The ss Islander - My Story

Which, following the death of Teddy Jaynes, can now be told....

The non-disclosure agreement having died with him......

On 17th August 1901, the Vancouver World reported the Canadian Pacific steamship Islander was late arriving from “the north,” but “is expected this afternoon.”

It never arrived.

After leaving Skagway, Alaska, at 7:30 p.m. on 14th August, the Islander struck what was reported as an iceberg near Juneau at about 2:15 a.m. on 15th August.

Forty people drowned, including 23 passengers, 16 crew members, and the ship’s Master, Captain, Hamilton R. Foote.ed

 OnRiches beyond the dreams of avarice.....

Or so the caller said.....

Teddy Jaynes in his InterSub days....

Teddy Jaynes phoned me out of the blue one wet and windy winter's afternoon in 1995, as I sat at my desk just up the quay from Mallam's Fish Restaurant in Weymouth. I was Director of Operations of the sail training ship, Astrid, then cruising the islands of the West Indies. The Astrid Trust and I were both permanently short of cash, and what Teddy told me, grabbed my interest from the off. I first met the guy when we employed him as a Zodiac boat driver, back in 1976, during my Marseille days as Operations Manager of the French Submarine company, InterSub. At that time he was a sociable, easy going young man, with a terrific personality and a great sense of humour, who fitted in well with our international crews.

His Grandfather had been a cowboy, in a Wild West Show, back in the 1920s

He told me had been working as a diver with the US based History Incorporated, and that on winding up, the directors had given him title to all the artefacts of the Canadian Pacific steamer 'Islander', which had struck an iceberg and sunk, off the Alaskan coast, with millions in gold on board : gold bars, nuggets, dust - and several tons of gold ore in concentrate. It was ours for the taking. All we had to do was raise enough capital, negotiate a deal with the Salvage Association in London, charter a boat, fit her out, and head North. It sounded easy - all too easy - but I was hooked.

Ted's company, was called OceanMar Incorporated, a Delaware corporation - with only the one director - Theodore P Jaynes himself.

The documentation he held was fairly basic, and so I drove up to Liverpool in order to conduct research into the Canadian Pacific archives held at the Guildhall Library. Much of it contained in enormous, ancient, dusty, padlocked, leather bound tomes that were wheeled in by helpful librarians. Canadian Pacific board meeting agendas and minutes were the most interesting parts - but, search as I could, there was no reference to any gold bullion shipments, gold or in concentrate, or nuggets.

Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, drives the 'last spike'of the Canadian Pacific Railway, November 1885.

Rumour had it that Lord Strathcona, co-founder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, one of the creators of the Bank of Manitoba, and the Manitoba Insurance Company, had set up an electric smelter on the dockside at Skagway and was buying gold from the miners coming down through the Whitehorse Pass - and was shipping large quantities of boxed gold bars down to Victoria on Vancouver Island - but I saw no evidence to support this. Bearing in mind it was common practice in 1901 to transport gold as Registered Mail, under the supervision of the British Royal Mail, it is likely that any gold on board the Islander was shipped as such, and stowed in the two secure lockers, just abaft the forecastle, where it was guarded by two North West Mounted Police (today's RCMP) officers. It would have been loaded at Skagway, and entered on the ship's manifest simply as 'Registered Mail' - and without reference to the content of the securely fastened canvas sacks and pine boxes.

North West Mounted Police Officers

Jaynes told me he had obtained a recorded interview with an RCMP officer who had travelled aboard Islander on that fateful voyage, who stated that he had seen gold stowed in a passenger cabin, in addition to the lockers, and that it was stacked higher than his head. Researching insurers proved an arduous task as many insurance companies have merged and changed hands down the years. My interpretation was that Royal Mails were probably insured by The Marine Insurance Company of Leadenhall Street, London, established in 1836, and which in 1917, became part of the London & Lancashire Insurance Group, and since 1961, part of London's Royal Group of insurance companies.

The Salvage Association of London assisted enthusiastically, and it was through them that a contract was negotiated with the Royal Group, on the basis that any proceeds would be split 75/25% with the lion's share going to Jayne's company, OceanMar Inc, a Delaware Corporation. 

We needed investors!

