Sunday, March 26, 2006


Researchers look to continue search for sunken Spanish ship

March 24, 2006

Len Winter, right, and Navy Lt. Lakeeva
Brooks look over the remains of a ship
found on the grounds of the Pensacola
Naval Air Station. The first Spanish
attempt at settling the area was in 1559.

GEORGETOWN, S.C. - Researchers are trying to revive the coastal search for the 16th century vessel that carried some of the earliest Spanish setters to Georgetown County.

A state archaeologist said officials hope to hire a geologist to pinpoint the exact location of the 1526 North Island shoreline.

Locating the shoreline will narrow down the possible location for the Spanish galleon, called the Capitana, said Christopher Amer, state underwater archaeologist for the maritime division of the South Carolina Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

"We want to get the geologist to determine where we want to look," he said.

Amer began searching for the ship in the waters of the Winyah Bay last fall, but the effort was put off when officials ran out of money and ran into hurricane season.

If officials can raise enough money to hire an archaeologist - about $60,000 over two years - the search could resume this summer, Amer said.

Historians say the Capitana struck a sandbar and went down near North Island in 1526. This is believed to be the first effort to find the ship since it sank. The Capitana could have been about 120 feet long and possibly carried men, women and children as well as vital supplies.

It was part of an expedition by Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, a Spanish lawyer and explorer who sailed along the southeastern coast of North America in the early 1500s.

Documents show the passengers escaped before the Capitana went down with its likely cargo of tools and food.

The first successful Spanish colony in North America was later established in 1565, in St. Augustine, Fla.

Amer's efforts come as Florida officials say crews there happened upon a buried Spanish ship by accident.

On Thursday, Florida archaeologists said Navy construction crews unearthed a Spanish ship that was buried for centuries under sand on Pensacola's Naval Air Station. They said the vessel could date back to the mid-1500s, but said some material found on the ship could indicate it was from a later period. The crews were rebuilding the base's swim rescue school, destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Amer will pitch his plans to continue searching for the Capitana to members of the Archaeological Research Trust in May.

For now, Amer's research crew is trying to find two sunken whaling ships once used to repair Union vessels during the Civil War in Port Royal Sound.

The searches are part of an effort to survey all the water along the South Carolina coast.


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