Published – Southern Boating
©2016 – All Rights Reserved – Troy Gilbert
Mel Fischer knows all too well how Columbian officials felt about their recent discovery of what is likely the Spanish galleon San Jose and its lost coffers of what could amount to $14 Billion dollars in gold and jewels. Fischer and his team of treasure hunters discovered the galleon Atocha which sailed from Cuba laden with plundered gold before it was lost near Florida’s Marquesas Keys in 1622. Resting at a depth of over 1,000 feet it will take years to bring up the gold of the San Jose, but it is only one of the lost vessels and their loot strewn over the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in the centuries before hurricanes could be predicted, let alone even understood.
It is unknown as to the full extent of how many treasure ships lie in the depths waiting to be discovered with modern technology just off our shores in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, but many other high profile discoveries are well documented.
Off the coast of Padre Island, Texas, a storm took down three vessels in 1544. One of the Spanish vessels was destroyed during the construction of a cut from the Gulf to the Laguna Madre in the 1940’s and another was located and then looted by treasure hunters in 1967. However the third was discovered and the contents were recovered by the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory.
With hurricanes running as a common thread for the sinking of many of these ships, eleven galleons are known to have sunk in 1715 off the east coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral, however only five of these lost ships have been located and recovered to date. Similarly, 22 ships were lost and sunk to the south of the Florida Keys in 1733 with many still yielding up their booty.
When enormous wealth reaching into the billions of dollars is up for grabs, the discovery of these shipwrecks often leads to controversy and inevitable legal wrangling and this is certainly true of the recent discovery off of the shores of Columbia. In 1981 a treasure outfit known as Sea Search Armada claims to have located the San Jose and has been embroiled in a decade’s long legal battle over their share of the fortune recently in the news. Many nations including the United States lay claim to percentages of recovered artifacts, with most ending up in museums.
For those of us dreaming of giving up their day jobs and start searching for sunken treasure, there’s always the baby step of buying a handheld metal detector and beach combing along the white sands. Gold and other Spanish coins are known to periodically get churned up by the sea and lie buried just under the sands of many Gulf Coast beaches, just waiting for those lucky few to catch that glimmer of something shiny underfoot.