Spanish Gold and A Lost Opportunity

A Short Story

Opportunity Missed

In 1622 Havana Cuba was the capital of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Treasures of gems, gold and silver poured into Havana from South America, Mexico and the other islands. From there large fleets sailed back to Spain heavily loaded with this treasure. Late that summer a fleet was assembled to sail out of Havana. One of the largest and most heavily armed was the Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Our lady of Atocha) designated to be a rear guard for the fleet. Intending to sail up south of the Keys and head east into the Gulf Stream, shortly after leaving Cuba the fleet was split up and pushed off course by the leading edge of a major hurricane. It pushed the rear of the fleet north toward the Gulf of Mexico and there the Atocha and its sister the Santa Margarita were broken on a reef somewhere west of Key West.

In mid June of 1985 we were spending a weekend with friends in Key West and on Mallory Square a man named Mel Fisher had set up a card table and was selling shares in Treasure Salvors to support his search for the Atocha. I think he may have changed the selling price based on how much people were interested and that afternoon it was $80 a share. One couple on walking away the woman commented she wasn’t giving money to a middle aged man so he could go scuba diving. My friend and I, both being divers were interested but in the end couldn’t see betting that much money on a gamble. After all Mel had been looking for a number of years without finding the wreck.

Less than a month later Mel and his crew found part of the sunken remains of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha just 35 miles southwest of Key West in 55 feet of water. Immediately stories began circulating that each share was now worth $10,000 or more (I believe that estimate ended up being way low). Talk about missing the boat…

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