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									Author’s Note

	 “Treasure	 fever”	 is	 an	 acute	 and	 incurable	 condition.	 Noth-
ing in this world is more thrilling than descending to the sea floor
and finding it carpeted with shimmering gold. Those of us who
have had this rare experience recall it vividly and often. We crave
more—not	so	much	the	gold	as	the	hunt—and	then	the	rush	that	
comes with discovery. Of course, the gold is very nice too. Once
you get “treasure fever,” it stays with you forever and I have it so
bad after all these years that when I’m not searching for treasure
at sea, I search for and find coins and other “treasure” during my
early morning walks. I’m so superstitious that I won’t take a flight
without first finding a coin.
    But nothing compares with searching for sunken treasure. The
quest is at least 4,000 years old and has never been more popular
or possible. In today’s stressful, hectic world, the lure of sunken
treasure offers a fascinating change of pace. Even novice sports
divers fantasize about coming across a sunken ship, beckoning like
a siren from the ocean floor and crammed with riches.
    When I started searching for sunken treasure over 50 years ago,
I was generally regarded as a romantic crackpot. People thought
I had a better chance of finding the proverbial pot-of-gold at the
rainbow’s end. However, I’ve proven them wrong. I’ve spent my
life in this adventurous business, working in over 60 countries on
more than 3,000 shipwrecks and finding more treasure than any-
one	else	ever	has.
                     The World’s Richest Wrecks
                                                  Spanish galleon under sail.

    Most of the successful people in this business, including Art
McKee, Mel Fisher, Teddy Tucker, Robert Stenuit, Burt Webber,
and myself, caught “treasure fever” at an early age. Two factors
were largely responsible for the onset of our obsession: Wake of
the Red Witch, starring John Wayne and Harry Reiseberg’s book
I Dive for Treasure.	Wake of the Red Witch fired our imaginations. I
must have watched John Wayne plumb the Pacific to find an enor-
mous golden treasure on an intact Manila galleon at least 25 times.
Reiseberg inspired us with gripping tales about his adventures in
recovering sunken treasures around the world, tales that were to
my dismay largely fictitious. Several equally fanciful books also
whetted our appetites with vivid descriptions of shipwrecks, lying
intact in the deep with gleaming chests of treasure in their holds
and skeletons at the wheel. An important feature of these volumes
was the inclusion of “authentic treasure charts” pinpointing the
locations of wrecks “containing millions in treasure.” It looked
simple, but I was to learn the hard way that all that glitters on an
“authentic treasure chart” is not gold, and that no sunken galleons
are	intact.

(Above) Co-author Jenifer Marx holding a gold scabbard tip next to an iron cannon recovered
off a French warship near the Turks and Caicos islands.
(Below) Spanish gold doubloons and silver pieces of eight.
                                    Author’s Note
     The start of my diving career was not propitious. I had two
near fatal accidents from homemade diving helmets I built when
I was eight and nine. At the age of thirteen I ran away from home
and went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I spent over a year
working for a commercial helmet diver, who took me into his fam-
ily and taught me all the tricks of the trade. It was on one of those
dives in the frigid Atlantic that I found my first gold—a beautiful
pocket watch.
     I am still excited today about my second gold find. I moved
from Atlantic City to California and was diving for lobsters off
Santa Barbara near an old wreck, when I found over 400 shiny
round objects that I thought were buttons. Not knowing that gold
retains its bright luster no matter how long it has been submerged,
I assumed the buttons were brass. Only after giving away most of
them did I discover that my “buttons” were gold coins from the
California Gold Rush era.
     I then spent four globetrotting years in the Marine Corps, in-
cluding two six-month tours on ships of the Sixth Fleet, showing
the flag all over the Mediterranean where I got to dive on doz-
ens of ships. They were of many types from many nations and
spanned the ages and I found lots of artifacts and some treasure. It
was intoxicating. I had dreamed of sunken treasure since I was a
young boy; now I was determined to devote my life to shipwrecks.
Despite great frustration and frequent danger, I have never had
     After the Marine Corps I lived for four years on Mexico’s Co-
zumel Island where I started the island’s first hotel and the first
diving resort in the world. These were the happiest years of my
life. I explored the jungles and the seas, discovering hidden Mayan
ruins and countless shipwrecks. I recovered extensive amounts of
treasure and artifacts, only to have most of it seized by the Mexi-
(Upper left image) Dolores Fisher holding a gold disk and Mel Fisher with a clump of Spanish
silver coins.
(Upper right image) Beautiful French bronze cannon recovered from a French wreck off Marti-
nique Island in the Caribbean.
(Lower image) Spanish gold doubloons, also called gold escudo coins.
                             The World’s Richest Wrecks

