Treasure hunters follow in Mel Fisher’s footsteps

In 1985 aboard the Dauntless salvage boat,
Jimmy Buffett sang atop a stack of silver bars while treasure hunter Mel Fisher
and his crew swilled champagne to celebrate their jaw-dropping discovery.

After 16 years that included
a US Supreme Court victory and the death of his son, Fisher’s dream had come
true. In waters 55 feet below them, divers Andy Matroci and Greg Wareham had
found a virtual reef made of chests full of silver coins, silver plates, silver
bars, copper ingots, stone ballast and artifacts. It was the $450 million
mother lode of the 1622 shipwreck, Nuestra Senora de Atocha.

Tuesday, 20 July, is the
25th anniversary of a discovery compared to the opening of King Tut’s tomb, and
Key West has been commemorating the occasion at its annual Mel Fisher Days
celebration. But out at sea, the crews of the JB Magruder and Dare salvage
boats continue to search along the 10-mile trail of the Atocha wreck for the
rest of the Spanish galleon’s buried booty -and a chance to complete the
odyssey of the master salvage man, who died in 1998.

“We’re looking for the stern
castle, where there’s another 400 silver bars and over 130,000 silver coins,”
said Sean Fisher, Mel’s grandson, who was 7 when the treasure was found.

Fisher, who inherited some
of his grandfather’s charisma and enthusiasm, added: “The stern castle is also
where the church kept its gold and its taxes, and we don’t know how much that
was because the church was more powerful than the state. The church didn’t have
to say what they were bringing on the ship.”

Also left off the manifest and missing: about 60 pounds of
emeralds from the Muzo mines of Colombia. Fisher said the gems, believed to
have been smuggled on board in a 70-pound keg, are among the unknown amount of
contraband sneaked aboard the Atocha to avoid the Spanish king’s 20 per cent