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According to the two divers, the 'Wignall Expedition' had laboured long and hard throughout the previous summer searching for the sunken wreck. As was stated earlier a pewter plate had been found with Señor Matuta's name on it. Nothing more really - perhaps, some ballast - I forget most of the details at this distance of time. They said that as the diving season drew to its conclusion Sidney Wignall got increasingly morose and unpredictable, without even a civil word for his long-suffering divers all of whom were out there without pay, on a 'shares basis' should any treasure be found. On the final evening of the search, when the weary crew had dragged themselves ashore to make preparations for the return to their homes empty handed after the season's labours, Sidney Wignall decided to take his large search-boat out over the wreck site and set fire to it in a bizarre duplication of a Viking cremation - without him on board of course! Only the boat would be destroyed - a valuable boat - a boat that the disappointed and out-of-pocket divers implored him to give to them rather than wantonly destroy such a valuable craft.

They could have sold it, and split the proceeds amongst themselves, in order that at least they wouldn't be returning to England completely empty-handed. Wignall wouldn't listen to their pleas, and sure enough, as night fell, the lovely yacht was sailed out to the position that was thought to be directly above the white bones of the late much-lamented Matuta and his companions. Petrol was poured over it, and Wignall struck a match and threw it onto the deck before jumping into a small rubber workboat and making back to the shore. This incomprehensible acurned most of his divers against him. All loyalty to the former leader evaporated immediately - the bond was severed irrevocably. It was Wignall's treatment of his men had brought Terry and Joe into our lives.


Apart from the dwindling numbers of genuine serving or retired Master Mariners, the majority of 'Lunch-Time' members were men who were involved in the maritime services and supply Industries, such as stevedoring, paint manufactures, ship's chandlery and the like. It was a good meeting place to encounter other people working in the busy world of the Liverpool Docks, and many a profitable contract was sealed over a congenial glass of beer aboard The Landfall all those years ago. Two such commercially minded regular diners were Brian Hotchkiss, who was a certificated Master Mariner, and his colleague, whose name escapes me after all these years! They were both directors of a locally based engineering company named Unilat Engineering of the Corn Exchange Buildings. It's strange that I can't recall the name of the second man, for he was the driving force, and I suspect the senior figure in the business. A charming, impeccably dressed, good-looking Welshman, with a fluency of tongue and an adventuresome engaging spirit.

They were obvious choices as additional partners in the Treasure Hunt, not only because they were engineers, which was a welcome capacity for such a project, and not only because Brian was a sea-captain with his knowledge of the wind and the tides and the ways of the sea - but also because they owned a sea-going boat! The acquisition of a diving-boat was something we had agonised about. We had assumed that we would have to hire an expensive vessel for this purpose. This was just what we needed! The vessel that they owned, and which was registered in the name of Unilat Engineering, was The Grey Dove.

The boat was a converted German E- boat, which had been impounded by the British in 1944 at the time of The D-Day landings. Since that time she'd enjoyed a varied career, including towing targets for naval artillery practice. With her huge thrusting engines designed for high-speed surprise attack, spacious decks and comfortable accommodation, she would make an ideal diving-platform and floating Bed & Breakfast for divers and crew. Unilat Engineering subsequently agreed to join the venture, and a meeting was convened aboard The Landfall in order to hammer out the financial detail of the business aspects of the tripartite relationship between Compass Catering, Unilat Engineering and the active Diving participants in the projected expedition. Agreement was reached that Compass Catering would supply all food, victuals, and a cook for the divers and crew, together with an Air Compressor for replenishing the divers bottles.

Unilat Engineering would provide The Grey Dove, a captain and crew, and would pay for the fuel consumed during the project; they would also bring special underwater pressure blasting equipmeno blow away the sand that would have settled on the wreck.

The divers, recruited by the McCormack brothers, would number ten. Their contribution would be obvious - they would locate and bring up to the surface the glittering prize of Spanish gold to be shared among the participants. The expedition was expected to last for five months, that being the length of the diving season in the waters off County Kerry.

The Expedition Leader was to be Terry McCormack, and his word was to be paramount in any disputations or disagreements. After much consideration, Colin and I thought it best if Ronnie accompanied the expedition acting as the cook, a suggestion with which Ronnie readily agreed. This would fulfil that part of out commitment, and mean that we had an on the spot observer to watch over our interests. The unpleasant truth was that the McCormack brothers had (however understandably) broken their word to the former expedition leader Sidney Wignall, and it would do no harm to have our own man at the heart of the operation, watching developments and monitoring progress. Further meetings solved all the smaller details of organisation, and it was during this period that perhaps inevitably, the story got out, perhaps during the interviewing of applicant divers. The press got news of the venture, at first locally via The Liverpool Echo - then the national newspapers published reports.

