FLORIDA BOARD OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY EXPLORATION

 

AND SALVAGE CONTRACTS IN FORCE (1969—70):

Exploration:

E-2-A: Doubloon Salvage, Inc., Melbourne, Florida Jim Rathmann, President

E-5-A: New Channel 1-Tistorical Survey Group, Edgewater, Florida William 1-I. Andrews

E-6-A: Ocean Salvage, Inc., Fort Pierce, Florida Robert M. Jernigan, President

E-7-A: The Pioneer Company, Wabasso, Florida Fred J. Prestin

E-8-A: Pirate Village, Inc., St. Petersburg, Florida Mrs. Jeanne FL DuRand, President
E-9-
A: Salvage Research Corporation, Vero Beach, Florida
J
.   Earmano, Business Manager

E-10-A: William C. Saunvalt, Ltd., Allendale, Florida William C. Saurwalt

E-12-A: Tech Enterprises, Inc., Fan Gallie, Florida DeForest Tackctt. President

E-13-: Alan J. Fischer, New Smyrna Beach, Florida

  E-14: Armada Research Corporation, Vero Beach, Florida Mel A, Fisher, President

        E-15DnBois, Dugan & Nipp, North Miami Beach, Florida

           E-17 Oceanic Rescarch & Salvage Company, Miami Beach, Florida

  E-18: Southern Rescarch & Salvage Corporation, Miami, Florida

  E-19: Sea Labs Exploration, Inc., Miami, Florida

        E-20:  Continental Exploration Corporation, Bedford Hills, N.Y.

        S-5: St. John’s Salvage, Inc., St. Augustine. Florida

(Note: “A” following a contract indicates a renewal)

 

Salvage Leases.

Lease # 1329: Real Eight Company, Inc., Satellite Beach, Florida Colonel Harry F. Cannon, President

         Lease #1687: Martin County Historical Society

 

 

THE 1715 COMBINED ARMADAS

Eleven ships of the combined New Spain armada of General Juan Estéban de Ubilla and Tierra Firme armada under General Antonio de Echeverz y Zubiza left Havana on July 27, 1715, and sailed up the New Bahama Channel. Between them, the four Capitanas and Almirantas carried 14,000,000 pesos in registered treasure. Since the armadas’ departure from the New World had been delayed a full year, contraband cargo was crammed onto its ships. An estimate published in 1868 by Jacobo de Pezuela valued the total cargo at 65,ooo,ooo pesos. A figure of $30,000,000 in gold, silver, and jewels in today’s values would be conservative.

Three days out of Havana, a hurricane caught the Spanish fleet in the narrows off Florida. Throughout the night of July 30 winds on its north front drove the line of helpless ships westward toward a forty—mile stretch of coast between Sebastian and St. Lucie inlets. As they approached shore, the vessels were swamped under breakers or hurled onto reef barriers running parallel to the beach. Only one ship, the French nao Grifón, survived.

Of the ships in Ubilla’s New Spain armada:

The CAPITANA, a 50-gun frigate at the head of the line, struck the coast about two and a half miles south of Sebastian Inlet where three reefs parallel to the beach extend 8oo feet into the sea.

She broke her bottom on the seaward edge of the outermost reef, spilling ballast and heavy cargo onto the coral and the sand floor 30 feet below. The lightened hull was carried in over the reef by surging mountains of water, then across the middle coral harrier into a sand trough less than 1oo feet wide separating the two innermost reefs. Here it disintegrated. Most of the cannons and lading spilled out onto the sand, Only 15 feet deep and 3oo feet from shore. A trail of gold, silver and jewelry stretched inshore for 700 feet across coral and sand from the ballast. General Ubilla and 225 of his crew were killed.

The ALMIRANTA was wrecked in shallow water “a stone’s throw from shore.” Her hull was battered to splinters and 123 men killed.

The storeship NUESTRA SENORA DE LA REGLA, nicknamed URCA DE LIMA, grounded “at the mouth of a river” which may he Fort Pierce Inlet. Thirty-five of her crew drowned.

Two pataches, NUESTRA SENORA DE LAS NIEVES and SANTO CRIST0 DEL VALLE, were wrecked in shallow water, probably between Sebastian and Fort Pierce. Part of the deck floated ashore from one, carrying a hundred survivors, while twenty-five others drowned. The second patache lost twelve of her crew.

