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Hunt begins off Stuart for lost 1715 treasure ship

Posted February 13 2007, 2:45 PM EST
HUTCHINSON ISLAND -- Treasure hunters arrived on the Treasure Coast on Monday in search of what they hope might be a ship from a gold-filled fleet that gave the area its name.

The four-person crew of a lift boat named the Polly-L expects to reach Tiger Shores Beach, located just north of Stuart Public Beach, this morning and begin looking for historical artifacts associated with a shipwreck possibly from the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet.

The search begins four years after officials with the Amelia Island-based Amelia Research and Recovery team first surveyed the shallow waters off Hutchinson Island for a stack of cannons that a local surfer discovered almost 30 years ago.

"I'm excited and ready to go," said Dave Jordan, a former Palm City resident and surfer who kept his discovery a secret for 25 years until his wife triggered the memory. "I want to see what's there."

So does Doug Pope, the president of Amelia Research and Recovery, who on Monday captained the four-story-high boat down the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Pierce.

Pope and Jordan worked with the state to secure necessary permits to "dig and identify" the 42 targets they found during a 2005 survey about 200 yards from the beach.

Starting as early as today, professional divers will use metal detectors to rule out which of the targets are "modern junk" -- bridge parts or other metal debris -- picked up in the initial survey, Pope said.

Then they'll use a 6-inch vacuum dredge to determine what the remaining targets are. If they uncover an artifact of potential historical significance, the treasure hunters must first receive a permit to "salvage" the material.

"When the treasure gods start smiling, then we'll say we found something," Pope said. "They don't smile that often."

If Jordan's memory turns out to be accurate, Martin County historians say the shipwreck could be part of an 11-vessel Spanish fleet that wrecked in a hurricane in 1715.

So far, the ship from that fleet discovered farthest south was the Urca de Lima, found north of Fort Pierce's Pepper Beach Park, which now contains a state underwater archeological preserve around the wreck. Other ships from that fleet have been discovered in Indian River County.

While it is unlikely any gold will be uncovered in the search, officials with the Historical Society of Martin County are hoping historical treasures will be discovered and eventually displayed in the new Elliott Museum planned just yards from the possible shipwreck site.

Jordan, who has family in Martin County and is in the process of moving from North Carolina to Gainesville, said he will likely stay on the Polly-L for a few days as the work begins. The project is expected to take about a month.

"It's important for me to find the cannons, but it's not about me," he said. "I'm excited Martin County is getting a chance. There's tons of history here. It's unbelievable."


October 1978: Dave Jordan, former Palm City resident and surfer, rides a wave off Tiger Shores Beach and, underwater, sees cannons stacked in the sand. He keeps the memory to himself for years.

September 2003: After a discussion with his wife prompted his memory, Jordan works with treasure hunters with the Amelia Island-based Amelia Research and Recovery to begin searching for the cannons. Archeologists believe they could be from the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet that sank nearby.

May 2005: Treasure hunters return to continue surveying the area with the hopes of securing a state permit to search for artifacts underwater.

February 2007: With the proper permits in hand, officials will bring the four-story-high lift boat named the Polly-L to begin digging for the cannons and other historically significant pieces. They said it is unlikely they will find any treasure.