Robert's Thoughts

Comments (5) / March 30, 2024

I am writing these lines on Saint Patrick’s Day and I should be celebrating the Irish today, but I’m in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and – as always when I am in this country – I keep thinking about the empire Spain had created in the New World during the Middle Ages – and exploited ruthlessly.

And, automatically, “Atocha” comes to my mind.

 Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Our Lady of Atocha.) was a Spanish treasure galleon built in Havana, Cuba, in 1620, and the most widely known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in September 1622. At the time of her sinking she was bound for Spain, heavily laden with copper, silver, gold diamonds, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports collected at Cartagena and New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana.

Her cargo, which took months to load, consisted of 24 tons of silver bullion in 1038 ingots, 180,000 pesos of silver coins, 582 copper ingots, 125 gold bars and discs, 350 chests of indigo, 525 bales of tobacco, 20 bronze cannon and 1,200 pounds of worked silverware! (Wikipedia)

The vessel sank with 265 people onboard. Only five young sailors survived by holding on to the stump of the mizzenmast, which was the only part of the wrecked galleon that remained above water. The Spanish authorities, for whom her loss was hugely significant, spent decades searching for her wreck, but never found it.

In September 1975, a man called Mel Fisher phoned me in Montreal and said he had heard about me in Grand Cayman from one of my colleagues. He was in town and wanted to meet me.

I knew why Fisher wanted to see me. He wanted to ask me to participate financially in his venture that was engaged in attempting to find the wreck of the Atocha. I was intrigued, so I invited him for coffee and pastries at my house.

He was charming and fascinating while explaining the ins and outs of treasure- hunting for Spanish Gold in the Caribbean, starting with how to get permission to   search for information in documentation in the archives of Spanish Museums and the Admiralty.

“Then there is the physical part,” he added. “The water immediately above the ocean floor is murky. For the divers to find small objects like coins is very difficult even when the magnetometer indicates that the stuff is actually there. I had to invent a contraption that sends clear water to the divers from the surface so they could work efficiently.”

After about a couple of hours of this, Fisher opened the bag he had with him and produced a gold bar he said he had salvaged. Then he showed me a gold cross hanging from a thick gold chain.

“The stuff is definitely down there. The trick is how to find it. Of course, it will take hard work and money.”

“What’s your burn rate?” I asked.

“About fifty thousand dollars per month – say, half a million bucks per year. That’s why I’m here.”

“What’s the deal?” I asked.

He grinned and looked me in the eyes.“Bear in mind that I’m not chasing rainbows. I have proof that the Atocha is down there somewhere and, given time and money, I will find her. I have the time and knowledge, but I need money. So I am raising money by selling participations in my venture to raise enough money to carry on work for two years – one million dollars.”


“I am in the process of selling up to forty percent of my venture for twenty-five thousand dollars per percent, a bargain of a lifetime.”

“How so?”

“Finding the Atocha will be a two-hundred million dollar hit. Your participation will be worth two million dollars, a hundred times what you will have bought it for.”

 “If you find her.”

“It’s not a question of if, but of when.

I thanked him for his time and declined his offer.

We parted as friends.

In 1980, Fisher found the wreck of the Santa Margarita, a galleon that formed part of the flotilla that Atocha had been charged with to guard. This find allowed Fisher to continue chasing his dream.

Fisher’s dive-boat shown transporting three of his “contraptions”

In 1985, ten years after he had visited me, he found the wreck of the Atocha.

The find was worth in excess of FOUR HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS.

You do the math.

5 Responses to :

  1. Chris Szoke says:

    Omg….wow….well atleast you got a great story out of it. .thank you for sharing…😁

  2. Jacob Potashnik says:

    It’s only money… pfffft!

  3. Marika Kemeny says:

    A great story! You win some and you lose some…

  4. Jim says:

    Thank you for sharing Robert. Beautifully written, what a memory!

  5. Veronique Landory says:

    I guess you were fated to not invest in any winning propositions!!!

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