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  If thier is a single apparent lesson to be learned from the location and salvage of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita, it has to be the study of the scatter pattern and the declarations of the survivors. It was apparent that the Atocha initially sank in the same vicinity that the Santa Margarita did. But the report was, "the distance of a league away, I saw the Atocha rise up, strike a reef, then sink shortly there after."

  It was early in the morning, the hurricane was thrashing them about with ten to fifteen-foot waves, wind making it difficult to hang on to anything, and Bernardino de Lugo, the gunnery captain, stated he could see the Atocha a league away. That's 3.3 miles, and in the morning, in the middle of a hurricane, no one can see that far! It was probably more like one mile, and he's lucky to have seen it that close. The other point is that the Margarita HAD to be holding on her anchors and keeping in one spot for de Lugo to have seen this happen to his sister ship Atocha. Otherwise, they both would have been bouncing over the waves, possibly sighting each other as they rose and fell in the troughs of the waves, until the Atocha just "disappeared." With that in mind, when the Santa Margarita was located, Syd Jones did in fact take his salvage boat to the east, in a line that the hurricane would have been pushing the Margarita, and he found her five anchors...all pointing directly at the ballast pile. The anchors were located over four miles away, towards the outer reefs. The small stream anchor first, then inshore a hundred yards or so the other four main anchors.

Treasure hunter John Brandon started working with Mel Fisher when he was 16 years old.

  With the Santa Margarita on the end of these anchor lines 800 feet, put de Lugo somewhere in the stern, and have him look to the east one mile. Their is a solitary patch reef exactly their, with a depth of 26 feet over the top. With ten to fifteen-foot waves, and the Atocha drawing eighteen feet of water, it would seem possible that the ship's hull hit the reef, opened up her bottom, and began to sink "shortly thereafter." Guess where the Atocha was located? You guessed it...800 yards to the west, in line with the hurricane path, from the patch reef. I have suggested to Mel that if he wanted to locate the missing bronze cannon, or a few of the missing silver bars, he should look along the path between the patch reef and the ballast pile. He said he might just do that...some day.
  It might be appropriate to discuss anchors at this point. Both the Atocha and the Santa Margarita carried six anchors. The first are two "bower" anchors, and these were carried on the bow and used for anchoring as standard harbor anchors. Each carried a "kedging" anchor, one that they could haul out by small boat, drop, and then have sailors on board "kedge" over to a new anchorage. These were smaller anchors, and with a different style of fluke. There was a "stream" anchor, a small 500-pound anchor that, when in a bad storm or hurricane, was dropped over the side on as much as 1,000 feet of anchor line. When this anchor struck bottom it meant that the ship was approaching shallow water.

17th century anchor with flukes.

 Mel Fisher with Duncan Mathewson, archaeologist for the Atocha.

  The ship would not have dropped its bower anchors, or this would have pulled the bow of the ship down, allowing the huge waves to wash over her. The stream anchor, with the long anchor line attached, told the captain that they were in about 200 feet of water when the anchor started bouncing on the bottom. That signaled the dropping of the two bower anchors in an effort to keep from being dashed against the shallow reefs that had to be close by. If the two "sheet" anchors were on the bow and ready to be deployed, they also were dropped. If not, they would have been stowed below, with their wooden crossarms removed for easier stowage. These anchors are usually ten to fourteen feet in length and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Anchors, like cannons, are important signposts.


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"Salvaging Spanish Sunken Treasure,"  by Robert "Frogfoot" Weller

For additional information see:  "Galleon Hunt,"  "Shipwrecks Near Wabasso Beach,"  "Sunken Treasure On Florida Reefs,"  "Famous Shipwrecks of the Florida Keys."  by Robert "Frogfoot" Weller

Books By Robert "Frogfoot" Weller
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