A new species of Sawfish

Triton Logging 'Sawfish' ROV - copyright Triton Loggin
Triton Logging has one of the most interesting business models I’ve heard of. They’re in the salvage business. They salvage wood.
In early 2004 I started looking for some exposure to timber stocks in my portfolio. Despite the fact that I thought housing would be heading into a downturn, I still thought it represented a good sector. Besides the nice dividends – in the 3-4% range, most of these companies sit on considerable tracts of undeveloped rural land – potentially a reasonable hedge against inflation. In addition, some of them (PCL, RYN) are structured as REITs, providing some nice tax advantages.
Now, along comes Triton, with an fascinating idea, and some cool technology to make it work. Triton aims to salvage forgotten, or inaccessible timber. Apparently there are a number of underwater forests in the world – valleys flooded by dams for example. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that the trees left behind would still be viable sources of timber, or that there would be an economically viable way or harvesting them.
But Triton has developed a reasonably cheap, submersible ROV (remotely operated vehicle), called a Sawfish, that can go down the depths, attach an airbag to the trees and fell them. Once they are floated to the surface they’re much easier to maneuver on the water than on land. The end result being, that Triton’s operation may be cheaper than a land based one.
By at least one estimate, there may be $50 billion dollars of timber trapped underwater. If privately held Triton can get access to just a small portion of that, it’ll mean serious dollars for a small startup.
Wired magazine has a great article about the company here.

In retrospect, I should have known wood would be a salvagable material. Knifemaker Rob Brown from South Africa has made several knives with ebony handles, where the ebony was recovered from the shipwreck ‘Sacramento’.
From a summary of the ‘Sacramento’ story posted here
“What makes this knife unique is the ebony wood from which the handles have been created. This rare wood was recovered from the wreck of a Spanish galleon, the “Sacramento”.
The ships, both Spanish galleons, left Spain in 1646 on their way to the Far East. Spain was at war with England at the time and they were on their way to Macao in China to collect, amongst other things, a shipment of bronze cannon to arm the Spanish coast. The ebony used on this knife had been carried in the hold of the “Sacramento” as dunnage to protect the cannon.
At the time, Spain had a settlement at Delagoa Bay (now Mozambique) on the east coast of Africa, but the rest of South Africa had to wait until 1652 for the Dutch East India Company to send out Jan van Riebeeck to set up a half-way station at the Cape, to supply their ships on their spice route runs to the East.
All went well for the “Sacrameno” and “Atalaya” on their trip to China. However, on the return voyage, disaster struck. First, the “Atalaya” ran aground and sank near the Fish River, about 200 miles up the coast, and then the same thing happened to the “Sacramento” – just offshore from Rob Brown’s village. The whereabouts of these two wrecks was never exactly known. Then, in the early part of the last century, a cannon was salvaged at Schoenies that was thought to be from this wreck. In the mid Seventies, two young salvage divers living in the village, Dave Allen and Gerry van Niekerk, decided to research this wreck.
Seventy-two survivors from the “Sacramento” spent a few days camped near the wreck site; with no hope of being rescued, they decided to walk the 1300 kilometers to Mozambique. At the Fish River, they met up with the survivors from the “Atalaya”.
One of the survivors from the “Atalaya” had kept a diary and so the story of these wrecks finally became known.
The survivors of the ships continued their walk but animals, natives (and not being good outdoorsmen) took its toll and only 9 of the original survivors reached Delagoa Bay, 6 1/2 months later. Allen and Van Niekerk located and salvaged the wreck of the “Sacramento” in 1977, more or less in the area it was thought to be – but a lot closer to the breakers than was ever imagined. The story of the survivors and of the salvage is covered in their book “The Guns of the Sacramento”.

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