Treasure: The Search for Atocha – Robert Daley
Legendary American treasure hunter Mel Fisher searched for the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha for more than sixteen years. The Spanish galleon sank off the Florida Keys in 1622, loaded with precious metals, jewels, tobacco and other cargo. She and another ship from the Spanish fleet (the Santa Margarita), were driven by a hurricane onto a reef near a group of islands called the Dry Tortugas.
This is a fascinating account of a protracted treasure hunt for Atocha by a very determined man. Fisher had the requisite permits to search for and salvage the wreck (imagine that!) but was involved in numerous lawsuits for the duration of his search, and his financial state was insecure. He was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. He had to continually raise money from investors and devise fund raising schemes in order to maintain the search. The search for Atocha was also marked by tragedy: during the years he spent looking for the wreck, a storm capsized one of his boats, killing his son and daughter in law, and one of his divers.
The Florida Keys are a beguiling part of the world. Shallow, crystal clear blue water, white sands and several centuries of shipwrecks – many carrying treasure like Atocha – make this a paradise for treasure hunters and recreational divers alike. While the search for Atocha involved years of diving effort – thousands of underwater hours by many individuals – the key to finding the wreck was arguably provided by Dr Eugene Lyon. Lyon spent hours in the archives in Seville, Spain, searching for information to pinpoint the location of the wreck. The Spanish had found the wreck shortly after her sinking (the masts protruded from the water, which was less than 20 metres deep) and spent several years retrieving treasure from the wreck, so there were descriptions of her location (all tantalisingly vague).
Fisher’s family are still cashing in on his legacy, and working the wreck. The part of the wreck with the most valuable cargo – the stern castle – has not yet been located.
You can get a copy of the book here or here. There are many other books covering this topic – I don’t know how this one stacks up against the rest of them, so best do some research first if this is a subject that interests you.