- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Another time, having prodded a 500-pound jewfish out of its hole with a hard oak boat hook, McKee started in. The jewfish, for all its big mouth, generally moves over for anybody, but this one came back with a rush, dumping McKee on the rocks. McKee prodded again. The jewfish bit the boat hook in half. Since a moray eel with nastier jaws lived just behind the jewfish, McKee let them have it and dug his own hole farther down. Later the hull planks over this hole caved in, pinning McKee's legs for a frantic moment until he could get his fingers on the controls of the pipe sucking sand from under him. But in five years McKee has been hospitalized only once, and that because three 20th-Century privateers, after seeing him with his treasures on a TV show, beat him unconscious on a New York sidewalk.
25 STICKS OF DYNAMITE
It is the sort of work where reticence doesn't hurt a bit, but McKee oddly thrives on sharing his enthusiasm, if not his recoveries. Many of the underwater sportsmen these days have turned to exploration. The most notable of these, Dr. George Crile Jr.?a Cleveland surgeon?and his wife first viewed McKee suspiciously as a rival. But later, in their book on amateur exploration, the Criles credited McKee with giving them the right philosophy ("Treasure to him was not just gold and silver, but all the homely little articles that people have lived by..."), as well as some good pointers. The Criles had met him unexpectedly on the wreck of an ivory slaver. McKee had come prepared for days of patient picking. Surgeon Crile had brought 25 sticks of dynamite to blast away the coral?a salvage technique comparable to dropping a five-inch salute in an incision to rid a man of gallstones. "If the Criles had let all that dynamite go," McKee says, "they'd never have lived to write a book."
McKee used to get the amateurs off his neck by sending them to the remains of the British man-of-war Winchester . The amateurs are mad for cannons and the Winchester bristled with them. Now that it has been stripped, McKee meets the problem two ways. Anyone who wants to gaup can pay to dive with him. Anyone who wants to work can come free provided he turns over any find to McKee's corporation.
It is McKee's fond fancy that someday, when grandmother has her own air lung, old wrecks will become historical monuments, bronze-plaqued and visited on Sundays (the only memorials where orators cannot intrude). McKee already is crusading toward that end with his uncontained zeal. He meets a stranger and before long they are talking wrecks because McKee seldom talks about anything else. And before much longer another man who perhaps had a mind to loaf all day has been impressed into service.
"SO HE STARTS TALKING..."
Last August, for example, there was Paul Edmonston, an art instructor at Florida State University. "This fellow McKee picks me up," Edmonston related. "I was hitchhiking to Key West to do water colors. He starts talking about his diving. We stop while he gets a haircut, then again to pick up ice. He's telling me more. We stop to pick up this boy who helps him and to check on a motor. Then we almost have an accident?car coming right at us?and McKee talking away about diving. I tell him I have been spearfishing once?I guess that was my mistake. McKee tells me he is working a wreck now. I say that I am going to Key West to sketch. He tells me a man he knows paints underwater, and I tell him I only have water colors and they won't work in water. He suggests we get an iron easel and try something welders use to mark things underwater. 'Don't worry,' he says, 'we'll rig something up.' Then I knew I'd never get to Key West. Now, after being underwater with him, I can't hear a damn thing in one ear. This McKee," Edmonston concluded, "isn't a diver. He's a recruiter for the Spanish Armada."