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 frie