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At one o'clock the cliff-rimmed coast of Ireland lay 11 miles away to the north. The beamy fishing boat sloshed through westering swells toward her invisible destination and the captain steadied her, watching the flicking indicators of his new electronic navigator.
"We're about onto her now, Mr. Light."
The 29-year-old American squinted angrily at the empty sea ahead, searching. It was John Light's third season on this stretch of ocean. He had come here first on July 20, 1960 as a free-lance movie cameraman to film a crusted hulk that lay on the bottom 300 feet below. In his 11 previous years of diving—with the U.S. Navy, as a civilian salvage diver, and since 1956 as a cameraman—he had been down that far several times before. But never in such desperately difficult waters, and the tough-minded Light had learned to expect no good of them. The name plate above him on the wheelhouse of the boat he was riding on this day could have been a title for a tableau: Resolution.
"The buoys are gone, Dan—again. Seventy-five-knot wind, what can you expect?" said Light to the man at the wheel. "Let's go ahead and find her with the fathometer and we'll drop another one."
In the cabin faces turned to the depth recorder, whose rhythmic echo etched the hidden profile of the sea floor. For many minutes it had read 50 fathoms and a bit over. Now, in an instant, it shot straight up to 40 fathoms, sketched an irregular surface and dropped back to 50 as we passed on.
"That's her," said the helmsman. "That's the Lusitania."
Light nodded. "Pretty narrow. Must be the bow. Cut back across her a couple of times and we'll drop our buoy on the highest point we can find."
The outline of the dead ship below loomed up, vanished, loomed again, a remote reflection of a disaster that outraged nations 47 years ago when a torpedo put her where she now lay. In Light's mind the cryptic trace evoked a picture pieced together through 38 dives and three years. In this time, the exploration of the rusting ruin had changed for Light from a normally exciting deep-water film project to a personal crusade, almost an obsession. At the center of the search was an object, once dimly glimpsed, that could change a page of history. It had looked like a ship's gun.
"Man, she's deep," Light muttered. "Well, let's try it this time. Drop!"
The long cable clattered across the gunwale as the buoy splashed overboard.