In September of 1622 the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a newly constructed Spanish sailing vessel, was caught in a hurricane near the present day Florida Keys. The ship was part of a large convey that was carrying loads of treasure back to Spain. Five of the ships were lost, the Atocha sinking in just 55 feet of water with the top of the mast still visible above the water after the seas had calmed. Salvage attempts began right away, but the divers’ attempts were restricted by how long they could hold their breath. The treasure was just outside their reach and would remain that way for the next three and a half centuries.
In the 1940’s technology leaped when Jacques Cousteau developed the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, or SCUBA gear, which led to the subsequent discovery of several sunken ships. Soon after, Mel Fisher, a veteran of World War 2 and a diver himself, started a salvage company intent on finding the wreckage of the Atocha. After years of searching and salvaging, in 1980 he found remains from one of the sister ships, the Margarita. Believing himself to be close, Fisher worked harder than ever to locate the prize ship of the Spanish fleet. Continue reading