Nuestra Señora de Atocha (“Our Lady of Atocha”) was the most famous ship of a fleet of Spanish twenty-eight ships caught in a late-summer hurricane in 1622. The ship, built in Havana in 1620, was a three-masted galleon of 500 tons constructed of mahogany. She was 113 feet long and carried twenty guns with a crew of one hundred and ten. The Atocha sank off the Florida Keys in approximately fifty-five feet of water, but was never located by the Spanish when they attempted to salvage the sunken fleet.
The ship, named for the parish of Atocha in Madrid, carried copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, jewels, jewelry, and indigo. The Atocha had remained in Veracruz longer than planned before rendezvousing in Havana with the vessels of the Tierra Firme (Mainland) Fleet. The treasure arriving by mule to Panama City had been so immense that it took 2 months to record and load the precious cargo.
After more delays, the fleet, including the Atocha, left Havana on September 4th. Two days out, the Atocha was driven by a severe hurricane onto the coral reefs off the Dry Tortugas – about thirty-five miles west of Key West. With her hull badly damaged, the vessel sank quickly, drowning everyone on board except for three sailors and two slaves.
When the surviving ships reported the loss, the Spanish attempted to salvage the ships. Over ten years, the Spanish managed to retrieve about half the treasure from the Santa Magarita which had run aground. A second hurricane in October hampered salvage attempts by scattering the wreckage. The loss of the fleet forced Spain to borrow money and sell several galleons to finance the Thirty Years War.
Tomorrow, Wednesday’s Words: Mel Fisher, Treasure Hunter Extraordinaire