New York Times best-selling author and Friends of the Hunley board member Clive Cussler passed away February 24th, 2020 at his home in Arizona. The world recognizes him as a famous author but in Charleston, South Carolina he is also known for leading the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) expedition that found the legendary submarine Hunley. The discovery made worldwide news and led to a chain of events that resulted in the raising of the Hunley as well as an unprecedented excavation effort that found many 19th century artifacts and the remains of the eight-man crew. The Hunley Project simply would not have happened without Mr. Cussler.
Mr. Cussler was born in Aurora, Illinois in 1931 and grew up in California. He started his first adventure early in life when he joined the Air Force during the Korean War. After he was discharged from service, he started on the path that would lead him to becoming one of the best-known writers of his time. He worked in advertising, developing copy and concepts for radio and television ads. Many of the commercials he produced won prestigious awards in the industry. He was also an early pioneer of sport SCUBA diving, which found its way into his writing in the mid-1960s he turned his attention to books.
His most famous creation was the character Dirk Pitt, a maritime engineer who always managed to escape the most impossible situations. The first Dirk Pitt adventure novel published, The Mediterranean Caper, arrived 1973. The Pitt series would ultimately have more than two-dozen books published over the next 4 decades, most of which were New York Times-best sellers. Other popular series he authored were the NUMA Files and the Oregon Files.
Cussler’s maritime adventures did not just reside on the pages he penned. He carried out that interest in real life as well. Finding lost shipwrecks was more than a hobby, but a life-long passion that led to the discovery of the Hunley in 1995 off the waters of Charleston, South Carolina. He was active in the project up until his death and made many historical discoveries possible. The South Carolina Senate passed a resolution honoring his life, his contribution to literature, and maritime discovery and preservation.
Reflections on Clive Cussler
Over the years, many people associated with the Hunley Project grew to admire Mr. Cussler on a personal level. Here, they share their memories:
“Clive Cussler never liked to give up searching for whatever we were looking for. He had not only the desire but the financial ability also. He always wanted to stay the course. His interest and knowledge about shipwrecks was outstanding. He was one who would put his money where his mouth was. He was not a treasure hunter nor an archaeologist just a man with a thirst to solve a mystery and then turn his discovery over to the proper authorities as in the case of the H L HUNLEY submarine.”
— Ralph Wilbanks, Underwater Archaeologist and NUMA Board Member
“Clive was the heart and soul of this project. His commitment to maritime history was contagious and he had a deep love for the team he worked with to find the Hunley. My fondest memory is from the day the Hunley was raised in 2000. At that time, I was a journalist interviewing him on the press boat. He told me he wanted to be with his friends on the NUMA boat and not with the media. Right before the submarine came out of the ocean, he suddenly jumped off the double-decker boat and swam to his friends to toast the historic day. You never knew what to expect with him, which was part of his charm.”
— Kellen Butler, Friends of the Hunley Executive Director
“For a successful adventurer such as Clive Cussler, many people presumed he was lucky, not realizing the tremendous amount of preparation, planning, and hard work that goes into an expedition. Clive was driven to find the most unusual and noteworthy shipwrecks, so it is no wonder he set his sights on the holy grail known as the Hunley. Clive loved coming to Charleston to visit the Hunley and view the artifacts, discoveries, and learn about the scientific findings that arose as the submarine was being excavated. Afterwards, we would go for long walks on the beach and discuss the bravery of the crew, the advanced design and unexpected features of the sub, and the various theories as to why the Hunley didn’t return after her success. Safe travels, Clive, on your next great adventure.”
— Warren Lasch, Former Chairman of Friends of the Hunley and Close Friend to Clive Cussler
I first met Clive in 1995. I knew immediately that he was true renaissance man who not only was a great author but whose sense of adventure and exploration made him so much more than a name on his innumerable best sellers. He gave us all a true gift by returning the Hunley to a nation who wished to honor the history of submarine development as well as the brave crew who manned her final fatal voyage.”
— John Hazzard, Friends of the Hunley Board Secretary
“Clive’s dedication to find and document the exact whereabouts of the H L Hunley and see it protected resulted in the Hunley being raised and preserved as a great naval treasure for the generations to come.
— Senator Glenn McConnell, Former Chairman of the Hunley Commission and President of the College of Charleston