FINDING MY FIRST SPANISH PIECE-OF-EIGHT

by Hank Haardt


I’m not a professional salvage diver, just sort of a week-ender that was bitten by the treasure bug back in 1994. But as I remember that summer, it opened up a door of anticipation for each salvage season as it approaches. It makes each dive a gift of memories that will last me a lifetime. But, I’m getting ahead of my story.
I first was introduced to treasure diving when I invested in Bob Weller’s “Crossed Anchors Salvage” project, salvaging the 1715 Almiranta located just two miles south of Sebastian Inlet here on the east coast of Florida. The year before his group had made a fabulous recovery of gold and diamond jewelry from this wreck site, possibly part of the new Queen of Spain’s dowry.
Joe Kimbell had moved onto the site in 1994, at the urging of Bob, and had brought up his 39-foot salvage boat J&J's Lady from Plantation Key. It was a big boat with never enough divers to work all the lines, and take sextant bearings, run the work boat, a lot or routine stuff. It was my first year, so I was the “gofer” guy. “Hank, go get the tank down in the cabin.”, “Hank, go pull that bow line a little tighter.”, “Hank, swim that port stern anchor out another fifty feet.”
In fact I won’t forget that episode. Joe asked me to swim the anchor in towards the beach a little further and didn’t tell me how far to swim it in. I got it loose from the bottom, grabbed the anchor chain, wrapped it around my shoulder, and started swimming. Joe got involved with something else about that time, something to do up on the bow of J&J’s Lady. There was probably close to 800 feet of rope on the end of that blasted anchor, and I had just about reached the end of it when someone noticed I was still heading for the beach. I’d already passed over a couple of big reefs, probably would have wound up pulling the boat into shore with me if Joe hadn't finally come running back to the stern shouting, “That’s far enough.” You do as you’re told in the salvage business, don’t ask questions. 


Hank Haardt boarding J & J's Lady. Photo by The Grinch.

That first summer of 1994 I never found anything myself personally, but I did watch the other divers bringing up cannon balls, lead musket balls, pottery shards, silver coins, and a gold cross. I did learn the fundamentals of salvage diving, how to take sextant bearings on the state-erected beach markers, and how to read the bottom and the reef in determining the best places for coins and artifacts to squirrel away out of sight. Like I said before, it gave me something to look forward to as the 1995 salvage season began. 
The following year I took a more active role in the salvage effort. Bob Weller let me join his group and put me in charge of running one of his smaller jet oats. They were rigged with dive tanks with a “hookah” rig attached. The tanks stayed in the boat, and there was a 100-foot, 1/2-inch hose connected to the tank with a regulator on the end. That’s what they called a hookah rig, I hadn’t heard that term before. It made it a lot easier getting into and out of the boat by not having to put on a heavy SCUBA tank.

