A high-seas adventure story on the hunt for the HMS Monmouth


“On the Track of the HMS Monmouth’s Galleon…and Sunken Treasure!” by John Stauffer Potter, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, May 2014, 292 pages.

The late John Stauffer Potter’s previous book, “My First Nine Lives: Full Value Received” (2012), established his credentials as a businessman who not only knows his business but also how to talk about it. In this followup book, “On the Track of the HMS Monmouth’s Galleon,” he tells a dramatic adventure story, full of brave men and daring deeds and of beautiful women who appreciate their efforts. It’s a true story that reads almost like a mystery novel.

And what man or woman among us would not want to participate in an adventure, as long as we finish it alive? John lived a life full of adventurous moments as well as the dull bits, but when he relates it, he makes the dull places dramatic. I have seen him enthrall a lunch table full of men with a tale. Unfortunately, John died this past January, just after delivering the final text for this book to Tisbury Printer.

The sunken treasure sought is valued at more than 1950s era $100 million. It sank in 1752 in Vigo Bay on the west coast of Spain. Two hundred years later, Potter began an operation hoping to recover the gold and silver. First he had to obtain a concession from the Spanish government. He puts us in the center of these negotiations and of nearly every transaction afterward.

Potter begins recruiting investors and experienced divers. Interestingly enough, some of the investors are also his divers. He assembles what is called by a LIFE magazine editor “the finest group of divers I’ve seen anywhere.”

The city of Tangiers — “Melting pot of the world” — he describes thus: “I knew immediately that this, like old Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong, was one of those cities that have a special atmosphere. You sense it tingling like a living thing in the air as you walk their streets; you hear its provocative whisper in the murmur of strange foreign tongues; you feel its impact as you are drawn into their exotic temperaments.”

Potter gives his treasure-seeking company the unassuming name “Atlantic Salvage Company, Limited,” in order not to excite others to seek the same sunken ship.

Now the team had to begin unraveling every problem that occurred. After buying Aqua Lungs for the team, they rented a sand barge for their base at sea; next, they realized that sunken ships were by now covered by bottom mud so they needed a mud probe, which they built. Then Potter’s friend from Harvard arrived, bearing a metal detector. But it would only work in fresh water: the salts in ocean water defeated it.

Potter was fortunate in his friends. He had the assistance of two East Chop writers who helped him guide the reader through the twists and turns of this complex tale. But it’s his sharp memory that brings the times and tasks alive for us now.

At one point the elusive sunken ship becomes a secondary goal as the divers seek and rescue the remains of drowned fishermen so their families may see them safely buried. This makes the divers heroes to the locals. Other times the money got so low they had to salvage valuable parts of old ships to fund their efforts.

Another time the U.S. Navy becomes involved and lends a helping hand. Then, after three  years of continuing to work at puzzling problems, the divers finally… (sorry, you’ll have to read John Potter’s book to find out). There is also a DVD included in the book.