Ted flew in from Seattle and after booking him into 51, Buckingham Gate, I set up a meeting at the Institute of Directors, Pall Mall, for the following evening. Ten invited friends and acquaintances attended, and after coffee, Ted got started with his presentation. Using 35mm slides and photographs from his folder, he told the story of the Islander's sinking, and his efforts, two years earlier, to locate and recover millions in gold.

The audience was hooked, with the exception of one man, a former Navy friend, a fast jet pilot, who simply said, "I've seen nothing remotely like a bar of gold. Count me out."

The rest put their hands in their pockets, and signed up for the duration, lending money to Ted Jayne's Islander Partnership, to the tune of just under half a million US dollars.

We needed a ship!

We chartered the Offshore Utility Boat MV Jolly Roger, out of Santa Barbara California, and fitted her out in Takoma, Seattle. She came complete with a skipper, mate and engineer - and we hired an excellent ship's cook who had his own barbecue.

Cookie - a real genius with King Crabs and steaks.

Our Engineer was about the most laid back guy - ever - but he really knew his stuff - but dealing with a flushing toilet was way beyond him!.

An old friend, Ronnie Farmiloe - an old boy of Charterhouse School, a qualified solicitor and an Ace ROV Pilot joined our crew.

We needed a submarine!

SeaEye Marine of Gosport had just the kit we needed - a state-of-the-art  ROV - Remotely Operated Submarine - called Surveyor.

We crated it up and shipped it out to Tacoma, Seattle

An old friend, Ronnie Farmiloe - an old boy of Charterhouse School, a qualified solicitor and an Ace ROV Pilot joined our crew.

Ronnie and I set up camp in a fully furnished apartment in a lakeside condo, just outside Kent WA, just down from Teddy Jaynes's place.

To handle the sub, we hired three ex US Navy guys - good men and true - but not too hot on knots and splices - at least to start with!

Teddy Jaynes invited his 'protégé', Anthony, a plumber from the Bronx along, second from the right - a real nightmare.

Myself - Nick Messinger - I ran the deck and did my best to stop TJ from strangling poor Ronnie.....

Ronnie was alcohol dependent , and the more pressure Teddy Jaynes put him under, the more he drank.

Jaynes's very limited grasp of 'man management' came straight out of The US Marine Corps' Gunnery Sergeant's Manual!

Keeping the whole thing low-key, we snuck out of Tacoma, passing through the Ballard Locks with its spillway, 'fish ladder', and complex plumbing system designed to aid salmon migration.

The quayside was crowded with sight-seers - and  all was OK until Anthony  bragged "We are going after the Islander gold!"

Then the press got the story......

Leaving the Ballard Locks, heading into Puget Sound, pursued by dozens of boats off on a salmon-tagging hunt.

Heading North to Alaska!

Ted was in his element, driving his Zodiac, re-living his InterSub days.....

The steaks were big......

and the Taku Smokery salmon were just wonderful......

Pine trees right down to the water's edge and fallen logs floating by; the dead head of a vertical, partially submerged log, could do considerable damage.

Settlements were few and far between.....

But the native sea-otters were friendly........

After the run up from Seattle, we needed to take on fresh water, and put into Juneau, astern of three or four big cruise ships.

Meanwhile,being in American waters - we needed guns and ammo!

Back in 1934, when they salvaged Islander's hull - they had guns.....Photo by Leonard H Delano.

A former CIA guy, an old friend from InterSub days, ran a crabber out of Juneau and said the word in The Red Dog Saloon was that the 'opposition' were intending to board us and steal all our stuff.

He knew a man who had guns: we decided to tool up.

Ted and I came back onboard with a an Armalite AR10A4 7.62mm carbine, two Savage semi-automatic 12-gauge shotguns - and my personal choice: a stainless steel seven shot Ruger .357 Magnum pistol - and, most important of all, a gun safe. 

The boys were ecstatic. As soon as we were back out, cans were chucked over the side and target practice ensued. We had plenty of ammo and everyone got the chance to blast away - even Cookie.

Local intel told us that the 'opposition' were going to charter a helicopter, and board us in open water. A sharp lookout was mounted, and, on two occasions, we were overflown by a float plane - but apart from that - nothing......

