Saturday, January 08, 2005


Sunken loot on display, as hunt continues


Palm Beach Post
By Tim O'Meilia
January 08, 2005

Ocean floor may still hide gold, gems

WEST PALM BEACH — Since the cargo hold of the Spanish treasure ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha was discovered off Key West 19 years ago, more than $500 million in gold bars, silver, emeralds and other gems have been harvested by salvor Mel Fisher and his family's company.

It's a story of a flamboyant treasure hunter who struck the mother lode — a story that has entranced the public ever since.

And the story's not over. "There's a lot more out there," proclaims Patrick Clyne, senior vice president of Motivation Inc., the successor to the late Fisher's company.

Clyne — along with Fisher's son, Kim, and other family members — are displaying some of the Atocha treasure at the Palm Beach Connoisseur Fair at the Kravis Center.

Clyne will speak at 2 p.m. Sunday in the center's Cohen Pavilion on "The Odyssey of the Atocha." Admission is free.
Even now, Fisher's relatives are combing the ocean floor, seeking golden crucifixes, candelabras, chalices and other items that were kept in the sterncastle — the galleon's rear structure where aristocracy, the clergy and their belongings traveled.

Clyne suspects there's more than $100 million in jewelry hidden beneath the ocean floor's shifting sands. It's treasure not listed on the ship's manifest.

"The people who chartered the Atocha knew the king would tax 20 percent of the bullion. So to avoid taxes, the rich had their gold melted down and formed into jewelry because jewelry wasn't taxed," Clyne said this week.

The Atocha was one in a treasure fleet of 28 ships that left Havana on Sept. 4, 1622, to return to Spain with silver mined from Mexico and Peru, gold found in Colombia, pearls from Venezuela and other gems.

Barely a day out of port, a storm — perhaps a hurricane — scattered the ships. The flagship Atocha and eight or nine others struck the reefs of the Florida Straits and sunk in 30 feet of water. Faulty references sent salvors searching 100 miles away.

The cargo hold, laden with tons of gold bars, broke loose from the ship and sank. That was what Fisher found in 1985, 16 years after his search began. The rest of the ship is scattered across 10 miles of ocean bottom, including the sterncastle.

Fisher's salvors have discovered some pieces as they have crisscrossed the ocean floor. "It is truly amazing," said Harvey Oyer, chairman of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, who dove with salvors several years ago.
"The day we were there, they pulled up five 6-foot gold rope chains just as shining as the day they went down in 1622, " he said.

Clyne expects the search to continue for several years. And he'll continue to spin the tale of Fisher and the Atocha. "People are amazed. 'You're still diving?' They're surprised to know a great amount is still out there."

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