HANALEI – Capt. Rick Rogers has learned a valuable lesson in his quest for
He has learned that the treasures of history are worth
more than their weight in gold.
“Early on I realized treasure hunting was
greedy and that these shipwrecks belonged to everybody. The information we can
get from them, archaeologically, is so much more valuable than a few old
artifacts sitting on a lawn rotting away.”
With one book published,
SHIPWRECKS of Hawaii, Vol. 1, and three more practically in the works, Rogers
is becoming a preeminent authority on many historic vessels that sank into
watery graves around the Hawaiian Islands.
Hailing from Haleiwa, O’ahu,
Rogers is the captain of the Pilialoha, the research vessel used for the
Smithsonian’s marine archaeological dig of King Kamehameha’s sunken pleasure
barge, the Cleopatra, in Hanalei Bay.
Although his day job consists of
piloting DC-9s for Hawaiian Airlines, Rogers just can’t seem to stay away from
the ocean. As one of the crew and divers on the Cleopatra dig and other marine
archaeological excavations throughout Hawaiian waters, Rogers appears to be
happiest when he’s diving on a sunken ship.
Get him dried off and into some
street clothes and you’ll find Rogers lecturing about his theories and
discoveries to “just about anyone who will listen.” Rogers has lectured to
historical and archaeological societies including the prestigious Society for
Hawaiian Archaeology at their annual conferences about his long-standing belief
that Hawai’i hosted Europeans long before Capt. James Cook ‘discovered’ the
Rogers has also participated in an underwater survey of Kealakekua
Bay on the Kona Coast, along with the Hawai’i Shipwreck Museum and the
University of Hawai’i Marine Option program in an attempt to locate the
wreckage of a sunken Spanish galleon, the Konaliloha.
It is believed that
the Konaliloha sank generations before Capt. James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.
Although they came up empty handed, finding this particular ship has been a
long-standing goal of Roger’s, who has been diving and searching for shipwrecks
in Hawai’i since 1976.
“Just last year we gathered some magnetic data that
may lead to the finding of this ship, which could support some of my theories
about the Spanish predating Cook in Hawai’i,” he said.
So, how does one
engage in hunting down shipwrecks?
“When I came to Hawai’i I got tired of
looking at pretty fish and coral, so I asked about shipwrecks. The dive shops
told me there were no shipwrecks, so I started doing my own research and found
copy of Thrum’s Hawaiian annual, where shipwrecks were listed. In 1886, Thrum
made a master list which included the Konaliloha — which I figured out was
probably a Spanish vessel — and that got me interested in Spanish
Rogers explained that between 1565 and the 1800s, the Spanish
maintained a colony in the Philippines.
During most of those years, two
ships would regularly leave Acapulco for Guam loaded with silver, colonists and
the supplies necessary to keep the Philippine colony comfortable.
silver was used to pay the administrators and to purchase silk, porcelain and
spices wanted in Europe and Mexico.
Large galleons loaded with these Asian
treasures would leave Manila in July, sail up to the latitude of Japan and
cross the North Pacific. Sighting land near San Francisco, the ships would sail
down the coast to Mexico.
“During the two centuries of the galleon trade,
nine vessels vanished without a trace. Could any of these have been wrecked in
Hawai’i?” Rogers questioned. “Well, in 1880 Abraham Forander in his ‘Account of
the Polynesian Race’ wrote that in the time of King Kealiikaloa (who reigned
many generations before Cook’s time) witnessed the arrival of a vessel —
called the Konaliloha — on the Big Island commanded by a foreigner.
vessel struck the pali, was broken to pieces by the surf, but the foreigner and
his sister swam to shore.”
Although Rogers has not found any old Spanish
galleons or sunken treasure, his discoveries of actual historic wrecks and old
archives of information pertaining to these have provided more than enough
material to warrant books about the shipwrecks of each of the four main
The first of Rogers shipwreck books to be published is
SHIPWRECKS of Hawaii Vol. 1, which is available at Border’s, some dive shops
and online at http://www.captainrick.com.
Written and illustrated by the
author, this book is an excellent read for anyone interested in Hawai’i’s
With more than 250 pages chocked full of valuable
excerpts from old newspapers and journals, and narratives of the modern-day
search for these doomed vessels, SHIPWRECKS of Hawai’i is a highly entertaining
and informative collection of not only the shipwrecks painstakingly discovered
by Rogers around the Big Island, but also the many adventures he and his family
encountered in this pursuit.
Rogers explained that the book of Kaua’i’s
shipwrecks will be Volume 3, following publication of the next in the series
about Maui County’s shipwrecks.
Around Kaua’i there were shipwrecks that
covered the fur and sandalwood trade, the whaling era, the interisland coastal
trade — mostly island-owned schooners of small size — and large
In the 1800s ships were used to transport sugar cane from the
plantations and every plantation had a landing where ships would anchor
offshore and be loaded with sugar.
“What happened to a number of these
ill-fated ships is that either the weather turned bad or they were heavily
overloaded and sunk,” Rogers continued.