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Monday, 07 February 2011 20:37

Modern salvage on the 1715 Fleet began in the late 1950s, when a building contractor from Miamisburg, Ohio, Kip Wagner found a piece of eight on the beach after a hurricane and decided to find out where it came from. After discovering Bernard Romans 1774 chart with an interesting notation printed on it: “Opposite this river, perished the Admiral, commanding the Plate Fleet in 1715”, he knew the source. With the help of an army-surplus metal detector, he located the original Spanish salvage camp and unearthed coins and period artifacts. After this incredible find, he realized that just beyond the breaking waves must lay one of the long forgotten treasure ships of 1715. He then ingeniously fashioned a small surfboard with a glass viewing port and began paddling around searching for some trace of the wreck he was certain was there. On a calm afternoon several weeks later, he sighted five cannon in nine feet of water. And thus, the modern day salvage of the 1715 Fleet began. Kip found the source of the coins and soon formed a team of divers and associates backed by a salvage permit from the State of Florida. All of this took place over a period of years before it evolved into the Real Eight Company, the origin of whose name is obvious. To salvage the wreck, the Real Eight divers originally used a dredge and suction apparatus.  

In 1963 treasure hunting was changed forever. Mel Fisher arrived on the Treasure Coast and formed Treasure Salvors, Inc. After working the wreck with dredge pumps, Fisher developed what he called the “mailbox system.” It consisted of a metal tube, bent in the shape of an elbow, several inches wider in diameter than the vessel’s propeller. The stream of water was deflected downward and acted like a whirlpool, which lifted the sands below and gently excavated down to bedrock. When divers swam to the bottom they found gold jewels, Chinese porcelain, silverware, gold and silver ingots, and as many as 7,000 gold cobs of the Mexico, Peru, and Colombia mints; and, mostly in encrusted clusters, well over 150,000 silver cobs of all denominations. The salvaged coins were all cobs, both gold (Mexico, Bogotá, Lima, and Cuzco) and silver (mostly Mexico but also some Lima and Potosi), minted primarily between 1711 and 1715. Many of the dates and types of the 1700-1715 period had been either rare or unknown prior to the salvage of the 1715 Fleet. The gold coins, as can be expected, have been generally pristine, as have been some of the silver coins, but most silver cobs from the 1715 Fleet are at least somewhat corroded, some no more than thin, featureless slivers.

In the 70’s Fisher and his crew left the treasure coast for the Florida Keys on his search for the Atocha. Salvage operations continued on the 1715 fleet under the supervision of Mel’s daughter, Taffi Fisher–Abt until 2010. On June 24, 2010, 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels took over salvage operations. A mere 17 days later, Capt Greg Bounds and the crew of the Goldhound found a bronze swivel gun filled with gold and silver coins. While salvors have long told stories about treasure being hidden inside cannon, on July 11, 2010 those fables were validated for the first time. A month later, Capt Bonnie Schubert recovered one of the most amazing artifacts ever recovered on the 1715 fleet. The “bird” as it has become known, is a relic so magnificent it has to be seen - to be believed. With the return of these capable subcontractors and interest from countless others, 2011 is shaping up to be a banner year for the fleet.