Tag Archive for: Florida

HAVANA, June 22th  Big news broke in the butterfly world this week.

A naturalist searching for endangered Schaus’ swallowtails in Key Largo discovered something much more rare: a battered but conspicuously alive Poey’s swallowtail, Read more

havana-live-speed boat recordHAVANA, August  1 (AFP)   A German businessman and power boating fanatic on Saturday broke a 57-year-old record for the fastest boat crossing between the United States and Cuba.

Roger Klueh, 50, powered his “Apache Star” powerboat the 160 kilometers (90 miles) separating Key West and Havana, shattering a record that had stood since 1958.

Klueh and his small crew piloted the high-tech speedboat between Key West and Havana in just under two hours. The boat was capable of top speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

The earlier speed record, set by American Forest Johnson, was a comparatively leisurely six hours 23 minutes.

Five months after that race, Fidel Castro and his band of rebels seized power from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the beginning of the downturn in US-Cuban relations and the end of boat competitions across the Florida Straits.


Roger Klüh (left.) with Hemingway Yachtclub-Präsident Commodore Escrich

Klueh has said his record attempt was made possible by the historic thaw in ties between the former Cold War foes.

havana-live-gold-tresureHAVANA,  July 28  A Florida family hit the jackpot when they found $1 million-worth of gold artefacts, including a royal coin from the Spanish king, recovered from a Spanish ship that sank off the Floridean coast 300 years ago.

The Schmitt family – Rick and Lisa, their two children and daughter-in-law – have been searching for years for lost treasure on their salvage ship Aarrr Booty. Eric Schmitt, Lisa’s 27-year-old son, managed to locate the treasure in 4.5 meters of water off the city of Fort Pierce, Florida.

“Congratulations to the entire Schmitt family and the crew of the Aarrr Booty. Way to go Eric [Schmitt], this is truly remarkable!!!” said 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC, a group of Historic Shipwreck Salvors focused on the exploration and recovery of the famous vessel, on its Facebook page.

The riches include 51 coins of various denominations, 12 meters of ornate gold chain, according to Brent Brisben, the founder of 1715 Fleet. The chains, made in the shape of tiny, handcrafted, two-sided, six-petalled flowers called “olive blossoms,” were reportedly used as a tax-free coinage.

1715 Fleet owns the rights for the sunken vessel, while the Schmitt family are sub-contractors.havana-live-gold-tresure

Probably the most notable finding of the family of treasure hunters is a “royal” coin dated 1715 and made for King Phillip V of Spain (1683-1746).

“These finds are important not just for their monetary value, but their historical importance,” Brisben said. “One of our key goals is to help learn from and preserve history, and this week’s finds draw us closer to those truths.”havana-live-gold-tresure

The 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet was returning from Havana, Cuba, to Spain when it was caught in a hurricane near the present-day city of Vero Beach, Florida. Eleven out of twelve vessels were lost in the disaster. About 1,000 people died, while another 1,500 were able to swim to shore.

Some of the coins from the 300-year-old ship still wash up on the Florida coast from time to time.
Brisbane added that Spanish convoy manifests estimated that the vessels were carrying the equivalent of about $400 million in today’s money, of which $175 million has been recovered so far. He added that he wanted to time the announcement of the treasure’s discovery with the 300th anniversary of the vessels’ sinking on July 31.

The State of Florida will take up to 20 percent of the treasures and display them in local museums. 1715 Fleet and the Schmitt family will split the rest of the booty.


havana-live-atocha-coinsCredit: Mel Fisher
HAVANA,  July 9  On September 4, 1622, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha set off from Havana, with a flotilla of nine ships bound for Spain. Loaded with a cargo of silver, gold and other New World riches, the ships ran into a wicked hurricane as they entered the Florida straits the following day.

Hundreds of people perished when the ships sank, including sailors, soldiers, clergy, slaves and members of the nobility. After searching for some 16 years, treasure hunter Mel Fisher unearthed the treasures of Atocha—a haul worth some $400 million—near the Florida Keys in 1985. On August 5, 40 items from the impressive cache will go up for auction in New York City.