Later, our CIA friend came alongside and offloaded a dozen monster Alaskan crabs, that went straight into the pot. Delicious!

Then a Coastguard cutter hove into view, and inspected our lifesaving equipment and survival suits, followed by a pretty Park Ranger, who gave us good advice on how to avoid bear attacks on Admiralty Island....

Known to the local Inuit as Xootsnoowú, which is commonly interpreted as "The Fortress of the Bears", Admiralty Island is home to the highest density of brown bears in North America.

An estimated 1,600 brown bears inhabit the island, outnumbering Admiralty's human residents by nearly three to one, she explained, with a knowing smile.......

"Don't show panic, just roll yourself into a foetal position, hands clasped. The bear will probably go for your head, and if you survive the initial bite, it will probably lose interest and just wander off!"

Useful advice............

One of the two hulks used to raise the Islander in 1934, the Griffson, was abandoned at Green Cove on Admiraly Island, and wreckage was still visible at low tide along, with what little was left of the Islander.

I took the Zodiac, and beached it nearby, keeping a weather eye open for those pesky brown bears, known colloquially, by their more frightening name: Grizzlies. As I boarded the Zodiac, the Mate handed me his snub-nosed .38 calibre Colt pistol.

'Just in case one of them bears goes for you,' he growled.

'I'll just run for the boat and make a quick getaway,' I somewhat facetiously replied.... 

'Nick, old buddy, them bears can run faster, climb faster and swim faster than any human being on God's sweet earth'.

I gulped , 'But that little gun of yours wouldn't stop a charging grizzly, now would it?'

He laughed and pointed the gun at his head - ''Don't be an idiot, if the bear goes for you, the best thing you can do is blow your brains out!'

He was an ex Coastguard First Mate, a survivalist and gun-nut, and he knew stuff......

Needless to say, I packed the Ruger, but did not see a single solitary bear during my brief visit to Green Cove - but I did get to measure a few rivet spacings on a chunk of iron ripped from the hull of the Islander back in 1934.

All the way up from Seattle, through the Inside Passage and Wrangell Narrows, past Petersburg.......

The Wrangell Narrows, where the waterway wends its way around islands, boulder fields, rock ledges, reefs, shoals, and mudflats for twenty-two and a half nautical miles.

Looking across Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg on the southern end of Sasby Island.

There are about 60 lights and buoys to mark the Narrows, because of its navigation hazards. It was originally named in 1838 by G. Lindenberg to honour Admiral Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangel, a Baltic German explorer who was the chief manager of the Russian-American Company and governor of the Russian settlements in Alaska.  For the past 150 years or so, it has been a principal marine thoroughfare to Alaska from the lower 48 and Canada, and is used by fishing boats and Alaska Marine Highway ferries. Very strong currents prevail, but our 'pilots' were a pod of Orca, who swam in a holding pattern, until the current dropped, and we followed them through the narrowest section. 

Ted Jaynes and Anthony, his somewhat immature protégé, had chanted, "We know where the gold is. We know where the gold is......." ad infinitum.

It really got on my nerves. I shared a cramped four berth cabin with Anthony, the Engineer and Cookie - and Anthony never lost the opportunity to remind us that TJ was the only man on board the Jolly Roger, who knew where the gold lay. 

Anthony appeared unused to hard physical work, with a very limited skill set, he was more interested in playing on his Game Boy rather than helping out on deck.  He worshipped Ted, and treated him like a father figure.  Instead of taking instruction, or obeying orders, he would run to Ted and complain. He told me his ambition was to roll into the Lower East Side in a Cadillac Convertible, with chicks on his arms and a big fat cigar in his mouth. On deck, if you could rouse him from his pit, he was as much use to me as a chocolate teapot - unlike the other three members of the team, ex US-Navy boys, hard-working, knowledgeable and good fun too. Having served together in Subic Bay, out in the Philippines, they were a real band of brothers.

We needed to start work....but first we needed a plan.....

Back in Tacoma, alongside the fitting out berth, it had been agreed that we would need to set up in a 'four-point moor', using the Jolly Roger's two bow anchors and windlass, and two additional anchors, sourced from the local scrapyard.

