Using the search for a ship as a teachable moment

Local author’s book tells tale of attempt to find 1805 ship


A passion for science has driven Laurie Zaleski for much of her life. As a marine geologist, she has traveled the world conducting geophysical surveys. She’s told herself that in order to make an impact, she can’t be afraid to say yes.

So when the opportunity came to join an expedition to search for a lost battleship from the early 19th Century, Zaleski said yes. That journey eventually led her to eventually saying yes to the idea of writing her first book. She chronicled the expedition in a non-fiction book aimed at teaching children about the kinds of science it takes to try and locate a famous war ship that sunk in battle more than 200 years ago.

Laurie Zaleski poses with her book at Barnes & Noble.

“A Young Person’s Field Guide to Finding Lost Shipwrecks – the Search for the Santisima,” is Zaleski’s first book. It maps out the 2004 adventure that attempted to locate the ship in the Straight of Gibraltar, between the coast of Spain and Northwest Africa. She knew there was a story to tell and she felt compelled to use it as an educational opportunity for young students as well as any adults who might want to read it.

“I really wanted it to be accessible to anyone,” Zaleski said.

Zaleski is a native New Yorker who now calls Long Beach home. Previously, she worked as a systems analyst for Grumman Aerospace, where she often conducted tours for student groups. During her presentations, she spoke to them about the importance of math and science. Those experiences, along with reading and talking with her 11-year-old granddaughter, allowed her to develop a kind of teacher’s approach.

She uses short chapters, taking time to explain the meaning of terms such as SCUBA and SONAR. She uses an analogy of dribbling a basketball across a court to illustrate using sonar to map an ocean floor. There are diagrams explain the basics of the research vessel, Hercules. She even mixes in some history about the ship, for which they are searching.

“You always have to relate to who your audience is,” Zaleski said.

The final product has received several awards and acknowledgements, including being named a finalist in the Indie Book Awards for Children’s/Juvenile (non-fiction), as well as a Best Book finalist in pre-teen non-fiction in the American Book Fest Awards.

As for the expedition, the mapping of the sea floor showed what looks like a boat/ship graveyard. They learned that it is a popular area to scuttle aged ships. Still, Zaleski said that they were able to develop new techniques for SONAR searches and mapping. And, while they are not able to definitively ID which is the Santisima, there is still a story to tell. There are still measures of success and a look at the range of science and technology that go into this adventure.

There is still a teachable moment in the book and Zaleski is hopeful that it offers young people a glimpse into math and science they might enjoy.

“I just want kids to read it,” Zaleski said.

The book is available through Amazon and also at Barnes and Noble, online and at the Marina Pacifica store.

Using the search for a ship as a teachable moment