Author Peter Benchley – whose 1976 bestseller “The Deep” and the subsequent blockbuster movie adaptation were inspired by his friend’s maritime exploits – once said Teddy Tucker had brought Bermuda to the world and the world to Bermuda.
Mr. Tucker, now in his 80s, has been diving on shipwrecks locally and internationally since the late 1940s. In 1957, he and Mendel L. Peterson of the Smithsonian Institution, with other staff members from the Department of Armed Forces History, developed the grid system for surveying wreck sites.
For three years, Teddy Tucker taught marine archaeology with Mr. Peterson as a college accredited course for the University of Maryland.
In the past Mr. Tucker has owned, supplied and successfully operated a maritime museum in Hamilton and has acted as a consultant and an advisor of methods used in studying and identifying shipwrecks.
Mr. Tucker is a founding member of the Beebe Project in 1983. The Beebe Project is now worldwide, discovering and studying deep-sea animals using submersibles and specially designed cameras. Other founders include “National Geographic” photographer Emory Kristof , Dr. Eugenie Clark and Dr. Joseph MacInnis of Undersea Research, Canada. Mr. Tucker discovered the six-gill shark in Bermuda waters in the 1970s.
In 1983, Mr. Tucker worked with the French and in 1987 and 1989 with the Soviets. He and his family were guests of the former Soviet Union at a Marine Symposium in 1990. In 1990 the Soviet ship RV “Akademik Mystav Keldysh” came to Bermuda at Mr. Tucker’s suggestion to test the equipment before going to the “Titanic” wreck site to make the IMAX film “Titanica.”
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In 1996, he worked with the National Geographic Society in the Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean. In 1997, he worked with the National Geographic in New Zealand. Mr. Tucker and Mr. Steve Blasco, Geological Survey of Canada, were co-scientists on the Bermuda Sea Level Project with the Canadian Navy. The Bermuda Sea Level Project is an on going project.
Mr. Tucker has found more than one hundred shipwrecks around Bermuda including the 16th century treasure ship “San Pedro” containing the fabled gold and emerald Tucker Cross.
“Twice in five years I dived on the wreck, more out of curiosity than thoughts of gain,” he has said about his most famous discovery — the single most valuable piece of treasure ever recovered from the sea. “One day in the summer of 1955, with nothing better to do, I went down for another look, within minutes I uncovered a small, five-sided piece of gold.
“At that point my mild interest in treasure hunting changed. We set out the next day to see what other treasure the old ship held. The weather looked uncertain; I feared we might not be able to dive. I put on a full faced diving mask, which gets air through a rubber hose attached to an air compressor on deck, I leaped into the water. Patiently, lest I overlook something of value, I skimmed across the sandy bottom, which lay like a closed valley between walls of coral.
“My aim that day was to clear away all obvious signs of a shipwreck so that if someone stumbled onto the site he would not recognise it as a shipwreck. I found three beautiful three-quarter inch gold buttons, each studded with three large pearls. Stuck to a few of the musket barrels and cannonballs were two hundred ancient Spanish and French coins. The most recent coin in the batch was dated 1592.
“With the hurricane season upon us we were running out of time. It was already late August and for several days we were shorebound. Soon the weather cleared, and we put in a third day on the bottom. Working slowly, I fanned my hands back and forth to create eddies, which washed the sand away from the spot where I found the original gold piece. A round gold ingot, nine times the size of the first, poked out of the sand. Clearly stamped on its surface was a royal Spanish tax stamp.
“Another full day’s work produced only a gold and pearl button. Again the weather soured. Winds from the northeast sent foaming white water crashing across the reefs around the old wreck. We were stuck ashore.
“Two days later the weather cleared. Anchoring over the old wreck, I leaped into the water and swam down into the coral-protected valley of sand and started fanning and after about ten minutes a shiny object emerged, then another. I uncovered a ten-and-a-half-inch-long, thirty-six-ounce bar of gold and one smaller piece.
“A few days later I put in a sixth day of diving and found another gold ingot.
“By September 1955, and the weather was getting worse. Then on the seventh day, a Sunday, I found the greatest single object of all. Eager to work faster, I took a water hose down to the bottom and turned on the jet to blast sand from the area below the brain coral. After carving a deep hole I turned the jet off.
“When the debris settled, my eyes fell on a gold cross lying face down in the sand, I picked it up and turned it over. Awe struck, I counted the large green emeralds on its face. There were seven of them, each as big as a musket ball. From small rings on the arms of the cross hung tiny gold nails, representing the nails in Christ’s hands, and at the foot was the ring for a third, which had been lost. The carving while beautiful was somewhat crude, indicating that Indians made the cross. It remains my most treasured discovery.”
After being displayed at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo for many years, it was discovered the Tucker Cross had been stolen and replaced with a paste replica shortly before the treasure was to be moved to the Maritime Museum in 1975. Its whereabouts remain unknown.
Aside from his adventures on and beneath the waves, Mr. Tucker is also a historian, artist, lecturer. He has been featured in numerous books and magazines worldwide for over 50 years, such as “Life,” “National Geographic,” “Illustrated London News,” “Saturday Evening Post” (four part series), “Paris Match,” and numerous dive magazines. He was invited to a Royal Command Performance of “The Deep” – directed by the late Peter Yates — which was attended by Prince Charles.
Mr. Tucker is a member of the Explorers Club, as well as a Charter Member of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology (Greece) and in 1991 was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the Underwater Society of America. He is a founding member of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. The Queen appointed Mr. Tucker a Member of British Empire in 1994. In 2000, the New York Explorers Club awarded Mr. Tucker with the Lowell Thomas Award for “Challenging the Deep.”
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