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"Ghost of a Sunken Galleon”

Like all ghost stories, both land and sea, each has its
roots firmly entrenched in the memories of those that have
experienced the happening. Too often the incidents are
isolated and individually never have a serious impact on the
mass of disbelievers. However, once in a great while
sufficient isolated incidents can come together, supported
by a common thread, where the facts become difficult to
repute the theory that apparitions, or "ghosts" actually
exist. This is one of those rare, and unfortunately tragic,
situations where a number of common incidents support the
serious conclusion that there are ghosts still roaming the
remains of old Spanish galleons.

In the year 1622 a savage hurricane struck 28 Spanish
treasure-laden galleons in the channel between Havana and
the Florida Keys. Two of these now famous galleons, the
“Atocha” and the “Margarita” were dashed against the lower
Florida reefs and sank near Marquesa Key approximately 40
miles west of present day Key West. History has recorded
the valient, sometimes tragic, 17 year search by Mel Fisher
and his salvage crew "Treasure Salvors". They located and
recovered over $40 Million from the Margarita in 1980, and
then in 1985 the Atocha was located and an estimated $400
million in silver and gold bars, and silver coins, emeralds,
and artifacts were recovered from the mother lode. But
along the way several incidents occurred to various members
of the salvage team that seemed to indicate that they were
never “alone’ on the wreck-site. That Something, or
someone, was looking over their shoulder or in some manner
trying to communicate with them~ This is their story.

On March 23, 1984 Larry Beckman, William Stowell, and the
author wore running a magnetometer survey in an area near
Marguesa Rock Beckman had recently received an Admiralty
claim on this area some 12 miles from Fisher’s salvage area,
and Larry believed he had the final resting place of the
Atocha mother lode. The water depth was right.....54 feet
deep, and it was in line with the direction the Atocha had
taken when it struck the outer reefs With reefs on both
sides this area formed a natural trench, .a perfect hiding
place for an elusive galleon. My only interest in the
project was the contract I had with Beckman to complete the
survey and check out possible anemones, the electronic
signals that indicate a mass of metal on the ocean floor.
In order to obtain the best reading possible with my
Geometrix magnetometer, a “fish” or sensor towed behind the
boat by a 150’ electrical umbilical cable, was to position
it near the bottom. I would now risk losing the sensor by
snagging it on any of the number of large coral heads that
lay scattered along the path that we were following. At
this point Bill offered to strap on a Scuba tank and using a
sea sled....ride the sensor and control its depth to 10’ off
the bottom. I agreed, and the survey seemed to go very
well. We made 5 or 6 passes along the trench before we
stopped to evaluate our readings. Bill popped to the surface
and climbed into the boat looking for a hot cup of coffee.
"Did you guys have the radio on... .or something?" he asked.
We hadn't turned the radio on all morning... nor any other
electrical or electronic device other than the magnetometer
and the Loran positioning unit. He shook his head. "I
swear I heard voices on the bottom while you were towing me.
I distinctly heard Mel Fishers name mentioned at least
twice, and the name of the salvage boat "Dauntless". He said
the voices seemed to be older sounding voices discussing
"position" or "location". We never could figure out where
the sounds could have been coming from, and with Treasure
Salvors boats working more than 10 miles away - and without
underwater telephones, we chalked it up to a slight case of
Narcosis. More than a year later the Dauntless would in
fact be the salvage vessel to locate the Atocha mother lode,
and almost 4 miles away from the trench we were surveying
that day, It was an incident that would register in the
archives of my memory system, surfacing several years later
as other personal events became known.
To dig-the deep sand near Marquesa Key where Fisher felt the
Atocha and Margarita lay buried, he obtained 2 large 54’
ocean—going tugs and named them "Northwind" and "Southwind".
He put his oldest son Dirk in command of the Northwind, and
day after day the tug was on site moving sand as divers
searched the holes with metal detectors. There were some
successful days when the gleam of gold and silver brightened
the outlook of the salvage crew. For the most part it was
slim pickings, month after month.
It was during one of these frustrating months that Dirk
Fisher decided to make the trip from Key West to Vero Beach
in the Treasure Salvors van. It was a trip Mo Molinar made
every week or so, and he welcomed Dirk’s company. He had
been diving with Fisher since Mel moved from Ca1ifornia to
Florida in 1963, and was treated as one of the Fisher
family. On this particular trip up the Florida turnpike
Dirk had a period of silence, and then mentioned to Mo that
he had seen “something” up on the bow of the Northwind.
Dirk said “It was like a dream.... a ghost”. He laughed, and
Mo took it as a joke at the time. The incident slipped
away, again to surface later as other personal events took
 It was in that same time frame that another member of the
Northwind crew stepped out of the after cabin just at
sundown. He was jolted by what he thought was the figure of
an old man, or something similar, sitting on the stern.
Just as quickly it vanished, and he was left with the
hairs on the back of his head bristling. The crew member
reluctantly admitted the experience only after several key
factors began to come together.
In July 1975 the Northwind made its way westward from
Marquesa Key to the Quick Sands area. Near this spot the
original Atocha anchor, over 1500 silver coins, and some
gold artifacts had been recovered. Two theories existed
within the Fisher salvage camp. The shallow water theory
that the Atocha struck the shallow Quick Sands hank of reefs
and came apart, scattering debris over the shallow sand and
reef area to the west. After all, an anchor from the
galleon had been recovered several thousand feet from the
bank, and from that point the trail of artifacts indicated
the main pile had to be in that direction. The deep water
theory was that the Atocha sank somewhere in Hawks Channel
to the east in deep water, and that a second hurricane
stripped the top decks and sent them dancing across the
waves until they struck the shallow sandy banks where they
came apart. Captain. DeLugo of the Margarita had reported
seeing the sister ship Atocha ....“rise and strike a reef 1
league to the east, then sink shortly thereafter." That
would pub the Atocha in the middle of Hawks Channel,
somewhere to the east of the anchor location. Dirk believed
the deep water theory, and it was his intention on this trip
to search to the east of the anchor. On this trip he had
two new divers, Jim Solanick and Rick Cage. Jim and Rick
were excited with the hunt, treasure diving has a romance
about it that can’t be experienced anywhere except on the
ballast pile of an old Spanish galleon. They shared the
starboard crew’s quarters on the Northwind and rotated turns
on the digging crew using the metal detector as each now
hole was excavated. Dirk had decided to work an area over
1000 yards further to the east than any of the salvage boats
had ever worked previously. It was while checking his bow
anchors during a lunch break to see if they were dragging
bottom, when Dirk found the Atocha bronze cannons.... .9 of
them.  They were laying exposed on hard silty bottom, and
only the poor bottom visibility had kept them from being
discovered before. He was excited.. .he thought it was the
“end of the rainbow.” He was sure he was near the Atocha
mother Jade, the treasure his father had searched so
diligently for. “This was it!’
There was considerable joy and excitement as word on the
discovery went out to the press media. A number of boats
converged on the site and the bronze cannon, submerged for
333 years, were well photographed before two of then were
finally lifted and placed gently on the stern of the
Northwind. That evening, as the Northwind rounded Santa
Rosa island and headed into the channel leading to Key
West, Jim Solanick and Rick Cage were on the flying

