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FEBRUARY caribbean, west indies, real   estate,   property, land, retiring, moving, relocating, living, working, expats, international living, overseas,   abroad, caribbean property magazine, caribpro 2 0 0 9
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Finder’s Keepers, Loser’s Weepers
by Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph

Since Robert Louis Stevenson penned Treasure Island in 1883, boys, girls, men and women have fantasized about discovering ancient treasures of gold bullion from the ships blown off course in storms, sunk by canons of marauding pirates, or vanquished to Davy Jones’ locker by maritime battles.
Treasure Island
The Caribbean Sea is a watery graveyard of such vessels and those childhood dreams often become reality to modern day treasure seekers. Some of those little boys and girls grew up to be treasure hunters, who in spite of their age and wisdom could not shake the dream of discovering gold and riches in the deep blue sea. Today, those men and women are finding buried treasure beneath the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and there are still billions of dollars in sunken ships waiting to be revealed.

Mel Fisher’s Treasures

One such modern day treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, persistently searched the sea for 16 years with the hopes of finding gold on sunken Spanish ships off the coast of Florida. Undaunted by years of finding nothing, he kept to his motto “Today is the day” and continued his search. 

His perseverance paid off when, in 1985, off the Florida Keys, he finally discovered the wreck of the Spanish galleon, Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which sunk in 1622. “The Atocha Motherlode,” as it was described, was said to be worth an estimate of $450 million in 40 tons of gold and silver, 100,000 Spanish silver coins, gold coins, Colombian emeralds and 1000 silver bars. This discovery is considered one of the richest finds in history. When asked why he did it, his reply was: “for the fun, the romance and the adventure!” Mel Fisher’s inspiration and spirit live on today, in spite of his death in 1998, as his family and colleagues doggedly continue their search and are still recovering emeralds, gold and precious coins from the Spanish wrecks, the Atocha and Margarita.

Soon after Mel’s initial find, the United States government claimed title to the wreck, and the State of Florida seized many of the items Fisher had retrieved from salvage expeditions. After eight years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fisher and he died a rich man who realized his dreams.

Artifacts and treasures from the Atocha and Margarita are now displayed in the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum in Key West, FL. Among the items found on the wrecks are a gold chain that weighs more than seven pounds, a gold chalice designed to prevent its user from being poisoned, solid gold belts, contraband emeralds, religious and secular jewelry and silverware. In addition to the hordes of valuable riches, fine examples of everyday seventeenth-century life was salvaged such as navigational instruments, Native American objects, seeds, insects and various tools.
Golden Chalice
If that child inside of you that reveled in the secrets of Treasure Island is still screaming to get out, Mel Fisher Treasures will allow you to dive on the two famous Spanish galleons that were sunk by a hurricane in 1622, for an unnamed investment. Their website states, “All treasure uncovered during the year are shared by all investors of that year.” As recently as June, 2008 Michael DeMar discovered a fabulous two handed golden chalice with an estimated value of over $1 million. He thought it was a beer can until he fanned the sand from the artifact. Mel Fisher’s son Kim and grandson Sean were on the dock when DeMar returned with the chalice. They poured champagne into the vessel and drank from it.

Captain Kidd’s ship found off coast of Dominican Republic

For twenty years, Charles Beeker and his team from Indiana University have been searching for underwater treasure. On December 13, 2007, Beeker’s divers discovered the remnants of Quedagh Merchant, the ship abandoned by the scandalous 17th century pirate Captain William Kidd, in less than 10 feet of water near Dominican Republic off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic. The wreck was found in crystal clear, pristine water amazingly untouched and never looted.
Charles Beeker
Captain Kidd was convicted of piracy and murder in a sensational London court trial and was left to hang over the River Thames for two years. It is believed that after capturing the Quedagh Merchant, which was loaded with valuable gold, silver, satin and silk cargo; Captain Kidd sailed to New York on a less conspicuous ship where he was later captured. Indiana University also concentrates much of its focus on La Isabela Bay, the site of the first permanent Spanish settlement established by Christopher Columbus. Beeker believes that much of the history of the Taino, the first indigenous people to interact with Europeans, is mainly based on speculation and that by continuing their underwater research of this area, they can uncover the mysteries of this culture.

