There are so many people around the world who have discovered, explored, tracked down and shown to the world some of the most amazing shipwrecks known to history. These wrecks have now been examined by enthusiasts from the four corners of the globe in books and television documentaries that continue to fascinate and inspire.
In the first of several interviews, I am speaking to those who bring us that history and work hard to get the forgotten stories brought to light. We will start first by welcoming James Delgado.
James has been featured on many TV specials and published several books.
Could you explain what drove you to pursue a career that involved shipwrecks?
I had a fascination with the sea and boats from an early age; both grandfathers had boats. My interest in the archaeology of ships came in May 1978 with the uncovering of the buried ship Niantic at Clay and Sansome Streets in San Francisco’s Financial District. Several blocks from the sea, it had been beached and converted into a storeship – a “tenement moored in the mud,” according to a contemporary account of 1850 – and then burned to the waterline and filled over in 1851. The remains of the ship and goods stored inside it saw me shift my professional interests to maritime archaeology.
What has been your most “wow moment” in your career?
It has come more than once; the “wow” comes from connecting with people who were connected to Among those have been the wrecks of the slave ship Clotilda, Titanic, USS Arizona, USS Nevada (right), USS Conestoga, U-215, USS Saratoga, USS Arkansas, HIJMS Nagato, the Japanese midget submarines involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, veterans from both sides at Pearl Harbor, at the atomic tests at Bikini, from the Battle of the Atlantic, and many more. As an archaeologist, what compels me to continue what I do are people and their stories.that ship, either personally, as members of a crew, as survivors, or as family members of those who were lost.
How many shipwrecks have you investigated and/or dealt with?
Over a hundred.
What, in your opinion, would you say was your most important discovery either at sea or in the archives and why?
That depends – some ships and their stories have different meaning to various groups, and for different reasons. The most important have been those that connect to people past and present; as a scholar, I feel the work I’ve done on the California Gold Rush’s maritime aspects, the archaeological analysis of early submarines, the maritime archaeology of World War II and the Cold War, and the maritime cultural landscape and wrecks of the Arctic and Panama are the ones that stand out to me as achievements I’m proud of.
Do you still get speechless when making new discoveries today?
What was your last project and what did you achieve?
It was the forensic identification of the slave ship Clotilda (right) in the Mobile River in Alabama. Identifying the ship and connecting with the descendants of those brought to America in it was profound. The identification of the actual remains continues to have positive results in the community.
What are your hopes for your future discoveries?
My greatest hope is that we can continue to share the discoveries and what they represent to as wide an audience as possible; that the work inspires young people to go into the fields of ocean science, exploration, archaeology, or interpretation, and that we add to the pages of history while also revising history to more accurately reflect that which was, especially in finding the voice of people whose stories and contributions were supressed or forgotten.
Is there anything else you would like to share that would interest the reader?
The great age of discovery in the oceans has just begun. There is much more to find and to learn from. I often think, especially for younger people, that here, at home, on this planet, our final frontier is the ocean and all that it holds as secrets. The oceans are the key to life’s origins and our ongoing survival as a living planet. Exploration and the opportunity to learn that comes from it are a paramount goal, not simply to find that which we can exploit, from minerals, fish or “treasure” but in terms of that which needs to be carefully studied and protected.
James Delgado continues to investigate shipwrecks and has published a number of books. He lives in Florida and is currently the Vice President of SEARCH Inc.