Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Santa Margarita

The Santa Margarita was a Spanish ship that sank in a hurricane in the Florida Keys about 40 miles (64 km) west of Key West in 1622. In the summer of 1622, treasure arriving by mule to Panama City was so immense that it took 2 months to record and load the precious cargo. This delayed the treasure fleets' return voyage to Spain well into hurricane season.

On the return voyage to Spain on September 6th, the Santa Margarita along with the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and 3 other ships were caught in a violent hurricane. At least four ships, including the Atocha and the Santa Margarita, were pushed into the Florida Keys. 15-foot waves carried the Margarita across the reefs, grounding her in the shallows beyond. The lost ships of the 1622 treasure fleet lay scattered over 50 miles from the Dry Tortugas eastward. The loss of the 1622 treasure fleet was a disaster for the Royal Treasury.

A Spanish galleon of 600 tons with twenty-five cannons, she was one of a fleet of 28 ships voyaging to Spain with an enormous cargo of plundered New World treasures. The Santa Margarita carried 166,574 silver “pieces of eight”, more than 550 ingots of silver, and over 9,000 ounces of gold in the form of bars and coins. There was also contraband — a fortune in “unregistered” treasure smuggled on board to avoid paying a 20 percent tax to the Spanish king.
After departing Cuba on September 4, the fleet was overtaken by a rapidly developing storm. Within days, the Santa Margarita, along with five other ships in the fleet, were wrecked near the Marqueses Keys in the Florida Straits. 550 drowned, 142 from the Santa Margarita.
In 1624 Francisco Melian obtained a royal salvage contract for the fleet galleons. He invented a remarkable piece of equipment that allowed his divers to see and breathe while working underwater.

It was a diving bell, and it was this invention that allowed an enslaved diver to locate the first treasure of the Santa Margarita and win his freedom.
Melian continued to salvage treasure from the galleon for several years. Eventually search and recovery became unfeasible, and ended with a vast fortune being left buried in the shifting sands of the Florida Straits. In time, the Santa Margarita was forgotten, but not forever.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the emergence of search and salvage company Blue Water Ventures, founded by entrepreneur W. Keith Webb. Largely the result of extensive research conducted for the late treasure hunter Mel Fisher by historian Dr. Eugene Lyon, a portion of the Santa Margarita was discovered in 1980. “The rest, multi-millions in treasures and artifacts, is still out there” says Web