Named for a holy shrine in Madrid, the heavily armed galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha served as the almirante (or rear guard) of the Spanish fleet that left Havana in early September 1622. In addition to 265 people, the ship carried as much as 40 tons of silver, gold and assorted riches from Colombia, Peru and other regions of South America.

After a hurricane struck on September 5, 1622, the eight other ships in the fleet sank, littering the ocean floor from the Marquesas Keys to the Dry Tortugas, between 30 and 70 miles to the west of Key West, Florida. Two sailors and three slaves aboard Atocha survived by clinging to the ship’s mizzen, the only part that remained above water, but rescuers were unable to open the ship’s hatches. A second hurricane on October 5 further destroyed the wreck, and despite six decades of searching by Spanish salvagers, no trace of Atocha or its treasures would be found.

Flash-forward to the late 20th century, when a former chicken farmer turned shipwreck- and treasure-hunter named Mel Fisher. Beginning in 1969, Fisher searched relentlessly for Atocha, making small discoveries along the way (three silver bars in 1973; five bronze cannon in 1975) that convinced him he was getting closer to the ship itself.

(Tragically, Fisher’s son Dirk, his wife and another diver died when a salvage boat capsized soon after the cannon discovery.) By 1980, Fisher’s team had also discovered a significant part of the wreck of Atocha’s sister ship, Santa Margarita. Finally, in July 1985, Fisher’s son Kane sent a message to his father’s headquarters: “Put away the charts; we’ve found the main pile!”

In addition to a fortune’s worth of gold and silver bars, coins and jewelry, the bounty recovered from Atocha included emeralds traced to a mine in Colombia, along with items ranging from navigational instruments to ceramic vessels, all offering a glimpse into 17th-century life in Spain and the New World.

With an estimated worth of some $400 million, the Atocha treasure made Fisher, his family members and other investors millionaires. Thanks to efforts by historians and archaeologists as well as environmentalists, Fisher’s success led to reforms in the laws governing shipwrecks and salvage. In 1987, Congress passed the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, which gave states the rights to shipwrecks located within three miles of the coastline.Santissima-Concepcion

After the discovery, items from the cache of treasure went on permanent display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. Now, some 40 items from the Atocha and Santa Margarita yield will go on the block at the auction house Guernsey’s in New York City early next month—August 5, to be exact. According to Fisher’s daughter, Taffy Fisher Abt, the lots offered for sale will include some of her parents’ favorite pieces. (Fisher died in 1998, while his wife, Dorothy, passed away in 2009.)

Mel Fisher wore one of the pieces to be auctioned off—a heavy gold chain that hangs past waist-length—when he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” soon after discovering the Atocha’s treasures. Dubbed “the money chain,” it consists of individual links, each around the size of a thumbnail, which in the 17th century could have be removed and used as formal currency.

(At the time, the Spanish king had placed a 20 percent tariff on gold bullion, known as the Royal Fifth, but the tax didn’t apply if the gold was turned into jewelry.) According to pre-sale estimates, the chain could fetch some $90,000 to $120,000 at auction.

According to her daughter, Dorothy Fisher favored a knee-length gold chain with ornately carved links; that item could fetch around $40,000 to $50,000. Another item, a gold-and-enamel spoon of Peruvian and Spanish origin, is believed to have been used during Communion by Catholic priests sent to the New World to convert the native population. Among the intricate designs carved along the spoon’s neck is a masculine face between a pair of condors, an Inca symbol of royalty. The spoon is expected to go for some $160,000 to $180,000.

Among the more intriguing items recovered from Atocha were a number of bezoar stones, egg-sized objects made of organic material found in the digestive tracts of llamas, alpacas, deer, sheep or other two-stomached animals (known as ruminants). When dipped into a cup of liquid, bezoar stones were thought to remove any toxins or poisons from that liquid—a necessity for rich and powerful 17th-century individuals worried about servants or rivals adding arsenic to their wine goblets.

One of the stones, mounted in a gold setting and designed to dangle from a chain, will be part of the auction; pre-sale estimates indicate it could fetch as much as $28,000 to $35,000.