Five Life Lessons from Bona Fide Modern-Day Treasure Hunters
CAUTION: Do Not Read Any More of this Article
Throwing caution to the wayside, you decided to keep reading, didn’t you? You probably didn’t
take that warning seriously, and you have very little at stake in seeing what else this article has to
Think back to the first time you saw a “Do Not Enter” sign. Did a little voice in your head
encourage you to go there anyway, or at least crane your neck to see why you weren’t supposed
to go? Now, what if that little voice was actually the voice of many of the people you spoke to,
and maybe even the voice of reason also inside your head, a voice warning you that your
decision to find out what’s hiding could cost you money and time, or worse?
That’s what these five explorers faced, but they found reasons to persevere. Not continuing was
an impossibility. The voice telling them to keep looking was strong, and in some cases, others,
even naysayers, were still dying to see what was on the other side.
These people listened to the voice telling them to explore, to see what’s out there, not to the
naysayers. They were the childhood friends who always wanted you to see places your parents
never wanted you to go. They are modern day treasure hunters, and their entire lives are
dedicated to taking risks because they believe the reward could be far greater. Here is a list of
five life lessons those of us who often play it safe can learn from treasure hunters who have
reaped the benefits of continually seeking a treasure, and some that are still in search of theirs.
1) Begin Early and Write Well (Dr. E. Lee Spence, 1947-)
While other kids were bumbling around on the soccer field and first worrying about how to pop
pimples, German-born Edward Lee Spence was exploring. By the time he was 12 years old,
Spence had begun his career as an explorer by laying claim to the discovery of not one, not two,
but five shipwrecks. (Yeah, we re-evaluated our pre-adolescent life choices too.)
Spence, an innovator and pioneer in underwater archaeology, experimented in scuba technology
from an early age. Inspired by tales of pirates and adventures, he alleged that he discovered his
first loot in late 1959/early 1960. That discovery helped motivate and catapult his career into
hundreds of other salvage dives, including the hotly debated salvage of the Hunley, which
adventure writer Clive Cussler also says he discovered.
He also contends with Cussler in the literary arena, having written several non-fiction reference
books and working as a magazine editor for Diving World, Atlantic Coastal Diver, Treasure,
Treasure Diver, and Treasure Quest, and a publisher for ShipWrecks and Wreck Diver. (Is there
bit of a theme there?)
Throughout his life, the multi-talented Dr. Spence has recovered an estimated $50 million in
valuable artifacts. In addition to being an expert treasure hunter, Dr. Spence is an esteemed
researcher; his research played a key role in the salvage of the side-paddle-wheel-steamers
Republic and Central America. The salvage of those two ships has yielded over a $1 billion in
While Spence is no longer in the limelight, and was even described as “in poor physical and
financial health” by Cussler, his list of achievements is long, rich, and healthy.
2) Your Imagination Can Help You Shape Your Reality (Mel Fisher, 1922-1998)
Mel Fisher is another treasure hunter who was drawn to the search at an early age. While reading
about pirates and deep sea plunder, falling particularly in love with Treasure Island, Fisher
developed a love for adventure.
But Fisher lived nowhere near a treasure island, or any island at all. Even though his hometown
of Hobart, Indiana is in Lake County and is home to the popular fishing spot, Lake George, “The
Friendly City” didn’t exactly boast a population of sea-faring types. But that did not stop Fisher
from trying his hand at using diving equipment. During his adolescence, he tested his own
creation, a “hard hat” diving suit in nearby lagoons.
Those experiments and self-made adventures inspired Fisher to create a life of treasure hunting
that led up to his discovery and salvage of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Seńora de Atocha in
1985. This was the achievement of a lifetime, especially for a boy from rural Indiana. The hoard
was worth an estimated $450 million that included gold, silver, emeralds, and other valuable
artifacts. (A pretty sweet picture of Fisher and some of his elaborate treasure can be found here.)
Perhaps it was embedded in his water-related last name (Fisher... get it?), or maybe it was the
undeniable allure of the world of Treasure Island, but Mel Fisher certainly made a name for
himself before retiring in Key West, FL.
3) You Can Make Millions in Your Off Hours (Philip Masters, 1937-2007)
Philip Masters was no stranger to hard work—a characteristic that aided him in his search for
treasure. Before becoming known for his salvaging career, he held a wealth of different jobs.