Beeker and his students have conducted underwater research projects on submerged ships, cargo and other cultural and biological resources throughout the United States and the Caribbean for more than 20 years. Many of his research projects have resulted in the establishment of state or federal underwater parks and preserves, and have led to a number of site nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.


Sub Sea Research Company up to something near Guyana

January 27, 2009, Caribbean newspapers began reporting a story about a British sunken ship found 40 miles off the coast of Guyana. The American team, Sub Sea Research Company from Maine, believes they have found the largest sunken treasure ever recovered in history. The find is worth an estimated $3 trillion; yes - that is $3 trillion US dollars.

Sub Sea Research Company owner Greg Brooks, another modern day treasure seeker, is not divulging the name of the ship or the exact location, but states that the cargo ship he has nicknamed, "The Blue Baron," contains at least ten tons of gold bullion, 70 tons of platinum, one and a half tons of industrial diamonds and 16 million carats of gem-quality diamonds. There may be several thousand tons of tin and a few thousand tons of copper ingots, but these metals may be degraded after spending over 60 years on the ocean floor.

The gold laden British ship is believed to have been sunk by two German torpedoes in June of 1942 as the ship sailed from England to New York via South America. It was discovered 250 meters, or 800 feet below the sea. It is believed the cargo was intended for the US Treasury, but to date no one has claimed the sunken treasure. The crew of the British freighter was primarily made of British nationals. Since laws concerning salvaging items from the ocean floor are complex, it may take years of legal battles before ownership is attributed to any one party. Sub Sea Research estimates the WWII treasure of gold and gems is worth approximately US $3,532,375,151, and may have included treasures from both Russia and Great Britain.

Sub Sea Research was forced to make its discovery public when it filed a claim on the treasure in a US Federal Admiralty Court. No counter claims have been filed so far, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"This British freighter had an extremely valuable cargo, and we decided there wasn't a lot of point in leaving it at the bottom of the sea. This will definitely be the richest wreck ever," the founder of Sub Sea Research, Greg Brooks, said in an interview with London's Daily Telegraph.
Subsea Artifact
According to Sub Sea’s website, they have remained in good stead with Haiti where their original exploration began back in 2000; and their research indicates “potentially valuable historic shipwrecks spanning over 400 years of Spanish Main Ships Crossings, West Indies Trade Routes, and the well documented historic presence of Pirate ships since Haiti was a stronghold for Privateers and Buccaneers for centuries. Our latest expedition last winter [2004] confirmed and physically inspected and documented a shallow water metal hulled vessel previously thought to be a WWII submarine hull. Our survey and inspection indicated it is actually a Spanish American Civil War Gun Boat which further analysis might reveal its actual name and identity.”


Among the company’s finds near Haitian waters, is believed to be the discovery of Captain Henry Morgan’s ship, “The Oxford,” which was a gift from the Queen of England and was destroyed along with dozens of other pirate ships during an explosive conflict.

Whatever happened to Visa Gold in Cuba?

According to a Reuters’ report in 2001, a Canadian treasure-hunting company said it was taking out of Cuba some of the 7.000 pieces recovered from a sunken Spanish brigantine, the first time such treasure would leave the Caribbean island. "There are jewels, golden brooches with diamonds and ...emeralds," said Paul Frustaglio, president Visa Gold Explorations Inc., which operates in 50-50 joint venture with Cuban state firm Geomar S.A.

The Toronto-based company brought up around 7,000 artifacts, including jewelry, diamonds and pistols, from the "Palemon" that sank in 1839 off Cuba's northern coast when it was coming back to the island from Europe loaded with luxury products.

But it appears that Visa Gold Explorations Inc. has disappeared from the radar scope since six of its members were accused of unethical trade practices. Their website is no longer under their domain, but rather is pointed to a Havana newspaper article. Modern day pirates? Hmmm, makes you wonder.

Cuba is probably one of the best areas of the world for treasure hunting, as its location east of Mexico and off the northeast edge of South America, made it a natural rendezvous point for vessels of the past taking gold, silver and rare jewels to Europe and bringing merchandise in the other direction.
Many of those ships never made it home for reasons such as tropical storms, treacherous reefs and pirate and buccaneer attacks. Over 1600 boats from the 16th to the 20th century went down near Cuba and the Port of Havana and those that came from Europe were full of merchandise and those leaving America were carrying loads of gold and silver.

