The Lost Treasures of the Atocha
Mel Fisher’s motto, “Today’s the day!” inspires all treasure hunters, whether land or sea, to keep on with the search. Fisher’s quest for the Nuestra Seniora de Atocha began in 1969. For over 16 years, he dedicated his life to the finding of this sunken ship’s riches, before he realized ‘the day’ on July 20th, 1985. Even though small bits and pieces of Atocha treasure were being found in previous years, teasing the crew along, it was not until this July date that large stacks of silver bars, gold, and emeralds from the Atocha were finally discovered lying on the ocean floor. Mel Fisher’s dream became reality, but, all was still not found.
Today, valuables from the ship continue to be brought back to the surface. One such relic, located by Fisher’s team 35 miles off the coast of Florida, was reported recently as being an emerald ring, approximately worth $500,000. Coins and other small artifacts have also been known to wash up along the shores over the years. The Spanish Galleon awes and charms many of those who seek its lost prize.
My family and I visited an exhibit over the summer which displays various items from the fantastic ship. Treasures of the Sea is located within a small section of the Delaware Tech Library and shares some of Atocha’s amazing relics valued at over 4,000,000 dollars. Walking first into the room, one of recovered ship’s bronze cannons and a pile of cannon balls greeted us. It looked as if it kept guard over the ship’s jewels further inside, just like it had done almost 400 years ago.
The Atocha was the rear guard, or Almiranta, of the Tierra Firme fleet. It was on voyage back to Spain to give riches from the New World. Because the ship was heavily armed, and thought to be one of the safest vessels against possible pirate attacks, it was carrying the most valuable load of silver, gold, jewels, and other treasure. The Atocha’s armored crew and multiple cannons on board may have made it secure from pirates, but these couldn’t protect it from one of the fiercest attacks of all. The fleet encountered a powerful hurricane soon after leaving port in Havana. The Atocha, along with another ship named the Santa Margarita and a few others, caught the worst of the whirling wind, and lost the battle. They sank off the coast of Florida on September 6th, 1622.
Efforts to salvage the lost treasures of the ships were made. Retrieval of some of the other vessels and the Santa Margarita’s loads were successful, but because the Atocha was swallowed in 55 feet of water, its cargo remained beneath the waters. And once another hurricane crossed the area weeks later, the remnants of the Atocha were further scattered. The Spanish, who had quickly sent out crews to search and rescue the ships’ fortunes, could not find a trace of where the Atocha rested. This sunken wealth was lost.
That is until Fisher found it. I love his story of perseverance. It is an inspiration to all those who seek for things unseen. To look upon the beautiful artifacts in the museum gave only a tiny glimpse of the vast amount of treasure which had gone missing for so long. Fisher believed it was there to be found, though, and in not giving up hope he would someday find it, he achieved his goal. This tale provides one of the most valuable treausres given by the Atocha: Seek and ye shall find.
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