Ghost and Shipwrecks by Bob "Frogfoot" Weller

This is a true story about Sunken Treasure and Shipwrecks and the ghost of those who died during the tragic sinking. Many believe that the spirits of those that died during these tragic shipwrecks still linger over the wreck sites. This true tale takes place on the shipwreck of the famous sunken treasure galleon the Atocha.

 
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Ghost of a Sunken Galleon by Bob "Frogfoot" Weller - article from Treasure Quest Magazine

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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 "ghost" actually exist. This is one of those rare, and

Ghost, Sunken Treasure, Bob Weller, Bradley Williamson
 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 valiant, 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, 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 were running a magnetometer survey in an area near Marquesa 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 anomalies. Anomalies are 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

To dig the deep sand near Marquesa Key where Fisher felt the Atocha and Margarita lay buried, he obtained two 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. Yet, 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. Mo had been diving with Fisher since Mel moved from California 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 Nortwind. 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 place.

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 was that the Atocha struck the shallow Quick Sands bank 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 put 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 Gage. 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 new 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 some of the Atocha's 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 lode, the treasure his father had searched so diligently for. "This was it!"

There was considerable joy and excitement as word of 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 them 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 Gage were on the flying bridge watching the lights of Key West as they silhouetted 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. However, by 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, with the bronze cannon resting on their stern and you never get something for nothing, took it to mean that something was given to the salvage crew. 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. Dirk and his wife Angel took a three day trip to Miami to buy a used Peugot car, one he had always fancied. However, 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 anchored Northwind a mile off the southwest tip of Marquesa Key in 3' of water, closer to the pile than the smaller boat Virgilona, which was anchored behind Marquesa Key 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 eyes 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 even 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 Captains' cabin somewhere amidships 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 located the engine room door. He swam to safety.

It was still two hours before the Virgilona would leave the shelter of Marquesa Key and an observant Mo Molinar would 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

Treasure Expeditions: treasure hunting, archaeology and shipwreck recovery

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