The previous year, Ted had accurately measured the water-depth over the dive site - 96 feet. Two, three hundred foot reels of wire rope, shackles and swivels were purchased from the local chandlery, and compressed air-driven tugger winches rigged

aft to accommodate the mooring wires. The new anchors were hung-off on each quarter, and lashed in place with rope.

The ROV would be handled by the Jolly Roger's small, telescopic  hydraulic crane, and deployed over the starboard side. A section of bulwark was cut away to facilitate launch and recovery, and we were good to go........

The crane sometimes needed a great deal of persuading....This time it was 'all hands on deck' including the Skipper and Mate.

The ROV required a great deal of TLC and the MTBF was a real problem as we were limited to diving on slack water....due to strong bottom currents.....

The ROV's 500 ft umbilical had to be handled with great care - all power and telemetry relied on it.....

We needed to start work....

Set up over the dive site that first night, with four anchors down and holding well, we launched the ROV for an initial recce of the debris field.......

And that's when things first started to go wrong....

Ted Jaynes had assured us, crew and investors alike, that he had found the Islander's missing bow section, intact, and seen gold bars and wrought iron bound strong boxes littering the seabed....

His and Anthony's frequent chant of, 'We know where the gold is' suddenly sounded very hollow indeed..........

In reality, we discovered that his 'bow section' was in fact, nothing more than a giant slab of granite, surrounded by glacier boulders ......

His earlier expedition had used a more basic ROV, fitted with a monochrome camera, whereas Surveyor's was all state of the art colour video.

There were no rivets, no shell plating, no boxes of gold bars, just a great big slab of black granite.,

Rather than admit to his mistake, he lashed out at Ronnie for putting the ROV down in the wrong place - highly unlikely as we were working on accurate Differential GPS co-ordinates.

Then he screamed that someone had pirated his claim and stolen all the gold - at which point I insisted he leave the control shack, as poor Ronnie was showing signs of nervous exhaustion.

At this point it dawned on me that my old friend was delusional, and fast approaching a state of paranoia......

With calm restored in the control shack, Ronnie and I took the ROV in a complete sweep of the area, which was ninety-six feet down, and completely devoid of any manmade artefacts.

Meanwhile, Ted Jaynes had broached the emergency medical supplies and consumed the best part of the ship's medicinal brandy......

As we recovered and stowed the ROV, I did my best to chivvy the crew along, reminding them that the gold was out there somewhere - and we were the best equipped expedition thus far. It just needed a properly executed search and recovery operation, based on hard facts rather than gut feelings.......

It was time to head back to Juneau and take on fresh water and supplies......

Crown Princess and cruise ships alongside at Juneau

A serious-looking US Deputy Marshall was waiting for us on the quayside, with a Temporary Restraining Order, issued by the judge in Anchorage.

The 'opposition' - Yukon Recovery of Seattle were claiming rights to the wreck of the Islander on the basis that they had removed a light fitting and a bottle, under the law of 'finder's keepers' and the Abandoned Shipwreck Act.

We decided to tread carefully until we could substantiate the so-called evidence, and limit our immediate activities to underwater inspection using the ROV.

Meanwhile, OceanMar's attorney was being fully briefed on the situation.......and Ted Jaynes was heading to Anchorage on the earliest available flight out, wearing a blazer and slacks, hastily purchased from Costco.

A section of Stephens Passage, with Green Cove, Admiralty Island, bottom right.

Leonard H Delano, a professional photographer from Oregon, was born in Seattle in 1908. In 1934 he worked with the Islander salvage crew, taking many fine photographs of the recovery operation.

I had in my possession an aerial photograph of the Islander wrecksite, taken by Delano, and marked with a single white cross, between Douglas Island and Admiraly Island - between Point St Hilda and Green Cove..

With Ted Jaynes on his way to Anchorage, I decided to investigate the location, and take a look with the ROV. With first hand information staring me in the face - it seemed like a good place to start.

And that's when things first started to go wrong....again!

Over the wrecksite, the echo sounder revealed a waterdepth of 365 feet - not the 96 feet Teddy Jaynes had envisaged. With the Jolly Roger rigged for a four-point moor in 96 feet, we had to quickly reconfigure her for  diving operations in deeper water - much deeper water. The only solution was to bend one reel of the aft wire rope onto a bow anchor cable and hope it would hold. The dive site was at the convergence of two currents, limiting bottom time to an hour or two at slack water.

