Shipwreck hunter will write book about Kauai’s underwater treasures

HANALEI – Capt. Rick Rogers has learned a valuable lesson in his quest for

sunken treasure.

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

islands.

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

history.”

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.

The

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.

The

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

islands.

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

unusual history.

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

steamships.

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.

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