Searching for Pieces of Eight

I could think of worse things than being able to dive in the crystal blue waters off of the Florida coast everyday looking for sunken treasure, and we found someone who does just that – and makes a living at it!

Thomas Gidus, owner of Wreckovery Salvage and Gold Coast Explorations searches for and recovers the cargo and remains of historic shipwrecks to preserve our maritime past for future generations. Recovered items are used for research and education and many are on display in museums and libraries.

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We thought his story would make an excellent post for our “Making Your Tropical Obsession Your Profession” series and so we asked if we could interview him recently. This is what we found out about Thomas:

1. Tell us a little about yourself and why you do what you do.
I am a professional historic shipwreck salvor. Using remote sensing technology, such as magnetometers and side scan sonars, along with archival historical research, we locate long lost wooden sailing ships. Then we employ methods like propwash excavation, air lifts or simple hand fanning to uncover the cargo and remains of the ships, which could be scattered across many miles of ocean bottom.

2. How did you get started in shipwreck recovery?
I was metal detecting on a beach in Ft. Pierce, Florida and was approached by a guy who said he was a treasure diver and needed a partner for his operation. He asked if I dived and if I was interested. I immediately said yes. We were subcontracting to a treasure hunter you may have heard of, the world famous Mel Fisher, on the 1715 Spanish fleet shipwrecks. We recovered some incredible emerald and gold treasure that season. That was 1991. The very next year I started my own company, Wreckovery Salvage, a combination of the words ‘wreck’ and ‘recovery.’ Since then, I have searched for and discovered dozens of shipwrecks through out Florida and in North Carolina.

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3. Tell us about a typical day at the office.

I wake up late, put on swim trunks, a t-shirt and flip flops. Drive 15 minutes to get to the boat, docked behind Capt. Dom’s house. Another 15 minutes getting out through beautiful Jupiter Inlet, Florida. Then we anchor the boat, lower the blower and dig a hole. I grab a metal detector, jam a regulator in my mouth and dive down through 15 feet of warm, crystal clear water and recover the treasure, er, the archaeologically important artifacts.

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4. What are your plans for the future?
I want to help Capt. Dominic Addario solve the mystery of the historic shipwreck at Jupiter inlet. 16 thousand coins have come off that wreck, 1 large silver bar and 1 small gold bar. The main pile of the ship is still missing, and we want to find it. The value is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

5. What does Rum Therapy mean to you?
Rum Therapy is a lifestyle and it is an antidote to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I moved away from the traffic and hectic lifestyle of central Florida to a beautiful, relatively quiet place in south Florida. My 1st day here, I landed at a wonderful tiki bar overlooking Jupiter inlet. That very same day, I met the love of my life, Monica. We are there at least twice a week, sipping rum & cokes and making plans for our future. She has joined me in my search for sunken treasures.

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6. What is your advice for someone who really wants to make their tropical obsession their profession?
Find a beautiful place in the tropics where you would love to live and work and put all of your thoughts and energy into earning a living doing what you love to do. It might not happen right away, but with optimism, persistence and hard work, your tropical dream will come true.

7. Anything else we should know?
John 15:12

Visit Thomas’s website to find out more about Wreckovery Salvage and Gold Coast Explorations:

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Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

Recently we asked our Facebook friends if they knew of anyone who, like us, are making their tropical obsession their profession and who wouldn’t mind being interviewed for our series of the same name. We got an email from Lisa Ginardi telling us about the interesting story of a man who loves rum, quit his government job, moved to Hawaii and opened a tiki bar named the Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge (Okolemaluna is Hawaiianfor “bottoms up”!). Needless to say we were intrigued and immediately contacted Brice Ginardi, her husband, to see if he would share his story. This is what we found out.

1. Tell us a little about your background (ie; career, where you lived before you moved to Hawaii, etc.)
I had some gypsy years and I needed to see different parts of the U.S.  I was born and raised in Kansas City but lived in San Francisco for five years and then in the Phoenix area for three years. Before making the change to Hawaii, I worked as a motorcycle mechanic, then a City Water Department worker; the whole time I bartended for private parties and served drinks for friends and learned how to work on my original drink recipes.

