The summer season has begun and the weather and sea conditions are reflecting it here in Key West. The Sea Reaper, under the direction of Josh Fisher Abt, headed to the site of the Margarita ten days ago to take full advantage of the opportunity while captain Dan Porter was conducting a successful remote sensing survey in North Florida on another potential shipwreck project. Josh has been first mate on the Sea Reaper for over a year and was given the chance to take the helm and captain the vessel. His first expedition trip to the Santa Margarita was a success, with more than 100 artifacts recovered and documented.
Levin and Rob with hand-painted Majolica pottery and other artifacts.
The majority of the time, Josh directed the team to work areas along the East side of the known wreck scatter, where divers found material including three musket balls, hand-painted majolica and other unique pottery, blade fragments and encrusted objects that will be identified at the Motivation, Inc. laboratory. Many of the Eastern excavations were done to expand a recently discovered trail the crew has termed the “galley line.”
In 1980, Syd Jones, captain of the Treasure Salvors, Inc. vessel Swordfish, discovered the first indications of the galley area of the wreck. MRR expanded this area to the North in March when the team found two iron cooking pots at intervals of approximately 1/2 mile and 1 mile from Syd’s galley area. When plotted on the AutoCAD chart, the coordinates of the two pots align with Syd’s galley area to create a NNE line directly parallel to the 11-degree heading of the known wreck scatter. A common term for those familiar with the Margarita wreck site, the “11-degree line” is the heading most of the known wreck scatter follows, indicating the direction the galleon was being pushed as it scattered in the initial hurricane in 1622. (A second hurricane 30 days later may have moved parts of the scatter to the West.)
As the team continued the search along the galley line, Josh positioned the boat over a nearby magnetometer anomaly MRR had plotted on the AutoCAD chart from past surveys. He had been methodically moving the vessel toward the target throughout the day. When the anomaly was reached, divers Levin Shavers and Missy Parker conducted the metal-detector survey of the excavation. Levin quickly located the target in deep sand. The divers tried to move sand but couldn’t move enough to see more of the object. After more light excavation by the Sea Reaper to uncover the object, the divers went back in and discovered that it was two more three-legged iron cooking pots stacked and encrusted together. The coordinates of this recovery are on the galley line, and to the excitement of the crew, confirm that we have zeroed in on the track of the galley section of the Margarita.
Levin and Missy with two stacked iron cooking pots from the 1622 galleon Santa Margarita.
The iron pots, stacked and encrusted together, were recently recovered by the Sea Reaper crew.
During the final days of the trip, Josh and the team excavated in the area that will be the main focus this season in pursuit of MRR’s 2017 Margarita Operational Plan. The Sea Reaper moved to the West to expand a trail that may lead to another significant missing portion of the wreck—the silver store house. The silver store house was discovered by early Spanish salvors, who reported finding 37 silver bars in deep sand during the years after the wreck. The sand was too deep for them to make more recoveries, and this section has not been located in modern times. Finding this section could lead to the recovery of a significant amount of silver bars, as well as personal cargo of passengers such as jewelry, coins and contraband that were stowed in passenger cabins in the stern.
Rob Hill with an 8 reale silver coin.
The silver coin, pre-conservation.
While excavating in this Western area, Rob Hill located an 8 reale silver coin. The coordinates of the recovery align on the chart with other important clues that may indicate that we are following a scatter of material that was pushed to the West. The coin is a very important clue that, if followed, could be part of a trail leading to the missing silver store house of the Margarita. The only way we can prove this is to continue excavation to expand the developing trail of scatter, which the MRR team will continue to do this summer.
As always, the crew is looking forward to reporting more recoveries soon and telling the story of the Santa Margarita as it unfolds.