Jeff Hummel has been waiting for this opportunity for a very long time.
“I’ve known about this ship for about 40 years,” he said.
Hummel was in high school when he first read about the S.S. Pacific, a wooden sidewheel steamer carrying gold and other goods. It sank south of Cape Flattery after hitting another boat on Nov. 4, 1875.
“Yeah, the Pacific caught my eye because there aren’t Spanish galleons around here, but in the initial accounts, it said it had some treasure on board, so that seemed kind of interesting,” he said.
The Pacific was headed from Esquimalt to San Francisco, laden with oats, hops, animal hides, furs, cranberries, 280 tons of coal, 18 tons of general merchandise, six horses, two buggies, cash and gold.
“I think that the Pacific will become one of the most iconic shipwrecks ever discovered in the world. It’s right up there with the Titanic and maybe the Vasa and a few other wrecks,” Hummel told CHEK News Wednesday.
As many as 450 people were also on board. Only two people survived, and it is considered to be one of the worst maritime disasters on the West Coast.
An estimated 4000 ounces of gold sank to a watery grave in roughly 460 metres of water.
“We know from the records (it was) gold coins, gold bars, and gold dust,” said Hummel. “There had been two mining fields that were active at the time, the Caribou District near Barkerville and then the Cassiar Gold Fields and 1875 was the largest year of production in those years.”
Gold miners heading back to San Francisco were believed to have been in possession of about $100,000 worth of gold at the time.
Hummel and his company, Rockfish Incorporated, found the wreck site, tracing back coal commercial fishermen had found in their nets.
They’ve made over a dozen expeditions to the site, and while keeping most information a secret, they do release some tantalizing titbits.
“We’ll definitely find, you know, perfectly preserved artifacts that no one could imagine would still exist after 150 years,” he said, refusing to say more at this time.
Some estimates have the gold’s value at over $10 million in today’s dollars, but that could be low.
“Let’s say there’s substantially more than what people believe, and we have very good records, first-hand accounts of what’s actually there,” Hummel added.
The good news for him and his team is that he can now begin removing artifacts and gold from the shipwreck because the window has closed for descendants to claim part of the riches.
“It’s not really adversarial because even if a person has a claim, we’re entitled to 92 per cent of whatever their claim would be,” he said.
The salvage will begin this summer but could take years.
They’ll be using technology that Hummel himself is still building, including Starlink satellites that will allow operators of the underwater ROVs to remain in Seattle while they comb the wreck for long-lost riches.