The Adventure of Treasure Hunting Spanish Galleons and you can join us.
I am a Treasure Hunter, Diver and love adventures on the oceans. I am addicted to saving history of Spanish Treasure for future generations and telling the story to others of what we do and why. I got my start diving in the early 1970’s when I was just 12 years old off the coast of NJ on the many wrecks up and down the coast, my goal was to dive the Andrea Doria which I did in 1986 for the first time after becoming a Divemaster. Growing up hearing stories of people like Jacques Cousteau the grandfather of all Scuba Diving and Treasure hunters like Kip Wagner, Art McKee, Commander Bob “Frogfoot” Weller, Jack Haskins and of course the Mel Fisher only to mention a few, there are so many more. They were what dreams were made of, sailing the seas, romantic adventures, treasures and I wanted my name right with them. I wanted to be one of them recovering history right along the side of them. Well this was just a dream of a little boy, right? Well this is where my story started, but first.
Let me take you back over 300 years with a short story as told by Dr. John de Bry in his essay “A Concise History of the 1715 Plate Fleet”. In the early 1700’s war broke out over the succession of the Spanish crown. King George II had died childless, but on his deathbed, had named as his nephew heir Philippe, the grandson of Louis XIV of France. Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, who wanted to see his son, Archduke Charles Louis John Joseph Laurenrtius, ascend the throne, did not kindly receive this decision. Leopold also wanted to prevent at all cost any close alliance between France and Spain. War broke out, with England and the Dutch on one side, and Spain, France, Portugal, Bavaria, and Savoy on the other.
The oceans became the location battles and barbaric encounters between merchant vessels and privateers. The sea routes between Spain and the Americas no longer had safe passage, and the much needed flow of New World treasure was almost completely halted. Things were going very bad for the new King Philip V and his kingdom. In the year 1702 Spain received a tremendous blow when a large English naval force entered Vigo Bay, on the coast of Spain. A battle of immense proportion was under way, the English were taking control by sinking a large number of warships, capturing others and seizing goods and treasure.
The War of Succession came to an end in 1715 by treaties known as the Peace of Utrecht. The treaty between England and France confirmed King Philip V’s succession to the throne of Spain. Although the war had ended, the peace was an uneasy one, and the former foes remained on edge and ready for another confrontation.
Spain was in dire need of financial relief. At King Philip V’s order, a fleet was dispatched to America in order to bring back the urgently needed gold and silver, which had been accumulating during the war just waiting for safe passage. They carried 14 million pesos, worth over 950 million in today’s market, with much of it still waiting to be found, including the famous “Queen’s Jewels". After a two-year delay, the mighty Plate Fleet was ready to sail home to Spain. The eleven ships making up the fleet assembled in Havana in the July of 1715.
The great treasure fleet of 1715 sailed from Havana harbor in the early morning of July 24th, a beautiful and calm day, with a gentle breeze to help the ships find the Florida current which ran north and up the Straits of Florida known as the Gulf Stream. Slowly and smoothly the ships of the fleet gently followed the East coast of Florida, staying far enough away from the shore to take advantage of the Gulf Stream, staying clear of the treacherous shoals and reef formations which fringed the Florida coast. For the first five days the voyage was uneventful with the weather perfect and no indication whatsoever of the expeditiously approaching killer storm. Then on July 29th, large swells started to appear, coming from the southeast. The weather became heavy with moisture with the sun shining brightly through the haze. A gentle breeze still blew and the sea was smooth, but the swells started to make the ship gently roll over the swells. The experienced navigators, pilots, and old hands started to be very concerned. They knew that these were the early signs of an impending tropical storm.
