Treasure hunters take a dive Oce

Treasure hunters take a dive
Ocean calm, clear along area beaches

May 7, 2007

Looking for something. The treasure recovery ship Polly-L sits off the coast just south of Melbourne Beach looking for ships that wrecked hundreds of years ago. The Polly-L is owned by Amelia Research and is a subcontractor for Mel Fisher Enterprises. Michael R. Brown, FLORIDA TODAY
See treasure
# Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum, 1322 U.S. 1, Sebastian. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $6.50 per adult, $5 for senior and $2 for children 6 to 12 years old. Brevard, Indian River and St. Lucie County residents can get a fan club card and return for $1.
# McLarty Treasure Museum, State Road A1A, south of and part of Sebastian Inlet State Park. Open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Last movie is shown at 3:15 p.m. Admission is $1 for those older than 6.

MELBOURNE BEACH - After a 15-year absence, longtime treasure hunter Rex Stocker slipped into clear, still waters last week to search for bounty from a Spanish fleet that sank in 1715 heavy with gold and silver, priceless porcelain and the still-undiscovered queen's jewels.

For three days, Stocker and another diver brought up encrusted iron material that could be fasteners, tools or rigging from a ship -- or possibly something more valuable. A magnetometer shows them where to look, and a new type of boat digs the holes on the ocean floor that the men explore.

"I thought I might be lucky again, but everything is encrusted so we don't know yet," Stocker, 64, said.

May 1 opened the treasure-hunting season along the Space and Treasure coasts, and divers are off to a good start with flat-calm conditions in the water, noted Taffi Fisher Abt, daughter of the late famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher, although recent rains are keeping divers temporarily at port. Some seasons, storms and murky water keep divers at bay until later in the summer.

On his first day out April 28 in the clearest water he's seen in years, John Brandon recovered eight silver coins off Douglas Beach in Fort Pierce south of Brevard County. He's found a total of 19 so far. He's also found pottery shards, a piece from a silver plate, musket balls and severalunidentified encrusted objects.

Experts say there's still plenty of bounty undiscovered. The items that Stocker and other divers recovered will be returned to a restoration shop next to Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum in Sebastian.

Stocker, a Sebastian resident, was part of a group of eight engineers and scientists who lived around Cape Canaveral who spent weekends diving for treasure before going into business with Mel Fisher Treasures. It was Stocker who, in 1962, handed Fisher his first gold coins.

Mel Fisher and his associates and subcontractors have recovered jewels and jewelry, swords and weapons, household and personal items, porcelain and barrels of gold and silver coins from the 1715 fleet.

The dozen or so Spanish wooden ships picked up treasures from Mexico, South America and the Caribbean annually and met in Cuba. They were returning home when they were dashed in a storm south of Sebastian Inlet.

Abt said this season, Fisher's Treasure has 15 subcontractors. "I promised a bottle of Atocha gold rum to the person who finds the most treasure. We have hundreds and hundreds of magnetometer hits (showing iron objects under the ocean) and I don't have enough boats to find out what they all are," she said.

Stocker is diving from the
Polly-L, a four-story, $2.3 million ship with three legs that stretch to the ocean floor and lift the 200-ton craft as high as 68 feet. That means the ship isn't as affected by waves and weather.

Stocker is one of three founders of Amelia Research, which operates the Polly-L and serves as a Fisher subcontractor.

"We've been finding artifacts every day," said Doug Pope, captain of the Polly-L. "We just don't know what they are yet."

Larry Soper, who sunbathes and fishes nearly daily at the beach, said he often watches the Polly-L from shore.

"We thought it was dredging," Soper said. Others thought the ship was an oil rig.

Ed Perry, who oversees the McLarty Treasure Museum that is part of Sebastian Inlet State Park, said last week he saw the first divers in the water behind the museum. "The water is clear and I can see all the in-shore reefs. It's perfect weather to start the season," he said.

An area behind the museum is believed to be the sight of the flagship and it's where 1,500 survivors camped.

"There's still a lot of interest in the 1715 treasure. The story stays alive with the salvaging efforts," he said.

Abt said other members of the "Fisher family" are working with John Brandon to learn the ropes. Her son Joshua Abt, after running the magnetometer last year, is now diving and her son-in-law David Waton, is also diving for the first time. Her daughter, Nicole Fisher Abt Watson, is running the Fisher Museum.

"They're learning from the best, and we're bringing in the next generation to take over the business," Abt said.