Alex Storm, Who Found a Long-Lost Treasure at Sea, Dies at 80

From left, Alex Storm, Harvey MacLeod and David MacEachern with some of the coins they salvaged from the sunken wreck of the Chameau, an 18th-century French ship, in 1965.

Alex Storm and two companions had been searching for three months in the waters off Nova Scotia in the summer of 1965, hoping to find a long-lost sunken treasure, but they were close to abandoning the quest as fall loomed and the days grew colder and shorter. Then, diving in about 60 feet of water on Sept. 19, Mr. Storm found some slate-gray discs the size of coins, which he excitedly brought up to the boat he and his mates were using.

“Cleaning one of the discs by rubbing and washing it in seawater,” he wrote of the moment years later, “it slowly began to display the profile of King Louis XV of France, and the date 1725.”

The coin proved to be from the French ship the Chameau, which had broken apart during a gale off Canada’s eastern shore 240 years earlier. The ship, bound for Quebec, then still part of French Canada, was full of passengers; 316 people are thought to have died. But it was also laden with money to pay for French garrisons and other expenses of the colony.

Mr. Storm and his partners eventually recovered hundreds of coins, a treasure-hunting coup that made news around the world.

Mr. Storm became well known in Canada and beyond as a finder and salvager of shipwrecks and a teller of tales about the treasures that still lie undiscovered at sea and on land. He died at 80 on Aug. 12 in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. A notice in The Cape Breton Post announced his death. The cause was not given.

Mr. Storm was born on Oct. 2, 1937, in Surabaya, on the island of Java in Indonesia, to Cornelis Storm and Maria Storm-Spaans. He and the rest of his family were imprisoned in internment camps by the Japanese during World War II. After the war, his parents settled in the Netherlands.

Mr. Storm emigrated to Canada in 1959 after a friend told him that there were job opportunities there. He settled in Louisbourg, on eastern Cape Breton Island, in 1960 and became a Canadian citizen the next year. And he became intrigued with the story of the Chameau.

In May 1961 he signed on to work on a fishing boat, the Marion Kent. When not fishing, he would dive for scrap metal from the hundreds of shipwrecks in the area.

There was no mystery about where the Chameau might be. In July he asked his captain to take him near a breaker known as Chameau Rock, and he quickly spied several cannons from the ship, along with other artifacts. He and his crewmates even brought seven of the cannons to the surface.

But the big prize, the boxes of silver the ship had been carrying, remained elusive, because the Chameau had not simply sunk; it had been smashed to pieces in a particularly violent death, its wreckage strewn over a wide area. Some pieces had washed ashore by the morning after the wreck; an expedition the next year was the first to search for the missing treasure but did not find much.

After that initial encounter with the Chameau’s cannons, Mr. Storm began studying up on the ship and its demise. In an account written for the 1990 book “The Island: New Perspectives on Cape Breton History, 1713-1990,” he recalled that two stories about the wreck were going around locally at the time.

“One was that two men trawling for herring in the area of Chameau Rock had hauled up a pouch so heavy that it required the strength of both men to lift it out of the water,” he wrote. “As they were lifting it aboard, the stitches gave way, the pouch split and hundreds of silver coins spilled back into the sea. The second tale noted that some lobster fishermen once hurried home and rigged up long poles with tar-covered mops at the end, then returned to the location. They dipped the sticky mops into the water and recovered many coins.”

Mr. Storm and two partners, Harvey MacLeod and David MacEachern, on a boat called the Marilyn B. II, set out to look for the treasure in June 1965. They took a scholarly approach, mapping known pieces of the wreck on a grid to try to figure out where the 1725 storm might have scattered the debris. Wind, strong tides and fog made it difficult work, as did the cold water, despite their wet suits.

“We spent hours shivering in front of a tiny stove in the shelter of the wheelhouse,” Mr. Storm wrote, “but we persevered.”

After Mr. Storm’s encouraging find on Sept. 19, bad weather kept the men from resuming the search for three days. Finally, he and Mr. MacEachern were able to dive the site again. While Mr. MacEachern searched nearby, Mr. Storm explored a crevice in a rock.

“It was filled to the brim with slate-gray coins, just like the silver ones recovered a few days earlier,” he wrote. “The scene gave me a strange feeling, a mixture of disbelief and joy. I picked up a few and turned to let Dave know. It was not necessary. He loomed behind holding both hands outstretched in front of him, both full of coins.”

The men eventually recovered some 4,000 silver and 500 gold coins, news accounts said. The gold ones were a surprise because their research had not indicated that the ship was carrying any gold. They waited until the next year to announce their find, and in 1971, 688 of the coins and some other artifacts they recovered were auctioned at Parke-Bernet Galleries in Manhattan, bringing in almost $200,000.

A search group that Mr. Storm had previously been associated with had sued him in 1967, claiming it deserved a share of the bounty. The resulting legal battles stretched for eight years; Mr. Storm and his group were awarded 75 percent of the find, the previous partners 25 percent.

The Chameau trove helped fuel a closet industry of treasure hunting in the area, both at sea and on land. The so-called Louisbourg treasure, a cache of gold supposedly missing since the siege of a French fort by the British in 1758, is one draw.

Mr. Storm himself continued to salvage artifacts from shipwrecks, writing about his adventures and still-missing treasures in books like “Canada’s Treasure Hunt” (1968) and “Seaweed and Gold” (2003).

He married Emily Lawrence in 1964, and in 1977 they opened a museum that displayed some of the artifacts he had found. Many are now in the collection of the Oceans of Opportunity Marine Science and Heritage Center in Louisbourg. Mr. Storm also worked for years for the Fortress of Louisbourg, a historic site that the Canadian government began restoring in 1961.

Mr. Storm’s wife died in 2011. He is survived by a brother, Hans; a sister, Louise Wauben; a daughter, Phyllis; four sons, Edward, Jason, Morgan and Julian; three granddaughters; and a step-grandson.

In a 2003 interview with the Canadian newspaper The National Post, Mr. Storm explained what motivated his searches.

“I’ve learned that treasure hunting is a lot of work and headaches,” he said. “You might not believe this, but the treasure hunting business of mine is just a hobby, something fun to do. The lust for silver and gold is not really it for me. It’s the adventure, finding the treasure, bringing it up and actually seeing it.”

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