I was interviewed by BBC and ITV television. [The BBC paid me £5.50p for a three and a half minute live interview!] Somehow, I always managed to mention our floating club by name! It had all the elements of a good story - SUNKEN TREASURE - GOLD - AN EX-GERMAN E BOAT - and RIVAL TEAMS OF DIVERS! Reporters besieged us!

It was good for business! On Wednesday 22 May, we received a telegram from North Wales's businessman Sidney Wignall warning us from interfering with, or diving on the wreck. Wignall claimed that he'd authority from the Spanish Government that gave him sole diving rights. A newspaper accused us of being 'pirates'! This development wasn't unexpected by our alliance, and we decided to ignore the threat of court action which also figured in the telegram. Final preparations were made for the vessel to sail, and at 5.30am on 22 May 1969, The Grey Dove slipped out to sea. The newspapers were following the developments closely, and regular updates appeared in all the British daily papers.

I gave many interviews to reporters, but played my cards pretty close to my chest. But while the sharp bow of The Grey Dove cuhrough the cold, leaden waters of the Irish Sea - destination Kinsale - the wily Wignall wasn't wasting time. Not many people know that the law provides a mechanism for those who believe that the law is about to be broken. It's called an ' injunction' This means that a person can go to the home of a Magistrate, wake him or her from slumber in the middle of the night. If someone is successful in convincing the Officer of the Law that a transgression of the law, or misdemeanour, is about to take place, then the Magistrate can issue an injunction which prohibits the named party or parties from further action until the case has been brought to court and a decision made on the matter. This is what Mr Wignall did.

The result was that as The Grey Dove purred quietly into Kinsale Dock in County Cork, the expeditionaries were greeted by the sight of three Irish Guardia vehicles with blue revolving lights flashing waiting patiently on the quayside. A smiling, ruddy-complexioned Irish Police sergeant handed the grim faced Terry a thin buff coloured envelope. Terry's stubby fingers ripped open the official-looking missive - twenty-five eyes watched anxiously, (one of his thirteen companions only had one eye!) as their leader scanned the sheet of paper. Terry sighed, shoulders hunched he turned to the waiting men standing in a tired bunch on the gently moving deck - "That's it lads" he grated - "Wignall is taking us to bloody court - he has served an injunction against us - we cant dive on The Santa Maria until the judge decides whether we can or not! " He crumpled the paper and shoved it contemptuously into the back pocket of his heavy-weather trousers - " C'mon lads lets get cleaned up and go to the nearest pub and talk it over for Christ's Sake!"

Not exactly, what you would call an Irish Welcome don't you agree? Ronnie telephoned us from the pub a few hours later a little the worse for drink - and I didn't blame him for that. We called an immediate meeting of the backers. Later that night we decided on our strategy. In short, it was this. We couldn't accept that the Spanish government had any prerogative either ethically or legally, to award any exclusive rights to dive on the wreck of a Spanish warship that had been lost during an act of aggression against the British Crown at a time when the whole of Ireland was part of the British Empire. It seemed to us, as Liverpudlians, that it was the same as giving The Federal Republic of Germany the right to claim and exercise ownership of a wartime Nazi bomber, that on its cruel mission of bombing the Fish & Chip shops of our city, had crashed into the waters of Liverpool Bay. In our minds - if you lose a vessel or a tank, or a Landing Craft (as in The Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA funded Cuban mercenaries) - in some military action - particularly as an outright aggressor, as the Spanish (and Cuban Émigré) forces certainly were, then you can't expect any recompense if things go wrong and you lose your vessels and vehicles of transport! It was a downright cheek wasn't it? As the Secretary of the Expeditionary Consortium,

Irish Times Article

I was instructed to write and send off a telegram to The Irish President. Late that night, as the sounds of 'Mrs. Robins' and 'Hickory Holler's Tramp' throbbed up from the Disco dancing lower deck of a packed Clubship Landfall, I composed the following telegram to Mr. De Valero the President of The Republic of Eire. After submitting it to a further meeting of the consortium and to our solicitor for his approval, the telegram was sent a few days later. I reproduce the text of the communication.

And so it was that as the last days of May 1969 drew out, The Grey Dove rode quietly at anchor in the pewter coloured water of Dingle harbour in County Kerry, for the injunction did not inhibit further progress around the coast from the Port of Kinsale. Gently breasting the strong regular rollers that had found life in the murky fastnesses of the far off Grand Banks, three thousand miles away in the New World, The Grey Dove bobbed and lurched on the gentle swell of Neptune's quilt. The divers and crew bobbed and lurched to the plaintive sounds of the flutes and fiddles of the warm-hearted welcoming Celtic seaport's Public Houses.

Liverpool folk always get a special welcome in Ireland. Culturally and economically, there was hardly any difference between the experience and background of a Scouser, and that of an Irishman. Well, that is the way it was in those far off days. The upshot of the whole affair was that after appearing in court in Dublin we lost the case. The appellant, Sidney Wignall was granted sole diving rights on the Santa Maria Della Rosa. The only consolation was that he'd to pay his own costs