Book Reviews

SHIPWRECK - A Saga of Sea Tragedy and Sunken Treasure

Dave Horner, 290 pages, Sheridan House, 1999
Review by Marjorie Pratt

The cold was unbearable. The incessant noise created terror and fear. The sea water now covering my feet. I noticed a hatch floating alongside. The current literally brought me to it. I jumped quickly and clumsily in its direction. My body weight sent me plummeting. I sank unfalteringly beneath the water but was not submerged long. I soon found myself being squeezed between some brackets and planks. This is where I nearly drowned. Totally terrified because of my inability to swim I managed somehow to maneuver, squirming and struggling with all my strength, to achieve an upright attitude on the miserable piece of wood, now my temporary salvation.

As I clung to the hatch cover the entire sterncastle of the MARAVILLAS, all three decks of it, crashed into a tumbling fall, astern to starboard. The weight of many of the passengers as they scrambled to the poop, resulted in a splintering crash as the deck broke away. The tower of breaking wood sent horrified and screaming people sprawling into the sea in every direction....I cried a soft prayer, knowing death would soon come.

Padre Diego was a passenger aboard the MARAVILLAS. The vessel was en route from Havana to Spain when it was struck broadside by another vessel in the convoy, holed badly and took on water. The passengers rushed to the highest point of the vessel, aft, to the deck at the stern. The water overcame and filled the doomed vessel  Recorded in his diary is the harrowing struggle to stay afloat on a piece of a hatch cover broken away as the MARAVILLAS went down. He was one of only 45 passengers who survived.

Part of the eyewitness account of the sinking in 1654 of the 900 ton galleon, the Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas from the handwritten diary of Padre Diego Portichuelo de Rivadeneira.  The amazing document was part of a shipment of research material sent to Dave Horner, author, diver and adventurer, to further document his book on mid 17th century treasure galleons. Horner has made a diving expedition to the site where the remains of the 900 ton MARAVILLAS rests, just over 40 miles from land on a sandy reef somewhere off Little Bahama Bank.

In the 1600’s, fleets of Spanish vessels carried gold ,silver and jewels from the new world from Peru northward along the rugged South American coast to Perico , the Port of Panama.  Donkeys carried the cargoes of vycuna, cocoa and treasure to the west side of the Isthmus to Portobelo and loaded aboard galleons to set sail for Spain.

Part 2 of Treasure Galleons

By Marjorie Pratt

From the trickle of riches to Spain to the deluge of uncounted treasure. Then discovery of the King’s own silversmiths minting coin short of stated value, tons of unregistered gold, silver and jewels carried and with many ports of call, caches of treasure off loaded and vanished.  In these times of pirates, graft, bribery and pilfering, everyone was a smuggler.

Spain tried many ways to keep accurate records and to assure accounting for the treasure for the crown, but with the losses of vessels sunk in storms or strandings, and pirates the decline of Spain as a major power began.
 
It took local author Dave Horner twenty five years of study after discovering the diary of Padre Diego to begin to put the pieces of the treasure vessels actual cargoes and amount of subsequent losses together.
 
Horner came upon Padre Diego’s diary as part of items he was studying from the Archivo General de Indias in Seville.  Written in ancient Castillian it was an arduous process to translate the handwritten diary that covered years of Padre’s tumultuous life. By comparing dates and with other documents, ships manifests and sailing dates he has been able to reconstruct some of the amazing and horrendous situations in the Padre’s life. Then to locate the resting places of the sunken treasure ship wrecks, after more than three hundred years, took collaboration with other interested salvers, financial backers and sea bed lease holders. A story in itself.
 
In the Padre’s hand the diary tells of the sinking of the LA CAPITANA watched from aboard the ALMIRANTA. The 100 foot long Queen of the South Seas was lost on a reef in 1657 carrying a reported cargo of 10 million pesos, silver coin, bullion, and jewels. Of the 600 passengers few survived, the terrified passengers were carrying their personal wealth.  They and crew leapt from the decks as the vessel sank beneath the waves. In the bedlam most drowned as their gold, silver and jewelry took them to the bottom.
 
After the sinking of the LA CAPITANA little did the Padre anticipate his own impending tragedy. The Padre was required to make multiple sea voyages across the often treacherous seas under orders from his benefactors on Church affairs. These in a time when navigation was not precise, charts were vague and often inaccurate.  A sea voyage was a daunting undertaking. Vessels were overburdened with cargo and passengers, crew and captains of unknown skill.  Luck and fair weather were to be hoped for.
 
Horner, author of five previous books, has painstakingly written an authentic historical and spellbinding account of exploration, adventure, lives lost and treasure found on the high seas. Horner, who lives half time in Stuart, came to Florida from Virginia in the mid 1970’s. A former banker, restaurateur, and sales and marketing consultant, his life near and under the sea has been a constant. A lifeguard and swimming and diving teacher as a youth, he served aboard the USS Aldebaran as Assistant Navigator in his US navy career.

Treasure Author and Salver

by Marjorie Pratt
 
Horner opened one of the first professional dive shops along the mid-Atlantic coast where he customized divers wet suits for the US NAVY SEALS, UDT teams and other military units. Horner was one of the first Nationally Certified SCUBA instructors in the US and has taught thousands while running charter trips to sunken ship sites.
 
DIVER BELOW, his underwater film, has won national Film Festival notice and awards.
 
Research to find and salvage treasure from the merchant vessel LA CAPITANA has resulted in a production for television.
 
RICHES OF THE LA CAPITANA, the treasure salving story filmed for an Arts & Entertainment Channel television show, will be broadcast this spring.  Watch local listings for the date.
 
SHIPWRECK, a SAGA of SEA TRAGEDY and SUNKEN TREASURE was published late last year.  Sales of the saga of smugglers, sinkings, survivors and salvers of the Spanish galleons has warranted a second printing.
 
When the government learned of the pieces of four and eight and silver bars weighing more than 70 pounds from the wreck site over the LA CAPITANA, three administrations of the country wanted the treasure and had their hands out. The diving days were to continue with the additional crew of armed guards who would search each diver as they came aboard the salvage vessel. Two years of legal work and negotiations finally arrived at a tentative 50-50 split with Ecuador.
 
As with the well-known problems of Mel Fisher, the finding of treasure, salvage and how much, if any, governments are entitled to, is a sub-plot to the adventure. Mel Fisher so far is the only private citizen to successfully defend his ownership of the salvaged treasure against the U.S.Government. His struggle was a long and expensive one. Horner and his group continue dealing with demands and regulations of the government of Ecuador.