2. What triggered your desire to make such a major change?
We visited on vacation, and this island just called me.  There is incredible bounty here, and it led to wanting to feature the great products from local farmers in my drinks!  When we moved here we made drinks for ourselves and friends that used these ingredients.

3. What drew you to Hawaii? What drew you to the Big Island?
Hard to put into words.  The beauty, the people, the change of pace, it is different than other Hawaiian islands. We’ve visited other islands but during one particular sunset we just knew this was the place for us.

4. How did you come up with the idea of starting a tiki bar?
I felt Hawaii needed to have these fresh drinks back to represent the glory of Hawaii’s past –  there is a strong tradition of tiki here.  Hawaii had a couple of tiki bars but nothing that represented the past brilliance of the yesteryear.  When we moved here, we didn’t bring much — but we did bring several boxes of our rare rums and the decorations for our home tiki room/bar.  We basically just took our home tiki bar public!

5. Was it difficult to make such a major change in career and location?
There really wasn’t a choice involved, if I hadn’t at least tried it, I’d question myself on my death bed. We don’t have kids or parents on the mainland to take care of and we are fortunate to be able to go wherever in the world we want.

6. What are your other interests?
Right now none! (we’re working long hrs. at the bar)….but I do love to go to the beach, it reminds me of why I moved here.

7. Tell us about the Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge.
Okolemaluna (Hawaiian for “bottoms up”) is modeled off of vintage 50’s through the 70’s tiki bars in Hawaii andon the mainland. We use fresh local ingredients whenever possible and premium spirits.  We rescued vintage carvings from closed businesses on Oahu and we include new art from some of the best tiki artists and carvers in the current scene (Brad “Tiki Shark” Parker, Bosko, Doug Horne, etc.).  We operate as a cocktail lounge, with cocktails and pupus (appetizers/bar food).  You can learn more about us on our website:

8. What is your favorite rum? What is your favorite rum drink? Are you willing to share a special rum drink recipe with us? Flor de Cana 7 year is my current favorite  but changes all the time. My favorite drink has to be a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai – it is so simple but elegant and makes me smile with every sip. Here is one of my original recipes, the Wicked Wahine:

Wicked Wahine
1 ½ oz. spiced rum
¼ oz. falernum
¼ oz. fresh lemon juice
¼ oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. passion fruit syrup
¼ oz. grenadine
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
Ice Cubes
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: orchid or another edible flower (optional)

Combine all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish.

9. Do you have any advice for others that may be thinking of making their tropical obsession their profession?
Understand that you get one life and one chance. I would have always looked back and wondered about that crossroad if I hadn’t taken it. I know I have taken an obsession and made it a dream.  My wife and I have made a big life change a couple of times, and have learned to go for it! — nothing is unfixable if it doesn’t work out.

10. What else should we know about you?
I wouldn’t have been able to follow any of this dream w/out the help and support of my wife . We are very blessed to live in paradise, but if you can’t live here yet, you can make wherever you are paradise!

The Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge in Kailua Kona Hawaii ( has only been open 7 months and has already been designated by Imbibe Magazine as one of the top tiki bars in North America (  Brice’s original cocktails and recipes will be featured in the upcoming Summer Drinks issue of Imbibe as well.  His rum philosophy is to use only the best local ingredients whenever possible, and he house-makes syrups, flavorings, liqueurs, infusions, etc. each day.  In addition, Brice has been chosen as a contestant in the World’s Best Mai Tai Contest 2 years in a row; he finished in 2nd place last year, and he will learn in the next week whether he makes it in for the 3rd straight year.

Next time you’re lucky enough to spend some time on the big island of Hawaii, stop by the Okolemaluna Tiki Lounge and ask for Brice. I’m sure he’ll be happy to help you enjoy some serious Rum Therapy there. Ahhh, look, your Mai Tai is waiting for you!

photos courtesy of Lisa and Brice Ginardi


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