Monday, May 30, 2005


Salvagers begin surveying ship from 1715 Spanish fleet off Tiger Shores


By Suzanne Wentley
May 29, 2005

Almost three centuries after the shipwrecks that gave the Treasure Coast its name, salvagers were back in the waters off Tiger Shores beach this weekend to finish underwater surveys on what could be more remains of the ill-fated fleet.

Experts with Amelia Research and Recovery hope to complete the monitoring necessary to secure state permits to excavate up to 15 different areas north of Stuart Beach in an effort to recover the only remaining undisturbed ship of the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet.

The work has been under way since 2003, when a local surfer told underwater researchers about a discovery of a pile of cannons jutting out of an offshore sandbar 25 years earlier.

Hurricanes, permitting problems and other projects have kept the Polly-L — a 70-foot-long lift boat used for exploration — from returning to the area. A smaller ship was used to complete the work this weekend.

If the state approves the necessary permits this week, Amelia vice president John Popin said excavation could begin as early as August.

"We found some really interesting things sticking out of the bottom," Popin said. "If it is what we think it is, it's the only undisturbed 1715 ship found since 1960."

Robin Hicks-Connors, president of the Martin County Historical Society, said the ship probably didn't have any treasure on board, but that doesn't make the search any less exciting.

"The value is more significant historically than it is financially," she said.

Up to 14 ships were part of the 1715 fleet, which was transporting a fortune in treasure from South America when a hurricane struck.

Six wrecks have been discovered and salvaged in Indian River and St. Lucie counties, although historical maps suggest the ships could have sunk as far south as the St. Lucie Inlet.

Historical society officials recently received a $40,000 state grant to begin an underwater survey of shipwrecks in seven square miles off Hobe Sound.

Its members hope to discover the remains of another ship — the explorer Jonathan Dickinson's Reformation that wrecked in 1696.

This weekend, Popin and his team of investigators will take underwater videos at specific locations that have been pinpointed with sonar and magnetometer equipment. The video is designed to show state officials that the work will not disrupt any near-shore reefs.

"It's a really good chance for private industry and the state to do some real archaeology on this ship," he said. "It will be a slow, long process. Everything will have to be done correctly."


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