Off the coast of Key West Florida
divers are seeking treasure aboard a shipwreck believed to be from the 1622 Atocha Fleet
(On September 4, 1622 the Tierra Firme flota of twenty-eight ships left Havana bound for Spain. With it was carried the wealth of an empire; Silver from Peru and Mexico, gold and emeralds from Colombia, pearls from Venezuela. Each ship carried its crew, soldiers, passengers, and all the necessary materials and provisions for a successful voyage. The following day, the fleet found itself being overtaken by a hurricane as it entered the Florida straits. By the morning of September 6th, eight of these vessels lay broken on the ocean floor, scattered from the Marquesas Keys to the Dry Tortugas. In them were the treasures of the Americas, and the untold stories of scores of Spanish sailors, soldiers, noblemen, and clergy.
Sam Kirby the original
founder of this project passed away in 2000.
The group of people led by Kenny Rose that are continuing Kirbys lifelong quest are now known as the Kirby Group. Sam Kirby and Kenny Rose obtained an "in rem" admiralty judgment in 1986, giving them the rights to what they believed to be an early seventeenth century Spanish galleon. That judgment was binding on "the world," with the exception of Florida. When Florida attempted to exert its influence over the salvage operations, Kirby and Rose hired Ira. R. Mitzner, of Dickstin Shapiro in Washington, D.C., to challenge the actions of the state
. In April 1998, Mitzner filed an action against Florida's Attorney General, and against the vessel, to obtain a declaration that Kirby and Rose owned the vessel against the world, including the state
of Florida. Following a hearing before Judge Stanley Marcus, which included videotape of the underwater salvage operations, the Judge ruled in favor of Kirby and Rose. This litigation was crucial in opening the way for the salvage efforts to go forward and making this the last privately salvageable shipwreck in the United States
The discovery began in 1988 when the Jamestown Treasure Salvors Group
were enlisted by The Kirby Group to help locate and recover the wreck in an area off the coast of Key West Florida, now known as the Kirby site. They used an airlift and over a period of weeks dug trenches 5-7 feet deep until they finally ran into the wreck with its teredo crust (Teredo Navalis or shipworm is a marine bivalve mollusk, specialized for boring in wood. Shipworms feed on wood particles and minute organisms. They do enormous damage to piers and ships and were death to the ships that cruised the oceans of the world. They are particularly bad in the warm tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea
.) as the tell-tale identifying signature. They then used wrecking bars to punch into the crust and after opening enough of an area, were able to locate a wooden beam or timber of the ship. The timber was pulled from the wreck and brought back to shore for further identification. Because of legal and investment issues Jamestown’s salvage operations ended in the fall of 1988.
Through the nineties the Kirby Group did many different surveys, using magnetometers (Magnetometers can be used to detect buried ferrous metal objects or bedrock features with contrasting magnetite content
.) and the sub-bottom profiling system (A sub-bottom profiler provides an acoustic profile of a narrow section of the sub-bottom directly beneath the path over which the device is towed
.). They even dove the area using rods to probe the bottom looking for the elusive wreck. The results were all inconclusive and the exact location remained a mystery. The Kirby Group had two major airlift attempts in 2002 and 2003 but the holes dug were in the wrong positions.
The United States Marine Earth Science and Ocean Research Group
joined forces with the Kirby group to assist with the salvage and recovery of the shipwreck at the Kirby site.They hit the sea Memorial day week-end 2006 with renewed confidence in their mission. After weeks of exploring the Kirby site with not much to show, David and Billy the two primary divers explored some areas of interest on maps and profiles from the years past. In the beginning of July exploring one of these areas David and Billy came upon a galleon anchor
just south of the Kirby site. This is the site that is now known as the "Woman Key" site.
Visit our Salvage Operations Log for the latest news and artifacts recovered from the Kirby and Woman Key sites.