The Most Valuable Shipwreck: The San Jose (part 1) by Bob "Frogfoot" Weller
This is the Tale of the Shipwreck and Sunken Treasure of one of the most valuable treasure galleons to ever set sail and unfortunately sink to the bottom with all hands and the richest treasure ever to be lost at sea. This wreck is still out there and waiting for a brave adventurer and explorer to locate her and recover her vast wealth of treasure.
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The famous Spanish Treasure Galleon: The San Jose which sank in 1708 (part 1)
Part One: The Battle Begins
By 1708, the War of Spanish Succession had the English and the Dutch attacking Spanish galleons wherever they could be found. Their success at Vigo Bay in 1702 had whetted the appetite for Spanish gold, and now a fleet of four English warships cruised the waters off Cartagena and then to Havana. Rumor was that the galleons were heavily laden with gold.
The South Seas Armada, or Conde de Casa Alegre's Armada, was under the command of General Don Joseph de Santillan. The armada consisted of seventeen vessels, three of which were major galleons. The capitana was the San Jose, carrying 64 bronze cannon and almost 700 men aboard. In her hold she had almost seven million pesos in registered gold; contraband treasure would easily have doubled that amount. The almiranta was the San Jaochin [sic], with 64 bronze cannon and between 400 and 500 men aboard. Admiral Villanueva was in command.
Then there was the Vice Admiral, the Conde de Vega Floride, on board the Santa Cruz, with 44 bronze cannon and 300 men. A fourth large vessel of 700 tons, the urca, Nietto [sic], under Captain Don Joseph Francis and with 40 bronze cannon and 140 men, rounded out the complement of "big guns". The other ships of the armada were mostly small merchantmen; a French frigate, Le St. Esprit of thirty cannon; and the Spanish patache, Nuestra Senora del Carmen.
In Porto Bello there was a slight confrontation within the armada, and most of the treasure was loaded aboard the capitana and the almiranta. The Vice Admiral, the gobierno, carried only thirteen boxes of eight-reales, and fourteen "piggs" of silver. The urca carried mostly coco and other general cargo. While the fleet lay at anchor in the harbor at Porto Bello, a ship arrived at Cartagena with notice that "at most days four to six enemy sails had been spotted off the coast of Cartagena." There was a meeting of all admirals and captains, and most agreed to wait until the coast was clear. But Villanueva decided against this advice, claiming that "the seas are wide and its courses diverse." The armada left Porto Bello May 28th.
By June 7th they had reached Isla de Baru, a small group of islands about sixteen nautical miles southwest of Boca Chica, the entrance to the harbor at Cartagena. The winds were from the east-northeast, as were the currents, and the armada was unable to tack around the islands. They spent the night just to the south of the islands with luffed sails, and by morning they again attempted to sail around the islands. Again, the winds were against them, and at 3:00 p.m. the afternoon of the 8th they spotted the first three sails, and then a fourth on the horizon. It was soon determined that the sails were English and that they had the wind on their sterns, making straight for the armada.
Around 5:00 p.m. Villanueva ordered his armada into line of battle facing to the northwest, with about one-half mile between his major galleons. The gobierno, or the Santa Cruz, was in the van. In the center and slightly to the windward was the capitana, San Jose. And bringing up the rear was the almiranta, or San Jaochin. the patache, Carmen, was two ship lengths behind the capitana, and the urca, Nietto, was close behind the patache.
The English warships under Admiral Wager included his own 72-cannon command ship H.M.S. Expedition, the Kingston with 64 cannon, and the Portland with 58 cannon. The fourth vessel was a fire ship, the Vulture. At 5:30 p.m. the Kingston came alongside the almiranta and gave her a broadside. The almiranta responded, and the battle was on. At 6:00 p.m. the quartermaster on Admiral Wager's warship took a bearing on Isla de Siruelo (Isla del Rosario), which has a high knoll on the southwest tip. He estimated the distance at two leagues (six miles), the bearing 101.25 degrees (east by south).
Shortly after, Wager brought his ship alongside within pistol shot of the capitana and, keeping his ship to windward, he began exchanging broadsides with the San Jose. There was some confusion aboard San Jose, with seamen stumbling over each other. But it was a fierce fight that lasted for one and one-half hours. Then, as described by Captain Arauz on the Spanish patache, "a great fire, which seemed to come from within the capitana. It rose to the topmast and topsails, giving the appearance of a volcanic eruption. Accompanying this was a great pall of smoke that lasted for fifteen minutes. When it cleared, the capitana was gone!"
Admiral Wager described the action, "It was just sunset when I engaged the Admiral [San Jose], and in about an hour and a half, it being them quite dark, the Admiral blew up. I being than along his side, not a half pistol's shot from him, so that the heat of the blast came very hot upon us, and several splinters of plank and timber came on board us afire. We soon threw them overboard. I believe the ship's side blew our, for she caused a sea that came in our ports. She immediately sank with all her riches."
=Bob "Frogfoot" Weller=
PART TWO: The Battle Continues
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