Working flat out, we rigged the starboard anchor and launched the ROV over the starboard side.


Within fifteen minutes, the ROV was on the bottom, and Ronnie had the Islander's bow on sonar - the 'missing' section of the ship that had broken off during the 1934 salvage operation. The Canadian Pacific Archives had revealed she had been patched up after an earlier collision, and therefore, with a weakened  bow, as soon as they lifted her, she had broken at the weakest point.

This photograph by Leonard H Delano, taken in 1934, shows precisely where the bow broke off.....

Using the ROV's manipulator, Ronnie recovered a brass porthole from the mass of debris on the seabed - no mean feat. There was twisted shell plating, iron frames and even a winch or two littering the seabed. There was also the gruesome remains of a zinc-lined coffin, and the eerily gleaming bones of a long dead man - a Klondiker: probably on his way home for burial. Glacier tilt and silt washed away under the ROV's thrusters, and the two femurs filled the TV screen. I made a mental note to see if I could discover who it was.   

Back alongside in Juneau again, the news from Anchorage was less than discouraging: the judge had agreed that we could remain on location, surveying and videoing the area - but on the strict understanding that nothing was removed. Meanwhile, the 'evidence' produced by our rivals, Yukon Recoveries, was identified as being from the 1934 salvage operation - as the whisky bottle was post-prohibition and not from 1901 - while the light fitting was gas powered - while Islander was all electric!

Teddy Jaynes arrived back on board in a slightly better frame of mind than he had been on departure for Anchorage. When I showed him the porthole, he dropped to his knees and kissed my feet........

The next morning broke wet and windy, and we decided to shift location to Auke Bay, where the moorings were cheaper and there were fewer nosy onlookers.  The view of the Mendenhall Glacier behind Auke Bay and Mount McGinnis towering over Auke Lake are said to be spectacular - but we never got to see them as they were permanently shrouded in mist.

The Jolly Roger alongside at Auke Bay Alaska

An anchor a day keeps the investor satisfied......

A bunch of Ted's investors turned up, having flown in from Seattle. The first two were surgeons from LA, where Ted had spent time working as an LAPD Paramedic - before becoming a real estate agent. He was tense as he welcomed them onboard, shepherding them to the back deck, well out of earshot. Handshakes and back-slapping ensued and they were away - no introductions; no conversation with the crew - just Ted, undoubtedly talking up his project and assuring them that it was just a matter of time before the gold was raised.

The second group were my guys, from London; excited to be part of a treasure-hunting expedition, into which they had poured over a hundred thousand pounds of inherited wealth. Ted was slightly less effusive in his greeting, shepherding them to the back deck, but with me in tow. He explained the situation - as he saw it - he knew where the gold was ; he had seen 'scuff marks', on rocks, close inshore in the vicinity of Point Hilda, off Douglas Island.  The marks had given credence to his theory that the Islander had not struck an iceberg - but had been so far off course to the North, coming through Stephens Passage, that she had struck a glancing blow, opening a gash in her hull, forward on the port side, after which boxes of gold bullion, stowed in a stateroom, had burst through the flimsy superstructure, before sinking to the seabed bellow.  He added credibility to his theory by saying that passengers in a nearby cabin had sworn they saw pine trees off to port, minutes before she struck

The Islander's Senior Purser's report stated:-

"The loss of the ship was attributed to striking an iceberg, but it was more than likely that she was off her course and crushed her bottom on the rocks off Point Hilda."

Report written to Edward Scott Busby, the Canadian Custom Office in Skagway, by the Senior Purser in Juneau on August 17, 1901

Then, with a flourish, and avoiding eye contact with me, he produced the freshly polished porthole, explaining how he had found it, a cable or so off Point Hilda....

Later, he confided to me, that he had been reading about Mel Fisher, an Indiana-born chicken farmer, who opened the first dive shop in California, and spent years wreck-hunting off the Florida coast. According to Ted, Fisher kept his investors onside by showing them artefacts he had recovered from the wrecks he discovered.......

An anchor a day keeps the investor satisfied......

a work in progress

that might be continued

31st May 2020