I used an Intex-brand detector, and my job was to “bird-dog” the area, away from he main salvage effort that Bob Bob had going on his salvage boat Pandion. I found more than my share of beer cans, pop tops, and once in awhile a lead fishing sinker. When I say “lots”, I mean lots of beer cans. Every fishing boat that ever anchored over this area must have carries a case or two of beer, each can thrown over the side. The reefs were contaminated with beer cans, but as we worked our way across the bottom we picked every one up and carried it back to the boat. They wound up in the dumpster where they belonged.
I did get lucky during the end of June. I was working just off the beach with Don Cook, one of Bob’s friends from West Palm Beach, and another investor in Crossed Anchors Salvage. I got a hit on the metal detector...in water no more that two feed deep, where the reef makes holes and wash-outs with each change in tide. There, in one of the holes, I came up with an intact olive jar neck. Olive jars are the Spanish container for just about everything liquid, water, oil, vinegar, wine, honey, -- they had hundreds on board each one of their galleons. You rarely find a whole olive jar, if you did it would be worth about $1,000.00. But finding and intact “doughnut”, or olive jar neck, was exciting. Bob happened to be walking up the beach about that time...he must have thought I was shark-bit when I hollered.
Then it was Friday, July 7. Bob had gotten a new underwater detector from a friend of his, Ken White, President of White’s Electronics out in Oregon. They make a good detector, and Ken wanted Bob to try out one his latest. That morning as we pushed off from the dock, Bob handed me the detector and asked if I would try it out. “Give it a good test.” I promised I would do my best. I liked the feel of the detector, and when I passed it over metal it gave a good sound in the earphones. It was easy to adjust, and I never had to touch it the rest of the day.
Once we reached the site I ran the jet boat about fifty feet further to the east that where Pandion anchored up. I was probably 400 feet off shore. The water was a little deeper here, about sixteen to eighteen feet deep, and that day you could see the bottom from the surface. That didn’t happen very often on the “Cabin Wreck” site. The other divers had located some cannon in this area, something I wanted to see for myself.
By 8:30 in the morning, with the sun just clearing some of the shadows away from the reefs, I found the first cannon. It was about nine feet long, lying flat on the bottom and fully exposed. I couldn’t get the detector too close to it, all I would get was a big hum in my earphones. I searched all around the area...nothing. It was close to noon time, and I had picked up a few fishing weights and had made a few dozen trips back to the jet boat to dump handfuls of beer cans. There was a reef ahead of me, and as I swam up to it I have to admit it was an amazing sight. Here was this massive cannon, about twelve feet long, with its breech and cascabel sticking out of the reef at a 45 degree angle, and from the trunnions up to the tip of its barrel it was encased in the reef.
I had never seen anything quite like it before. I thought, “It had to be a big galleon to carry a few of these around!” Fish were everywhere around this particular reef, and for some reason I had a hard time moving on. I must have looked back at that cannon at least five or six times. It was something you rarely see.
Not far away was a smaller rocky reef with a lot of cracks and crevices. As I worked the White’s detector over the reef I half expected to get a beer can hit. In fact there was a deep crevice that I could get my entire arm in, and I half hoped that the metal detector wouldn’t sound off. It would be a lot of work to get something out of there, and more beer cans I didn’t need. But as luck would have it...I did get a “hit” right at the bottom of the crevice. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t you know. Well, dig every hit, even if it’s a beer can!” 
I reached as far as I could in the crevice and hand-fanned some of the sand away. It was like shoveling beach sand with a teaspoon. Whatever it was, it was just out of reach. I tried lying on the sandy bottom, reaching under the reef, and although I could still hear the hit on the detector, I couldn’t reach whatever it was. Then I could tell the air in my tack back on the boat was about out, it was getting a little harder to breathe, and I knew it would take a second effort to fish this hit out from the crevice. Besides, it was lunch-time.
I swam over to Pandion, but first made sure I could spot this reef again. Between munches on a sandwich I told Bob about the hit under the ledge, “but I can’t get it out!” Bob advised, “Have a good lunch, then go back with a crowbar. You’ll get it.”
After lunch I swam back over to the jet boat, switched over to a full tank of air, and headed back to my spot. With the crowbar extended as far under the reef as I could reach I was able to pull some of the sand out. It seemed the san moved an inch at a time, but somehow I managed to move most of it out of the crevice.
I waved the detector over each small pile, and --finally-- the hit was there in front of me. I picked up a handful of sand, held it under the detector, and the hit was there. It felt heavy as I spilled the san out of my hand, and then I held it there...looking at the cross side of a silver piece-of-eight! It’s hard to explain what that moment felt like, my first treasure coin, and it was a good one. Not many divers have an opportunity to look for treasure, let alone find some. I’m lucky be in the right place at the right time.
I swam back over to Pandion, and as I climbed up on the boarding platform Bob could tell I had good news. I had a grin on my face a mile wide. I shook his hand, dropped the silver coin on the engine hatch cover, and said, “Thanks for helping me find my first piece-of-eight!” Bob looked it over, smiled, and said, “Congratulation, that’s what this business is all about.”
I received the coin in the division at the end of the year. I can tell you it’s a thrill to me every time I tell friends about that day out on the reefs. It’s more of a thrill to hold that coin in my hand, knowing I found it and was first to hold it after 280 years on the bottom of the ocean. I’m looking forward to the next salvage season, there’s more out there just waiting for some lucky guy like me to find it.
Hank Haardt

 

 

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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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