Theodore Jaynes staked his claim on Klondike gold in a sunken ship south of Juneau.
This spring he plans to begin retrieving the gold, and any historical artifacts, from the S.S. Islander. Jaynes runs Ocean Mar, one of two deep-sea diving companies that competed for rights to salvage the historic ship.
The 240-foot-long ship was carrying miners returning from Skagway in 1901 when it hit a rock or iceberg and sank about 30 miles south of Juneau. The ship went down with 39 people, and possibly more than 30,000 pounds of gold.
Since 1996, Ocean Mar and the other company, Yukon Recovery LLC, have battled in court over which was first to find the wreck. In September 1998 an Anchorage judge gave Ocean Mar the salvage rights, based on evidence that the insurers Jaynes represented had apparently paid a Canadian bank for its gold loss. The court also found that Jaynes had been formally researching the Islander since 1993, two years before Yukon Recovery.
Yukon Recovery appealed the judge's decision, but lost again. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle sided with Jaynes in a March 7 decision.
``It's been a long, hard struggle with this Yukon group,'' Jaynes said Friday from Kent, Wash.
Now Jaynes is raising the $10 million to $20 million he needs for the salvage operation, which he
plans to start this spring. Jayne expects to spend two to three years salvaging the ship, which is lodged on the sea floor about 320 to 340 feet deep.
``Maybe longer, because of all the artifacts,'' Jayne said. The historical artifacts will be turned over to the state.
Jaynes said he is as interested in the history of the Islander as in the gold. After years of research, he has his own theory for why the ship sank and hopes the salvage operation will prove him right.
``I was just in love with this whole history, the Klondike, the growth,'' Jaynes said.
He has salvaged helicopters and container ships, but the Islander will be different.
``This is more colorful,'' Jaynes said. ``At times it may be more emotional, because we'll be touching people's lives.''
Part of the Islander was salvaged in 1934, and some who have researched its history have said they doubt any gold is in what remains on the ocean floor.
Meanwhile, Yukon Recovery is going to look for one of the five million other shipwrecks in the world.
``We're very disappointed at the outcome of this decision,'' said Robert Mester of Yukon Recovery, which is based in Puyallup, Wash. ``We have no other recourse but to move on and look for other shipwrecks. This is what we do for a living.''