When does Clive Cussler find time to write? In The Sea Hunters II, a collection of true stories about his searches for lost ships, aircraft and, in one case, cannons, the prolific adventure novelist seems always to be flying to this site or that to oversee yet another against-the-odds quest that he's underwritten with his book royalties. Often, the pursuit yields nothing except the excitement of the hunt and the companionship of fellow enthusiasts. But there are clearly enough successes and near misses to keep the author's blood up.

To spearhead his searches, Cussler founded NUMA (National Underwater & Marine Agency), a real-life echo of the world-girdling NUMA he created for his Dirk Pitt novels. Cussler is quick to point out, however, that his NUMA has only bare-bones financing compared to that of its free-spending fictional counterpart.

In this book, the details of each actual exploration are preceded by a narrative in which the authors reconstruct from historical documents and their own rich imaginations the events leading up to the loss of the object they are looking for. By this device, they are able to "explain" precisely what happened to the crew of the fabled "ghost ship," Mary Celeste, which was found drifting and abandoned in 1872. Discovering what he is convinced are remnants of this ship is one of Cussler's headiest triumphs.

As passionate as he is about this aspect of his work, Cussler never romanticizes it. While Dirk Pitt may command first-class accommodations in exotic locales, his creator is far more likely to find himself in a seedy motel along the Mississippi or the New Jersey coast. Pitt has state-of-the-art equipment; Cussler makes do with state-of-the-moment tools.

The oldest remains Cussler and company look for are those of the French ship L'Amiable, lost in 1685 off the coast of what is now Texas. His most vivid and probably most accurate story involves the sinking of Lieutenant John F. Kennedy's PT-109 in 1943. There is also a diverting account in which the explorers cruise a lake in Vermont to look for Aunt Sally, an experimental boat that may or may not have gone down there in the late 1820s. For pure drama, nothing else matches the authors' description of the steamboat New Orleans as it is tossed and pelted on the Mississippi River by the New Madrid earthquake of 1811.

The best part of these engaging tales is that they all have modestly happy endings. Even when the searchers come up empty- handed, they console themselves with the prospect of trying again another day. And often they do.

comments powered by Disqus