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Shark tales a plenty in Sandy’s wake

By Sherri Ellington Barnesville’s own sea captain Kelly Garrett has been on plenty of dives while recovering countless items from the bottom of the ocean ‘“ sometimes even sand from the bottom of the ocean itself. He has a few shark encounters under his belt, too. A thousand sharks at one time makes for a tall sailor’s tale, but Aqua Quest International, the marine archaeological recovery company for which Garrett works, decided to get the footage to prove what the crew saw. ’They ran us off the wreck and put us right out of business for the trip,’ said Garrett. ‘We’ve dove that wreck before without seeing a single shark. You’re usually lucky to see a shark on the bottom. That was weird to the bone.’ In the wake of Hurricane Sandy the Aqua Quest arrived to check out the cargo it planned to salvage, only to find no one could get into the water. ’I sent Bob down into the water at 9 a.m. Ten minutes later he was up and waving me down. I thought I’d set him down off wreck. The current really rips there,’ said Garrett, referring to Capt. Bob Mayne, CEO of Aqua Quest International. Garrett has worked for him off and on for 24 years. ‘He said there were 1,000 sharks. He caught 10 on his head camera alone.’ Separated from a salvage load of potentially millions of dollars worth of copper ore and having filled the tank with enough fuel ‘to buy a brand new truck,’ said Garrett, the crew spent the day taking footage of ferocious-looking sand tiger sharks, their flotillas of remoras and the occasional barracuda. A friend set some of the footage to music and the crew posted it onto the company Facebook page. Sand tiger sharks are big and have mouthfuls of sharp teeth that protrude in all directions, jutting out of their mouths, but usually attack humans only when bothered. They gulp air and float until their prey comes along, an unusual thing for sharks. They can be seen lazily floating in the video footage. Only twice does one approach and bump a camera before deciding it was not edible. ’It’s my turn to dive first next time,’ said Garrett. ‘I’m sending a camera down first. They should be gone. There’s not enough bait fish living there to feed them long.’ Remoras are short, thick-set sucking fish. They use a disc on the top of the head to obtain rides and food from other animals. ’When you see the remoras you know there’s a shark around or maybe a sea turtle. The barracudas are always there,’ he said. ’They stay in the middle and we just dive through them. The sharks though, they were all the way from the wreck to the top in all directions. We really couldn’t see all of them.’ He said he was unsure if it was the result of Hurricane Sandy or seasonal migration patterns that brought the tiger sharks to the wreck, known variously as the Ringborg, 18 Fathom Wreck and the Ore Wreck. ’We’d been blown in by Hurricane Sandy,’ Garrett said. ‘We were headed in as the HMS Bounty was headed out. It sank. We took the intracoastal back to North Carolina to wait out the storm.’ The Bounty was the replica ship built for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty and used more recently in Pirates of the Caribbean II. Capt. Robin Walbridge went down with his ship. Aqua Quest International is an ocean exploration and archaeological recovery corporation headquartered in Tarpon Springs, Fla. It is salvaging a steamship cargo lost in international waters off the East coast of the U.S. The vessel was originally thought to be en route from a Caribbean port to Philadelphia with a cargo of copper ore destined for manufacturing plants in the northeast U.S. It turned out to be the A/S Ringborg, a Norwegian ship of British construction. Originally the Leonis, it was yard number 673, triple expansion engine number 673. It reportedly foundered near Cape Fear, N.C., after springing a leak Oct. 1, 1924, going from Santa Lucia, Cuba, to New York, loaded with sugar cane. ’It was manifested with sugar cane but that was a lie,’ said Garrett. ‘Most of that cargo is copper ore with probably some sugar cane on top. I suspect it was overloaded. If you’re lying about what it held, you’re lying about how much. There’s really no way to tell how much is down there.’ Several engine artifacts have been recovered over several years, each with ‘˜673’ on them, thus identifying the ship if not the official cargo. It is no secret the cargo is copper and concreted together from its time under water. Garrett has devised what he calls an ‘oredog,’ basically a giant air hammer meant to break up the cargo while not damaging the popular dive spot. ’He’s a jack of all trades, expert diver, welder, boat captain and one of the funniest characters you’ll ever meet,’ said Mayne about Garrett. ‘Boo Boo keeps the crew and guests entertained with his sharp wit and talented guitar playing and singing. He’s truly one in a million.’ According to researcher Danny Campbell, ‘The Ringborg sank in a 1924 storm 25 miles southeast of Cape Fear while carrying a cargo of sugar and iron ore from Cuba. Pete Manchee and I identified it in January 2007 using numbers stamped on various engine parts and comparing them to the ship building yard numbers.’ The Ringborg was owned at the time of her loss by H.M. Wrangell and Company. She had been built in 1903 by William Gray and Company. Garrett said he doubts the Aqua Quest will be doing any more beach restorations. After Sandy, the federal government was looking at a $40 million bill just to restore the New Jersey shore. Tough economic times mean little local money for such projects ‘“ which are temporary because the next time a storm hits the sand ends up right back where it came from ‘“ the bottom of the ocean. ’It’s too expensive to do that any more,’ Garrett said. For more on this adventure click http://www.aquaquestinternational.com

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