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Treasure hunter sails south to find General Grant gold


Treasure hunter Bill Day set sail from Bluff on Tuesday afternoon on his fifth expedition to find the General Grant shipwreck and its cargo of gold.

The General Grant struck the cliffs of the Auckland Islands in 1866 and sank with at least 73kg of gold.

Only 10 of the 83 crew and passengers survived the disaster and life as castaways, before they were rescued 18 months later.

Since then, at least 30 attempts have been made to try to locate the wreck and salvage its gold, but no trace has been found, despite detailed survivors’ accounts.

Bill Day, who has spent 35 years searching for the wreck of the General Grant in the Auckland Islands.

Mike White/Stuff

Bill Day, who has spent 35 years searching for the wreck of the General Grant in the Auckland Islands.

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Wānaka businessman Bill Day has made four previous voyages to find the General Grant, considered the greatest shipwreck mystery in the South Pacific.

Day and seven other crew and divers left Bluff on Tuesday to sail 460km south to the Auckland Islands for what Day swore was his last attempt to find the wreck.

After years of studying historical accounts of the disaster, nautical charts, and records of other searchers, Day said he had some new ideas about where the wreck might be, though he accepted it could have been buried by a collapsed cliff.

Coins found on other wrecks in the Auckland Islands. The islands were plotted incorrectly on many early charts, resulting in numerous ships being wrecked there.

Mike White/Stuff

Coins found on other wrecks in the Auckland Islands. The islands were plotted incorrectly on many early charts, resulting in numerous ships being wrecked there.

The crew will also be using a pulse magnetometer which can locate any remaining metal, from things such as anchors, chains or bollards.

Day, 64, said that, weather permitting, he could be diving by Saturday – but the Auckland Islands weather was notoriously bad.

Bill Day's ship SeaSurveyor at Bluff. A smaller vessel, SeaStar, was loaded onto its deck to travel to the Auckland Islands.

Supplied

Bill Day’s ship SeaSurveyor at Bluff. A smaller vessel, SeaStar, was loaded onto its deck to travel to the Auckland Islands.

He is using two vessels from his marine contracting company, Seaworks, for the trip: the 39m SeaSurveyor and the smaller SeaStar, which was largely designed for the General Grant search.

Accompanying Day on the six-week expedition is good friend and fellow diver Dr Simon Mitchell, professor of anaesthesiology at Auckland University and one of the world’s leading experts on decompression sickness, or “the bends”.

An artist’s impression of the General Grant being driven into a cave on the Auckland Islands’ west coast.

Supplied

An artist’s impression of the General Grant being driven into a cave on the Auckland Islands’ west coast.

Many of the passengers on the General Grant were miners returning to England from Australia’s gold fields, most dying clutching their precious loot when the 180-foot square-rigged sailing ship went down in a small cave on the exposed coast.

Day said he believed there was more gold in the ship’s holds than the 73kg on its manifest.

But he said that if they discovered the wreck, they wouldn’t be disturbing it or taking any of the gold.

They would document the site, and then return to New Zealand and discuss possible archaeological salvage of material, with the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand.

“There’ll be a lot of taking photographs – not a lot of scrabbling around,” he said.

More than anything, Day, who made his first attempt to find the wreck in 1986, insisted he was driven by the mission of “knocking the bastard off” and finally discovering where the General Grant sank.

“I think it’s fair to say this is my obsession. It’s eluded me four times – not to mention everyone else who’s had a go – and I just want to solve the riddle.”

MIKE WHITE/STUFF

Bill Day is about to make his fifth expedition to the Auckland Islands to find the wreck of the General Grant.



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