Turning to me the attendant gestured, ‘Come on down.”
I took a seat with the group. He looked at me expectantly. “Scotch ‘n rocks,” I said. He poured
my drink while returning to his story.
"Beneath the globe, a wooden plaque bore the words:
I cannot rest from travel."
“It was like this. The Phoenix Corporation wanted to lease my submarine. They offered
$1,000.00 per day with a hundred and twenty days guaranteed. I was to survey the ocean floor in search of the remains of a Spanish galleon, the Santa Lucia.”
The men around me were dressed casually. Most in T-shirts adorned with slogans, patches or logos identifying their interest in SCUBA diving. The speaker … with his sincere smile, healthy tan, athletic build and military-cut graying hair reminded me of an aging astronaut.
“How deep did you expect to dive, Tom?” one asked.
“Too deep for SCUBA. I used my three-place mini-sub. I call it the Tortoise. It looks awkward in
dry dock, but flies like a plane underwater.”
“I thought they’ve salvaged most of what’s valuable along the coast here,” another questioned.
“We were to search in Providence Channel, south of Grand Bahama Island, east to Abaco.
Some of you boys must have dived there. An ex-Navy buddy of mine operates a fishing charter out of Bimini. John Swain is his name, … in case any of you want a trophy fish. John had discovered an uncharted reef between Brother Island and Little Isaac Island, northeast of Bimini, on the Grand Bank.”
Tom emptied his glass. While he paused to pour himself another soda, I glanced around the
lounge which was decorated with an assortment of diving gear. Behind the bar, an inventory of liquors flanked a globe. At first, I didn’t recognize our home planet. The orb had been placed in its stand inverted, with the south pole on top. In this perspective the oceans dominated the land area and seemed to flow from pole to pole, joining all the seas into one. Beneath the globe, a wooden plaque bore the words, I cannot rest from travel. The words seemed vaguely familiar; I was searching my memory when Tom’s story interrupted my thoughts.
“About thirty minutes after submerging, I came to a sandbar extending south from Brother
Island along my established course. The bottom sloped into a shallow trench and I could see the top of the bed of coral. Settling to about ten fathoms, I estimate the reef rose twenty feet about the sea floor.”
“The water was clear?” someone interrupted.
“Crystal clear. I could see scattered clouds in the sky. The variety of life and color exceeded
anything in the Keys.”
Tom paused in his monologue while some in the audience shared scenes they had witnessed
on Caribbean reefs.
“You were beyond the Gulf stream. Was the water cold?”
“On deep dives the interior of the sub becomes as cold as a refrigerator, but in those shallow
waters, with the ocean temperature about 70, the humidity turned the sub into a sauna. I could
taste the salty perspiration puddling above my lips.”
“It’s not surprising to find a sunken ship. The waters from Cuba to Puerto Rica are littered with
the remains of commercial and pleasure craft, recent and ancient. After following the trench for
about a mile, I parked on the bottom to examine what looked like the mast and spars of a sailing ship. Worms had eaten the hull but encased in coral was the outline of the rigging. A parrot fish picked at new polyps beginning to form on a bronze plate attached to the fossilized fantail. It identified the wreck, Santa Lucia. Less than two hours into a four-month project I had found the treasure ship.”
“How much treasure was there?” one of the gathering asked.
“No one got a cent from the treasure. To get paid, I accepted equipment. The partners are still
in count. The Santa Lucia, resting on a living coral reef, is out of reach of anyone attempting
salvage. Someday some bastard will probably drop a bottle of Clorox bleach on it and kill it. You boys may have seen where it has been done. They’ll kill the coral and go for the gold.”
Finished, Tom stood back surveying his audience, like an actor taking a bow at the final curtain. I was confident it had escaped his attention that I had taken notes of the performance. From one in attendance, I learned Tom’s last name, Hartman.