Of the ships in de Echeverz’ Tierra Firme armada:

The CAPITANA, a captured British ship Hampton Court renamed NUESTRA SEN0RA DEL CARMEN Y SAN ANTONIO, broke up “off a point of land” which is almost certainly Sandy Point, off Oslo. The general and 113 others were killed.

The ALMIRANTA, NUESTRA SENORA DEL ROSARIO Y SAN FRANCISCO XAVIER, was battered by waves across a quarter-mile-wide barrier of reefs at’ a spot about four miles south of Fort Pierce. Her ballast and sonic cargo dumped out at the innermost edge of the coral, about 9oo feet off the beach. The wooden hull, breaking up along the way, was carried inshore across several smaller reefs. Remnants settled a few feet deep just off the beach. Sunken wreckage covered an area the size of seven football fields.

A Dutch nao nicknamed LA HOLANDESA grounded and broke up near the beach of “False Cape” with her entire crew saved.

The nao SAN MIGUEL and the urca nicknamed LA FRANCESCA disappeared without a trace.

Nearly a thousand survivors lay stunned under torrential rains on the barren coast the next morning. Many soon died from injuries. Then the searing sun came out and turned the beach into hell. A grounded longboat was found seaworthy and taken north by a crew to seek help at the Spanish post of St. Augustine. Rescue operations gradually got under way there, and at Havana, where the Grifón had returned with news of the disaster. Seven small ships carrying soldiers and supplies arrived in September, but during the six-week interval many of the survivors had died of exposure, hunger, and thirst. Others, trekking north to St. Augustine with pockets full of looted treasure, were caught by Spanish soldiers stationed to intercept them at Matanzas Inlet and executed.

   

Full—scale salvage work started in March 1716, with the arrival of a fleet of sloops from Havana. They carried soldiers, Indian divers, supplies, and guns. The commander, Juan del Hoyo Solórzano, established a main base near the wreck of Ubilla’s Capitana where survivors had found a fresh-water spring. To protect the site, he built a small fort mounting four cannons. While soldiers dug through jungles of wreckage spread for miles down the beaches, the boats went out between the reefs and 280 Indian divers began work. By this time the grounded hulks, except for bilges and keels protected by ballast, had

disintegrated into pieces of broken wood. Shifting sand had hidden much of the submerged cargo. The Indians, without masks for underwater vision, groped blindly over ballast heaps. In the deeper areas, some drew breaths from crude diving bells suspended under boats, but most had to surface for breath after two minutes below. Their number dwindled as accidents and swarming sharks took their toll. Nearly a hundred died.

The Spanish were not the only ones interested in the armadas’ gold and silver. From the Caribbean islands and English settlements on the

American coast, boats full of pirates and “gentlemen adventurers”

set out for Florida. The Spaniards were unable to cope with the raiders that swarmed on them. While defenders chased away ten sloops “fishing” over one site, a dozen more would attack a beach camp or a ship carrying salvaged cargo to Havana. A gold cargo worth $1oo,ooo was captured with a Spanish patache. Many times this amount was stolen from the wreckage. Up north the English governor at Williamsburg gave tacit encouragement to the freebooters. The most daring of these was Captain Henry Jennings, who dropped in with two brigantines and two luggers. In July 1716 he landed several hundred men and captured the main Spanish base and 350,000 silver pesos stored there for shipment.

During 1716 most of the salvage was completed and sent back to Spain from Havana aboard the Principe de Asturias and Nuestra Señora del Carmen. Two years later “diving contractor” Manuel Miralles arrived with a small squadron, and in a novel twist surprised eight sloops and luggers” “fishing” offshore. He captured 18o,ooo pesos they had recovered and two hundred English and ninety-eight Negro prisoners. When salvage was discontinued in 1719, $6,ooo,ooo in

treasure had been retrieved by the Spanish, and probably another $1,ooo,ooo by the pirates. About 4,000,000 pesos were taken from four wrecks: La Holandesa and Nuestra Senora de la Regla, both nearly completely salvaged; Ubilla’s Capitana, from which 940 treasure chests were saved from her registered cargo of 1300; and Ubilla’s Almiranta, yielding 136 of her registered 990 chests. Within another few years the story of the disaster disappeared into history. It was not until a feature article in the National Geographic Magazine broke the account of Kip Wagner and his Real Eight Company in January 1965 that the armadas’ vast treasure returned to the headlines (see The 1715 ARMADA and REAL EIGHT).

 

 Reprinted with permission from Florida Classics Library

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