From cab driver to jewelry salesman to stockbroker, he had a steady flow of work that help
support his passion for history.
His diverse resume helped him dive into treasure hunting. He spent his nights, weekends, and
vacations to research to lost treasures and sunken ships, discovering in 1987 what he believed to
be the location of wreckage off of the North Carolinian coast for the ship of a very famous, very
vile pirate. He pioneered the search for the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a flagship boat that was
captained by none other than Blackbeard.
Amazingly, it seems he serendipitously discovered the ship that is the stuff of legends in
November 1996 while searching for another wreckage, the El Salvador. But Philip Masters had
hit what is possibly the coolest accidental jackpot ever. (Although the United States/New World
was a pretty good find for Christopher Columbus, too.) Though he never found the El Salvador
during his lifetime, Masters’ crew, Intersal Inc., continues his vision and search.
4) Keep it in the Family when You Can (Brent W. Brisben)
Brent W. Brisben has made treasure hunting a family affair, and his story is still unfolding. Since
his upbringing in Montgomery, Ohio, to the finding of the 1715 Treasure Fleet, Brisben has been
working with his family to achieve great things throughout his life.
He and his father, William Brisben, founded 1715 Fleet – Queen Jewels, LLC, a company
dedicated finding a very special—and extremely loaded—ship that was once braving the dark
seas to bring riches from Spain to the New World. After acquiring exclusive rights (from Mel
Fisher) to the salvage of the 1715 Treasure Fleet in 2010, it took only seventeen days before his
crew started discovering lost treasure.
The first treasure was a single bronze swivel gun (the only one found on the ship), which held a
sum of gold and silver. Carrying on the theme of making it a family affair, a month later, a
mother/daughter team found the prized “Pelican in Piety,” a bird made of gold and valued at
$885,000 at the time of salvage.
For the past five years, Brisben’s company has continued to salvage cache from the halls of the
sunken vessel. It’s almost as if it were meant to be for Brisben and company: On the 300 th
anniversary of the ship’s sinking (July 30 th and 31 st 2015), over 300 gold coins were recovered, a
bounty estimated to be worth over $3 million.
5) True Dedication to a Dream Affects All Aspects of Life (Martin Bayerle, 1951-)
Martin Bayerle was raised in Brighton Beach, New York. Always an adventurous child who
wanted to have his hand in everything, Bayerle lost the use of his left eye in a fireworks accident
at the early age of eleven, solidifying his signature pirate look, and maybe a big part of his
future. Even though his vision was completely altered and many tasks were quite a bit more
difficult, the injury did not dissuade him from his adventurous nature.
By the time he was fifteen, Bayerle began scuba diving off the coasts of New York and New
Jersey. This quickly became a passion, and he went on to teach scuba lessons during his
collegiate career, eventually opening his own dive shop. Through his studies and exploration of
diving, he learned of several shipwrecks and salvage opportunities, and he couldn’t get them off
Bayerle would go on to found a salvage company, MAVIS, based out of Matha’s Vineyard.
Later, he and MAVIS would discover and earn the rights to the salvage of the RMS Republic, an
ongoing project that he plans to complete in the coming years.
But for Bayerle, the story wasn’t as simple as loving diving and going for the (literal) gold. In a
twist of fate, his dedication to the RMS Republic ultimately cost him his family. However, the
loss of his family led to a dramatic personal decision that was driven by a fierce desire to protect
his ex-wife and children, and that inadvertently set back his salvage efforts. His dark, but
passionate, life story has only gone on to fuel his desires: family and the RMS Republic. His
quest for the RMS Republic now coincides with the quest to right the wrongs of his past.
These explorers listened to their inner voices that told them to explore, voices that would not let
them be satisfied until they caught their White (or gold?) Whale. Some are still searching for
treasures following an inner fire, an unquenchable thirst, a drive that keeps their passion alive.
Others may call them foolish, but a little part of us envies them; We want to stand beside them
and see where the adventures lead. The final lesson that these adventures teach us, is to always
listen to our inner explorer; whether we go out and seek adventure ourselves or watch others do
it while we sit safely on the other side of a television as they search, seek, and discover.
This article was published on Sunday 10 July, 2016.