watching the lights of Key West as they silouetted
the islands. Both were caught up in the excitement of
finding the bronze cannon and they thought that the mother
lode of the Atocha might soon be found, but that evening
a somber note fell on these two. For some unknown reason
Rick turned to Jim and said, “I have this strange feeling
somebody has to pay for this.” Jim took it to mean that
something was given to the salvage crew...the bronze cannon
resting on their stern, and you never get something for
nothing. But what Rick really felt will never be known.
There was jubilation in Key West as the bronze cannon were
moved from the Northwind to Treasure Salvors headquarters.
Mel gave his son Dirk a $10,000 bonus for finding the
cannon, and Dirk and his wife Angel took a 3 day trip to
Miami to buy a used Peugot car, one he had always fancied.
But he was eager to get back on the wreck-site, he did not
want the Virgalona, another salvage boat, to find the; mother
lode first. That Saturday afternoon found the Northwind
heading towards the cannon pile. Dirk achored Northwind a
mile off the southwest tip of Marquesa Key in 33’ of water,
closer to the pile than the smaller boat Virgalona that
anchored behind Marguesa for protection from the weather.
About 5 A.M. in the morning Don Kincaid was awakened by a
voice that shouted "Hey, look out up there!" He had been
sleeping in the wheelhouse cabin of the Northwind when the
voice woke him up. The voice had sounded insistent, and he rubbed his
head as he stepped out on the wing of the bridge and peered aft.
In that half darkness between moonlight and dawn he thought
he saw a figure standing near the stern of the Northwind.
He stepped back inside the cabin to get his glasses, and as
he did he heard the voice again, very clearly, "hey, :look
out up there!" Adjusting his glasses he stepped out of the
cabin for another look, but the figure had vanished. It was
then that he realized the Northwind had a serious list to
starboard. He climbed down to the main deck level and
aroused Danny Jonas, the ship’s engineer. Together they
climbed down into the engine room and found the source of
the problem. A leaky toilet valve, and one of the transfer
valves between the two forward fuel tanks had worked itself
loose and fuel was being rapidly transferred from one side
of the vessel to the other causing the list. The Northwind
began listing more sharply as Danny began transferring fuel
back to the port tank. Don began banging on doors waking
everyone up as he ran forward to alarm everyone. He banged
on Dirk and Angel's door, but no answer. Suddenly, the
Northwind rolled over on her starboard side and began to
sink. Everyone sleeping on deck suddenly found themselves
in the water, and Don was able to scramble up the side as
the vessel rolled. The ship continued to roll until it was
hull up. Jim Solanick managed to squeeze through a porthole
above his bunk. Rick Gage never made it. Dirk and Angel,
trapped in the Captain’s cabin somewhere amidship also
drowned. Danny Jonas, trapped in an engine room that was
suddenly total blackness, found an air pocket but lost his
sense of direction. A flashlight miraculously floated near
his hand and he grabbed it, turned it on. and was able to
locate the engine room door. He swam to safety.
It would be 2 hours before the Virgalona would lave the
shelter of Marguesa Key, and an observant Mo Molinar see the
waving yellow life jacket that Keith Curry, Angel's young
brother, was waving to attract attention. The tragedy is
difficult to re-live for those that survived. But years
afterwards the circumstances surrounding the sinking, and
events leading up to it, seem to indicate there is some
truth to the myth that ghosts of old Spanish galleons still
watch over the wreck-sites.

Bob "Frogfoot" Weller

 A Real Life "Jaws" Story From Bob "Frogfoot" Weller
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Bob "Frogfoot" Weller at his home with Kenny Miller of Atocha Treasure Company.

 Last week July 5-9, 2004 I had the opportunity to attend Bob "Frogfoot" Weller's once a year treasure hunting Seminar at his home in West Palm Beach. Jam packed with fun, history, adventure and treasure hunting. The week went by fast. I learned a lot about the 1715 Fleet from Bob that I had never known. I'll be back next year to have another great time treasure hunting with my hero Bob "Frogfoot" Weller.

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