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Clive Cussler on searching for shipwrecks

Clive Cussler
Clive Cussler

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(CNN) -- Clive Cussler has written a series of bestsellers about treasure hunters at sea, from "Raise the Titanic" to "Valhalla Rising," many starring man's man Dirk Pitt. But Cussler is also a real-life sea traveler, and in his new book, "Sea Hunters II," he goes in search of some of history's most famous shipwrecks.

CNN "American Morning" anchor Bill Hemmer talked with Cussler Monday.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: For decades, novelist Clive Cussler has thrilled fans with books about the hunt for shipwrecks. Along the way he has jumped off the page and founded an organization dedicated to the very hunt he writes about.

His new book just out, "Sea Hunters II," is non-fiction. It tells readers about some of history's most intriguing lost vessels and the effort today to find their remnants. Fascinating stuff here beneath the sea.

Clive Cussler is our guest now here in New York. Great to see you. Happy holidays to you. Why do you think you've been so darn successful?

CLIVE CUSSLER, AUTHOR, "SEA HUNTERS II": A lot of luck, obviously. And I have an awfully good crew.

HEMMER: There's a massive amount of water out there on this planet.

CUSSLER: That's true. And some wrecks, you have a chance. In other words, the research will put you in a direction. [But] so many of them are just ... at sea, there's no landmarks. Some of them are just impossible to find.

HEMMER: I was saying during the commercial, not only do you have surface air to cover, but the depth of the ocean.

I want to go through a couple of these stories right now. [The Mary Celeste,] known as the ghost ship ...

CUSSLER: She was found out floating off the Azores around 1876 and nobody was on board. So it became one of the great sea mysteries, though they think it was carrying alcohol and some of the barrels started leaking. So they thought they got in a lifeboat, tied it to the railing, opened the hatches so the alcohol vapors aired out. And the rope broke, the ship sailed off.

HEMMER: Not a man found on board?

CUSSLER: The captain and his wife and they had a small baby, the whole crew gone.

HEMMER: RMS Carpathia, what's this story behind this?

CUSSLER: That's the famous ship, of course, that rescued the Titanic survivors. I was sitting there one day and I thought whatever became of the Carpathia and started researching it. It was torpedoed in 1918 off the coast of Ireland. So we went out, took three times. but we finally found it.

HEMMER: How do you track something like that down? I just find that fascinating?

CUSSLER: You can never do enough research. And, finally, when you think you might have a shot at it, that's when you put the crew and the boat together and you go out with, in this case, side-scan sonar that reads the bottom kind of like a photograph that's been Xeroxed about three times and just hope you run over it.

HEMMER: A couple of years ago, we followed this next ship quite closely, the Hunley.

CUSSLER: That took 15 years off and on. It was such a fabulous story, the Confederate submarine. The first submarine to sink a warship. It sank three times, killed its crew, all three times. But it went down in history. The problem finding that one [was] it was buried in the mud.

HEMMER: Yes, I remember that quite well. When you brought it up, it was such a fascinating way.

CUSSLER: [Almost everything had been] preserved, the skeleton. They even got DNA on brain matter. It's incredible.

HEMMER: What's the draw for you personally? Is it history, is it intrigue, is it mystery? Is it all of that and more?

CUSSLER: The mystery, of course, the intrigue and the history. I'm a history nut. I never say anything, but I got a Ph.D. in maritime history.

But it's the challenge, I think. Because if you are successful, it's a great feeling of achievement. In my case, if it's lost, I'll look for it.

HEMMER: Listen I want to ask you about this, your first book, "Sahara." There's a movie in the works?

CUSSLER: Yes. Right now, they are negotiating with Tom Cruise, I guess.

HEMMER: Are you going to get him on board?

CUSSLER: I don't know. That is kind of out of my ...

HEMMER: He would play the role of Dirk Pitt?

CUSSLER: Yes, right.

HEMMER: Ever locate any mermaids?

CUSSLER: Not yet.

HEMMER: Still looking?

CUSSLER: In fact I found a couple, but they were very ugly, so we threw them back.

HEMMER: I don't know if it's possible to have an ugly mermaid. Are you breaking news to us?

CUSSLER: Yes. That's something new. A lot of people don't realize that.

HEMMER: Best of luck to you. Great chatting with you, Clive Cussler.

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