Stephen McGinty joins a team of explorers and archaeologists searching

in the Firth of Forth for the sunken treasure of King Charles I.

THIS week a team of American divers took to the waters off Burntisland

in pursuit of a king's treasure and a grip on the first rung of a dream

for Fife archaeologist Howard Murray and businessman Alex Kilgour -- the

dream of a new blueprint of the past, the advancement of marine

archaeology and a historical visitor centre has driven on the men behind

potentially one of the most exciting archaeological sites in the world.

For the next 10 days the American salvager and explorer Barry Clifford

will lead the dive team which, under Murray's direction, plans to

uncover a shipwreck believed to contain priceless relics from the reign

of Charles I. The ferry -- The Blessing of Burntisland -- sank in a

storm on July 10, 1633, near the end of Charles's spectacular coronation

tour of Scotland.

Howard Murray, chief conservator on the Mary Rose project, said:

''This is a king's treasure. It's unique. The Mary Rose was a war vessel

going out to battle. This is the entire treasure of a king at the height

of his powers.''

Those behind the joint Scottish-American project, Global Explorations

King Charles I Ltd, believe the wreck will be the most significant

marine archaeological site ever discovered. The ferry is expected to

contain countless priceless artefacts, including a 280-piece silver

banqueting service -- a copy of which rests with today's royal family.

Under salvage law, the crown could lay claim at current market prices

-- expected to be tens of millions -- but Global Exploration hope the

recovered artefacts will remain in Scotland at a visitor centre and

museum. ''We're not bringing up the royal plate to sell tomorrow,'' said

Alex Kilgour. ''We believe we can make our money commercially on all the

spin-offs, such as a visitor centre and exhibitions.''

The recent involvement by Barry Clifford adds weight to Kilgour's

words, for the American has already achieved just such a task. Clifford

became a celebrity in America during the eighties when he found and

raised artefacts and treasure with an estimated worth of $400m from the

wreck of a pirate ship, The Whydah, which sank off Cape Cod. The relics

now rest in a specially built museum and recent plans for a $70m theme

park were dropped in favour of a learning centre.

He was contacted after Alex Kilgour's secretary read about his

adventures in Reader's Digest. As Kilgour was lacking suitable financial

investment for the Charles I project he tracked Clifford down and 15

minutes into a transatlantic phone call, Clifford had decided to freeze

projects in Panama, India and China and fly his team to Scotland.

''Nothing has ever been found like what has been described out here,''

said Clifford, who seems a cross between Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw

in Jaws. ''In fact, I'm sure nothing has been lost that compares with

this, that I can think off -- and that's all I do, and all my

researchers do.

''I had to risk a lot to come out here. It's costing us a lot of

money, a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Usually I would spend more

time thinking, but based on what I heard I didn't think it could wait.''

Charles I, the last king crowned in Scotland and the grandfather of

Bonnie Prince Charlie, dissolved the English Parliament in 1629 and

ruled as an absolute monarch until his arrest by Oliver Cromwell and

execution in 1649. God's representative on earth, his coronation tour

was the most extravagant event ever seen in Scotland.

The Dunfermline-born king toured the country for 27 days, collecting

gifts, silver and gold, before crossing the Firth of Forth from

Burntisland. Having safely reached his naval ship, Dreadnought, he then

watched horrified as the ferry carrying baggage wagons and 35 people,

including his courtiers and personal friends, capsized. Worried the

tragedy would be perceived as God's will by the Scottish clergy, he had

a group of English witches tried and executed.

Historical archivist Robert Bryden first discovered the facts behind

the king's ferry -- an event which slipped between the history books.

Together with Howard Murray and his colleague Martin Rhydderch, the

group began searching universities and libraries across Britain for

further proof of the wreck's existence. Once confirmed, local

businessman Alex Kilgour was enlisted to raise the funds and sponsorship

necessary to locate and excavate the site.

A preliminary search last summer using sonar and divers uncovered more

than 200 potential wrecks within the two-mile target area, with more

detailed work narrowing the ferry's possible resting place to half a

dozen locations. In the dying minutes of the final search a diver

retrieved a piece of pottery, shoe leather and bolts dated to the 1600s.

Over the next 10 days Howard Murray, Barry Clifford and his team will

be based on board The Golden Eye, a rented salvage vessel fitted with

state-of-the-art technology. The team hope that information retrieved

from 100 feet below water will provide a positive indication of the

ferry's resting spot.

Funding for what will be a multi-million pound excavation will be

examined over the winter, with Clifford and partners prepared to pick

and choose investors. ''It'll be a small invitation. We're not going to

publicise it.'' The $8m spent so far on The Whydah was funded by

investors including Silver Screen Partnership, who bankroll Walt Disney


Howard Murray believes the future of marine archaeology must now lie

with the private sector. ''It has to be. It's not like a land site where

you can go along with a load of enthusiastic people and dig away for

#50. It's frightening how much this is costing every day, and you have

to make it pay.''

But he believes the standard of technology and conservation techniques

in use, such as computerised site recording, remote-operated vehicles

and North Sea oil techniques made possible by the private sector, will

silence any academic critics crying ''treasure hunt''.

A period song once sung by Bonnie Prince Charlie about his grandfather

contains the lines:

'For who better may,

Our high sceptre sway,

Than he whose right it is to reign.

Then look for no peace

For the wars will never cease,

Till the king shall enjoy his own again.

If Global Exploration are to be believed, the king and his country,

within a few years, may well enjoy his own again.