The Tragedy of the Atocha
With Christopher Columbus discoveries, Spain became one
of the most powerful nations in Europe by the 1600s. That power was fueled by the silver,
gold and jewels from their rich colonies, which came to be known as the "Treasure of
Spanish galleons plied the ocean from Mexico, Central and South
America laden with treasure to enrich Spains coffers. Naturally, the prospect of
enormous riches drew pirates like honey draws flies. One more hazard facing the Spanish
ships was her long time rival, England. England, jealous of Spains rising power and
wealth, had begun commissioning private ships sailing under Letters of Marquee as
privateers to capture and rob the Spanish treasure ships.
To protect their ill-gotten wealth, Spanish ships usually met in
Havana and banded together into one enormous fleet called the Tierra Firme Fleet before
braving the ocean voyage to the motherland.
The cargo ships were
protected by heavily armed escort vessels and two additional galleons to command the
fleet. These extra galleons were known as the capitana and the almiranta,
The capitana let the convoy while the almiranta protected the fleet's rear.
In 1622, the Atocha was the almiranta
for the fleet. Her 20 bronze cannons and fast speed should have protected the slower
merchant ships she guarded.
Built in Havana in
1620, the Atocha was designed for her role as an almiranta for the treasure fleets.
She was the Titanic of her day. Nobility and wealthy merchants picked her as their vessel
of choice when returning to Spain. Needless
to say, with the treasure she was transporting and the addition of the passengers' own
gold, silver, jewels and personal belongings, the amount of treasure aboard the Atocha was
vast beyond belief.
The Santa Margarita, another new ship, was also sailing in that
ill-fated transport. While inferior to the Atocha, her cargo did contain substantial
quantities of gold and silver bullion.
Due to several delays,
which put them more than a month late, the fleet left Havana harbor for Spain on September
4. They rushed north to catch the eastbound Gulf Stream and blundered into the season's
first major hurricane.
By Tuesday, September 6, the gale-force winds had swept five ships of
the fleet toward the Florida Keys. One by one they were grounded and sank, including the
gallant Atocha, the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, the Santa Margarita, a Portuguese slaver
and a small ship that was the fleet's tender.
Three seamen and two black slaves were the only survivors of the
sunken Atocha. When rescued they told of the last hours of the ship. Her foremast was torn
away and her sails tattered, the stern caught the hurricane winds and the doomed ship was
thrown backwards into giant waves. The Atocha smashed into a reef and sank beneath the
waves where the Gulf and Atlantic met. Most of the crew and passengers were huddled below
decks, with the hatches closed, taking shelter from the storm. At final count, 260 crew
and passengers were drowned like rats in a barrel when the ship plunged into its watery
The Santa Margarita was more fortunate. She was tossed onto a sandbar
just three miles from where the Atocha sank allowing 68 of the her crew and passengers to
The remaining ships of
the Tierra Firme Fleet stumbled back to Havana to report the tragedy. They decided not to
attempt the trip to Spain this late in the season and instead tried to salvage as much as
possible from the two sunken galleons. Due to the location, the Santa Margarita was found
and much of her treasure and cannons were saved but the salvaging ships could not locate
For centuries, the legend of the sunken treasure ships fueled
expeditions to search for the fortune buried beneath the sea. However it wasnt until
the early 1970s when Mel Fisher finally discovered, first the treasure from the Santa
Margarita and at long last, the Atocha site.
The wealth brought up from that ancient ship far exceeded his or
anyone elses dreams.
Many years ago, I traveled to Key West and purchased a small part of
that dream, the 8 reales coin.
I am now offering that piece of history for sale for $649 plus $10 S
and H. It will be shipped priority mail.
(U. S. only, other countries please contact me for S and H rate.) Payment by Pal Pal only.
If you are purchasing more than one item contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will adjust the shipping.