The diving invention of John Lethbridge, which he used in salvaging shipwrecks.

can government despite an agreement with them that I would own
half of my finds. Not deterred by this experience, I decided to find
greener pastures.
     From Reiseberg’s book and several others I selected 100 ship-
wrecks to go after in the Caribbean. I was convinced I would
strike it rich, but I had a lot to learn. Fifteen months later, hav-
ing searched from the Gulf of Honduras to the San Blas Islands
off Panama, along the north coast of South America and adjacent
islands as well as exploring every island in the West Indies and
most of the larger ones in the Bahamas, I had found only two of
the 100 “authentic” shipwrecks, and neither had anything of value
on them. This was not surprising as I was to learn later when I
researched original documents in European archives. Out of the
100 “authentic” wrecks, 74 existed only in the fertile imaginations
of the authors upon whose information I had based my search-
es.	 Those	 that	 did	 exist	 were	 hundreds	 of	 miles	 from	 where	 the	
books placed them, or had no treasure on board. I call these “ghost
wrecks” and laugh when I hear of professional treasure hunting
groups going after them today. Those months were not ill spent. I
                                    Author’s Note

Small fleet of Dutch warships, mid-seventeenth century.

learned that success depended on accurate research and I set out to
educate myself. Fortunately, the sale of treasure I found on several
wrecks gave me the means to head for Spain and its archives and
later to work in the archives of other nations. Since then, I have
spent more than six years reading ancient manuscripts and amass-
ing an unparalleled amount of authentic information on more than
80,000 shipwrecks worldwide.
     Everywhere I go I am constantly asked how much treasure I
have found. It is extremely difficult to answer this question since
it’s impossible to say what a treasure I found in 1960 would be
worth today. For example, we found three identical gold and em-
erald crucifixes on the Spanish galleon Maravillas,	which	was	lost	
in 1656 off the Bahamas. The first sold for $75,000 in 1974, the sec-
ond for $250,000 in 1979, and the third for $450,000 in 1995. The
late Mel Fisher said “Treasure is worth what you can sell it for,”
and he was unsurpassed in selling treasure. In 1973 I sold Fisher
several hundred silver coins for $10 each. They were unattractive
coins that I called “razor blades” because they were so thin that
few of their markings were visible. Fisher, with his flair for sales-

                             The World’s Richest Wrecks
manship, managed to resell them for $250 each. Prior to Fisher’s
discovery of the galleon Atocha in 1985, those of us in the business
had been selling Spanish silver pieces of eight for $50 to $150, de-
pending on their condition and if they had dates. Fisher and his
divers recovered over 150,000 pieces of eight from the Atocha	and	
started selling them for $1,000 or more. Today some of the rare
varieties sell for as much as $6,000.
    Every time a new shipwreck is discovered, the media hypes
it as “the richest ship ever lost” or the “richest ship ever found.”
When the Atocha was found, Fisher himself declared she was worth
over $400 million, but the figure should have been more like $40 or
$50 million as evidenced by the amount realized to date from sales
of	the	Atocha’s	recovered	treasure	and	artifacts.	This	exaggerated	
claim gave birth to what we call “the Fisher factor” whereby finds
are multiplied by ten to hype them and attract investors. Journal-
ists, unfortunately, tend not to question these figures and do not
investigate their plausibility. The most outrageous and irrespon-
sible “Fisher factor” figure ever appeared in a 1998 New York Times	
article announcing the discovery, by a Tampa-based treasure-
hunting company, of the HMS Sussex, lost in 1694 off Gibraltar.
The author of that article, well known for previously exaggerated
claims of shipwreck values, trumpeted the value of the Sussex	as	
$4.5 billion. No shipwreck exists with even $1 billion in treasure.
The richest ship ever lost was the Portuguese Flor do Mar,	lost	in	
1511 off Sumatra Island, Indonesia. At the most, her cargo is val-
ued at $100 million.
    I’m sometimes asked if we are running out of “rich wrecks.”
Absolutely not; probably less than 1 percent of all ships ever lost
with treasure aboard have been found, so there are many yet to be

(Upper image) Diver John Debry holding Spanish gold doubloons he found on a wreck.

