Some people log onto Google Earth and spy men sitting on the toilet. Others find buried treasures of a different kind.
At least that is the claim of Nathan Smith, a Los Angeles musician. Mr. Smith was noodling around on Google Earth one day, randomly examining parts of the Aransas Pass in Texas. Suddenly, his eyes darted to a shoeprint-shaped outline near Barketine Creek.
His suspicions and, presumably, his vast knowledge of history, were sufficiently aroused for him to believe that what he had found was the wreckage of a Spanish barquentine (think large boat with three or more masts) that supposedly met its final resting place south of Refugio, Texas, in 1822.
Mr. Smith scuttled off to consult a few experts and concluded the ship and its treasure was worth $3 billion. With all due promptness, he grabbed hold of a metal detector and drove all the way to the site. One small problem: the land appears to be part of a ranch owned by the late Morgan Dunn O’Connor.
You will feel palpitations in the deeper part of your throat to discover that this has all ended up in court. Mr. Smith’s lawyers believe that the land beneath which the ship is submerged is navigable waterway. If they’re right, U.S. law says the first person to find abandoned treasure gets first dibs on the spoils.
This is, apparently, a barquentine. Might Johnny Depp have gotten there first?
(Credit: CC Truello)
However, if the court decides it’s land, then Mr. O’Connor’s family gets first crack at the jewelry, trinkets and, um, those metal contraptions they hung recalcitrant sailors in.
The O’Connor family’s lawyer, Ron Walker, was very forthright with ABC News: “It was offensive that somebody could go on Google Earth, look down, and see what they think is under the ground…and come in and say, I want to dig up your property. They have no proof anything is there and no experience.”
Yes, but Mr. Smith has watched Nicolas Cage in National Treasure.
Please allow me to add some more characters to this wonderful tale of Google-eyed adventure, avarice, and advocacy.
The state of Texas also has lawyers. And they’re pretty darn sure that there’s no commercial waterway there. No, as far as they are concerned, if it’s in water, it’s in Texas’s water. So the state has lodged its claim.
And, through all this, the precise location of the supposedly full vessel is being kept under wraps. (So come on, Google Earth obsessives, please find it for me. Perhaps we can stake a claim too.)
Next month, U.S. District Judge David Hittner will rule. In two months’ time, Sean Penn will be asked to play Nathan Smith. With Billy Bob Thornton as Ron Walker. And, hey, how about Josh Brolin defending the state of Texas? I thought he played 43 rather well, didn’t you?