The storm had reached alarming intensity with winds at the center of the storm reaching over one hundred miles per hour. By nightfall the hurricane had made a drastic change in course, suddenly veering directly to the west. On the morning of July 30th, along the east coast of Florida, just south of Cape Canaveral, winds had begun to pick up and by midday had increased to well over twenty knots and the seas were rapidly building up and. By late afternoon winds had increased to over thirty knots and the waves were reaching twenty feet. General Juan Esteban de Ubilla’s fleet was pushed closer to shore by the relentless storm. The General gave the order that all ships head into the wind in order to stay well clear of the reef and shoals, but the attempt was not that successful. The wind kept increasing, and by midnight, the ships were almost out of control. Around 4 a.m. on July 31st, the hurricane struck the doomed ships with all its might, driving one ship after another on the deadly jagged reefs. The ships broke up in pieces. General Ubilla’s Capitana disintegrated, crushed on the reef like toothpicks. Almost all aboard were killed, including General Ubilla himself. The entire fleet was lost, and of the some twenty five hundred persons aboard various ships, well over one thousand six hundred perished in the storm. The only ship to survive the storm was the French warship Griffon, Captain Antoine d’Aire having chosen to head towards the northeast and into the storm; arriving on August 31st, 1715.
For over two hundred fifty years this horrible disaster was long forgotten and lost to history. That is until this home builder from Miamisburg Ohio visited Vero Beach Florida on vacation his name is Kip Wagner. One day, a friend of Kip’s, Captain S. Parker, told Kip that after storms, silver coins were frequently washed up on the beaches between Wabasso and Sebastian. A Spanish treasure fleet had wrecked off this area in 1715. After some skepticism, Kip became a regular on the beaches (in free time from his construction work) and began to find coins himself. By the 1964 salvage season, Kip Wagner estimated that between Real Eight and (Mel Fishers) Treasure Salvors Inc., they had recovered from the wreck sites "a treasure valued in excess of $3 million in gold, silver, jewelry, and artifacts," with probably over $14 million worth of treasure still to be found.
Because of the success of Mel’s Treasure Salvers and Kips Real Eight Company the news made the papers, the cat was out of the bag, and the coast was suddenly full of treasure hunters wanting in on the act. The state of Florida also decided that procedures would have to be changed, in regards to what percentage of the finding they would receive, and so on, everyone wanted a piece of the golden pie! While millions have already been found, is thought that only a very small percentage of treasure has been recovered over the years.
Captain Carl Fismer “Fizz”
Captain Bradley Williamson
Divemaster Marc E. Littleton Sr.
Fast forward to 2010, I had the opportunity to meet the man who mentored for many years under the famous Captain Jack Haskins his name is Capt. Carl Fismer aka “Fizz as his friends call him. Capt. Fismer is the recipient of the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award, Fizz has been working projects with the man that mentored under Commander Bob “Frogfoot” Weller for twenty five years and his name is Captain Bradley Williamson. Capt. Brad had worked on a boat called the Pandion for many years starting in the early 1970’s with Frogfoot Weller. Between these two they have been Treasure hunting for over 60 years. With my background it became a natural fit and we all became friends and over time we formed a small company called Scuba Wize where we teach students the art of marine archaeology and the preservation of history and they dive on two 1733 Spanish Galleons in the Florida Keys. We have had many students come through our doors and all give us a five star reviews, many come back to experience the adventure more than once. While this workshops take place year round, we have our own projects that take place during the year.
Capt. Fizz and Capt. Brad purchased and restored the oldest boat of its size in today treasure hunting fleet the “Pandion”. As Capt. Brad would say, she is the little engine that could and does.
The Pandion is responsible for more treasure being recovered than any other vessel her size. The Pandion is perfect for working the shipwreck sites of the 1715 Treasure Fleet. We have several targets we are searching to recover treasure including the famous “Royals Ville” as it was called Commander Bob Weller called it.
Today, the three of us are working as a team on the Pandion off the coast FT Pierce Florida. We are recovering artifacts and treasure and I am living the life of adventure and fulfilling my childhood dreams of working with the best treasure hunters out there today in my opinion. This goes to prove that if a little boy from NJ can make his dreams come true, you can too!
If you have gotten this far I know you are like me and have the bug to find and preserve history. I am honored to be diving with two of the best in the Treasure hunting / Finding people in the marine archaeology and the preservation of history. We work together as a team and we would like to give you the opportunity to join at one of our Sunken Treasure workshops in the Florida Keys and dive on two 1733 Spanish Galleons. If you enjoy yourself we even will give you the opportunity to join us on one of our projects as other students have done.