TREASURE BONANZA...THE 1997 RECOVERY
John hows your heart? John
Curiale had just come up from the bottom and was hanging over the stern of
the 23-foot salvage boat Discovery. Handing
up his metal detector and pushing the mask back on his forehead, he gave
his smiling salvage partner kneeling over the stern a quizzical look.
I guess its OK, why?
Steve Hancock helped lift Johns diving gear aboard, then helped
pull his partner out of the water. He
hadnt done that before, so John knew something unusual was up.
As soon as he was in the boat he understood, and even with a wet
suit on...a shiver went up and down his spine.
Along the Florida east coast, all salvors working the various 1715 Spanish treasure galleons between Ft. Pierce and Sebastian are constantly aware of the scatter pattern of the various wreck sites. To date, six of the eleven sites of the wrecked galleons have been located, and their ballast piles have produced some fantastic recoveries over the past 37 years. Each salvor realizes that the passengers baggage contained great treasure, not so much in coins like the ships manifest, but in worked gold and silver artifacts and jewelry. Passengers baggage was carried by the current and waves northward from the wreck sites for miles, tumbling along the bottom or washing in and out from the beach until finally hanging up on a reef, where it came apart. As the treasure in the baggage settled to the bottom it found a convenient hole, crevice, or reef ledge to settle in.
That happened 282 years ago, and in most cases, ships artifacts, such
as iron, have long been covered with coral encrustation and become a part
of the local scenery. But
gold...gold is forever. It
remains as glittering yellow as the day the galleon sank in 1715.
Its breathtaking when you first find gold on the bottom of the
ocean, even more breathtaking when there are gorgeous deep-green emeralds
set in some of the gold. Finding
gold is the end of the rainbow, and the rainbow often takes several years
to show up. Frustration,
perseverance, and some basic treasure hunting instinct are involved.
So the 1997 treasure recovery for Steve Hancock began quite a few
It was a typical top-to-bottom visibility day as the Tequesta
dropped anchor just northward of the ballast pile.
Someone mentioned it was the anniversary date of the Spanish 1715
fleet sinking. Lets
celebrate and bring up some gold!
Besides Hancock, there were two other divers on Shouppes team
that day. Davey Groves and
John Anderson had been diving with Shouppe the day before.
Davey suited up alongside Hancock, and with metal detectors turned
on they slid over the side. Before they headed for the bottom Dave suggested, Ill
go north, and Steve nodded, Ill head south towards the ballast
pile. John Anderson had no
detector that day, so he trailed along the surface, Ill chase the
settled to the bottom in twelve feet of water and began a methodical sweep
of the sand and edge of the reef system.
Hancock worked southward for the better part of half an hour and
hadnt found much more that a few pieces of aluminum beer cans.
The bottom seemed void of anything in the way of ship material.
He surfaced and saw the Tequesta about 100 feet away, nose into a
small surface chop that was building as the wind from the east began to
pick up. He had a feeling he was looking in the worn direction, a sort
of instinct...unusual for his first salvage dive.
In any event, he turned around and began working his way northward.
Soon he passed under the hull of the Tequesta, and now he was following a reef line that came up off the bottom a few feet. His aluminum beer can hits continued, but then he got a hit that was a bit different. For some unknown reason he pulled out a pocket buoy, a small float on the end of a sinker and line, and let the float rise to the surface. On the surface John Anderson watched as Steve began fanning the sand away. Soon he had a hole over a foot deep, and in the bottom of the hole was a silver piece-of-eight! Picking the coin up, he waved the metal detector over the hole and got another hit. In minutes he had a second silver coin, and then another. More fanning produced a number of silver pieces-of-eight, and he finned his way to the surface and shouted towards the salvage boat, The bottom is covered with coins!
It didnt take long before Shouppe was alongside him, and with a metal
detector he had a hit a few feet away.
It was a deeper hit, and after fanning sand for several minutes,
Shouppe apparently decided to bring the salvage boat over to the area and
dust the top layer of sand away. He
had begun to swim back towards the boat, but then something made him turn
around and come back to the hole. Fanning
harder he was able to deepen the hole, and suddenly he had the glint of
gold! It was an
eight-escudoa dubloonabout the size of a silver dollar.
The fanning became furious, and it produced more gold coins. The edge of the hole had gold coins popping out everywhere.
By the time shouppe ran out of air he had 25 gold eight-escudos in
a small pilea samll fortune at $5,000 per coin.
He gathered up the coins and swam back to the boat for another
SCUBA tank of air. Davey
Groves had just returned to the boat, and when he saw the gold coins
tumble out of Shouppes hands, he headed back for the bottom.
Before long Shouppe joined Dave, and together they recovered seven
more gold coins. That ended
the anniversary day, and it was cause to celebrate.
The next day found Tequesta anchored over the site much earlier than the
day before. There were more
eager divers aboard that day, including Shouppes son and father. The day before, Steve Hancock hadnt recovered gold, only
silver, but on this day he would come up with six large eight-escudos and
a Lima two-escudo. Everyone
was picking up silver coins, and before the scatter pattern of treasure
ended, they had recovered 400 silver four and eight-reales.
It was a week that made treasure headlines in the local newspapers
and on television. Before the
year was up Shouppe raised three of the cannons.
The remaining four are still there, along with the ballast pile,
just inside the first reef and less than 100 yards from shore near the
development known as Golden Sands.
Reprints of "The Best Of
Treasure Quest Magazine" are used with permission from a series of stories
in Treasure Quest Magazine
by Bob "Frogfoot" Weller, Ernie "Seascribe" Richards and other great modern day treasure hunters.
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