(Lower image) Using a prop-wash, also called a blaster, to remove sand covering a wreck site.
The wash of the boat’s propeller is deflected downwards and blows away the sand.
Spanish silver piece of eight. This
type of coin was minted from 1732
onwards. This one is dated 1742.

(Right) This drawing illustrates the
method by which intact shipwrecks
in water depths to 2,000 feet can
be salvaged today using saturation
diving techniques.

(Lower left) A man preparing the use a magnetometer, which detects the presence of large
ferrous objects such as anchors and cannon. (Lower right) Dragging the sensor head of the
magnetometer while the operator monitors the anomaly indicator chart.
                             Author’s Note
    The majority of treasure recoveries made since the advent of
scuba-diving gear have been on Spanish galleons lost in the New
World. A few of these finds have received tremendous publicity,
fueling the perception that galleons are the only desirable targets.
This is not so. Less than 10 percent of treasure ships lost during the
Age of Sail went down in the waters of the New World. A huge
part of the globe has barely been explored for shipwrecks in mod-
ern times. During the past fifty years there have been some 200
major shipwreck explorations in the Western Hemisphere. In con-
trast, there have been fewer than twenty-five major expeditions
elsewhere, even though there are so many more wrecks and huge
amounts of treasure to be found in other parts of the world.
    Until now accurate, detailed information on Old World ship-
wrecks has not been accessible to the public, thus eliminating them
as targets for exploration. In addition, 95 percent of shipwreck ex-
plorers have been Americans who have concentrated on targets
closer	 to	 home	 because	 of	 the	 logistics	 involved	 and	 the	 cost	 of	
such undertakings. Also, until recently it was far easier to obtain
permission for shipwreck exploration and excavation in the West-
ern Hemisphere than elsewhere.
    My book, Shipwrecks of the Western Hemisphere: 1492 to 1825,	was	
published in 1971 and later republished as Shipwrecks of the Ameri-
cas	 and	 New World Shipwrecks. These books contain shipwreck
data that I researched prior to 1968. Since then I have continued
researching Western Hemisphere shipwrecks in primary sources,
and this volume will include many shipwrecks not mentioned in
my earlier books. I have never published any of my research on
Old World ship losses, but have used it to locate wrecks, primar-
ily in the Mediterranean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Far East,
Australia, and the Philippines.
    This book contains comprehensive information about the rich-
est ships lost during the Age of Sail. The losses span the globe and
range from single vessels attacked by pirates to entire fleets sunk
in storms. From the many thousands of shipwrecks I have studied,
I have decided to include in this book only vessels whose cargo is
                       The World’s Richest Wrecks
valued at a minimum of $10 million. This includes not only gold
and silver specie and bullion, jewelry, precious stones, pearls, and
porcelain,; but also objects such as bronze cannons, which today
fetch between $20,000 and $40,000 and brass navigational astro-
labes, some of which have sold recently for $400,000 each. I have
selected	 targets	 that	 have	 a	 reasonable	 chance	 of	 being	 located.	
Consequently, I omit some well-known shipwrecks because their
locations are too vague, as well as those that despite their fame do
not exist. I intend this volume to be a starting point for the would-
be salvor who will use it to select a target and then undertake fur-
ther	research	to	enhance	his	or	her	chances	of	success.	
    Information on search and salvage techniques, identification
and dating of finds, and preservation methods can be found in
my books The Underwater Dig	and	Sunken Treasure: How to Find It,	
and in books by other authors. In the interests of keeping the bib-
liography manageable, I have excluded works referring to “ghost


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