Barry Clifford wreck of the Whydah

Underwater archaeological explorer Barry Clifford has seen his share of sunken treasures during his time. In 1989, Clifford and his team located significant historical cultural material in Boston’s Inner Harbor which has been associated with the Boston Tea Party and The Evacuation of Boston during the American Revolution.

Between 1991 and 1994, expeditions were mounted to Panama and Belize that resulted in the discovery of a number of shipwrecks of historical and archaeological significance—including the possible wreck site of the Satisfaction, a shipwreck commanded by the buccaneer Henry Morgan during his invasion of Panama in 1669.

From 1993-1996, under the auspices of BBC and The Discovery Channel, Clifford directed underwater survey and ROV examinations—in conjunction with Bentech, British Gas, the British Royal Navy and HRM Prince Andrew—for The Blessing of Burnt Island that sank with the Royal silver of King Charles I in Scotland’s Firth of Forth in 1663. Clifford then initiated survey operations off the coast of Virginia that resulted in the discovery of a wreck identified as the Spanish treasure galleon La Galga. In 1998 and 1999 Barry Clifford led two expeditions, under Discovery Channel/BBC-One auspices, to the Isle of Aves off the north coast of Venezuela, where he discovered nine shipwrecks, wrecked in a 1678 catastrophe that permanently shattered French naval power in the Caribbean.

In 1999 and 2000, Barry Clifford and his Project Team completed three major expeditions to Ile Ste. Marie off the coast of Madagascar, as a Discovery Channel Quest initiative. Five shipwreck sites were discovered. One has been tentatively identified as The Adventure Galley (flagship of William Kidd). Another is The Fiery Dragon (commanded by the pirate William Condon, aka Christopher Condent). Two other shipwreck sites are believed to be the Ruparrel, and the The Mocha Frigate. After discovering and decoding cryptic rock carvings, he then used ground-penetrating radar to locate and chart an apparent tunnel-complex, similar to the Oak Island “Money Pit”, which may have been constructed by late 17th-century pirates.

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In an ongoing project, Mr. Clifford is currently working to identify suspected in-situ remains of the Santa Maria, the flagship of Christopher Columbus, wrecked near modern Cap Haitien on Christmas, 1492. His work to locate this site was the subject of a May 2004 Discovery Channel Quest documentary “Quest for Columbus.” Also ongoing off the Haitian coast is an archaeological survey project that has initially identified four shipwrecks associated with Henry Morgan, including Morgan’s flagship , The Oxford.

Clifford has authored a number of articles and books on his explorations and his work has been the subject of television documentaries and features as well. A 2002–03 action-adventure television series entitled "Adventure Inc", produced by Gale Anne Hurd, was "inspired by the real life exploits of explorer Barry Clifford." Clifford is credited as a consultant for that show.

Clifford was also featured extensively in the 2-hour documentary, The Pirate Code Feature about the ongoing excavation of the wreck of the Whydah, which has been shown on the UK's National Geographic Channel.


Experience Real Pirates, an exhibit of a Slave Ship turned Pirate Ship

For those of you who would like to see the significance of Clifford’s work and to investigate the treasures of the deep on terra firma, The Field Museum in Chicago welcomes Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship from February 25, 2009 - October 25, 2009. The 8,400-square-foot interactive exhibition showcases more than 200 artifacts including everyday objects, personal items, and treasures from the first fully authenticated pirate ship ever to be discovered in U.S. waters.

Organized by National Geographic and Arts and Exhibitions International (AEI) LLC, Real Pirates tells the true story of the Whydah – a pirate ship that sank off the coast of Cape Cod nearly 300 years ago.  The exhibition features treasure chests of gold coins and jewelry, as well as an 18th century cannon, pistols, and swords which were painstakingly recovered from the ocean floor over the last 25 years and form the core of the exhibition.

Visitors are provided with an unprecedented glimpse into the unique economical, political and social circumstances of the early 18th century Caribbean.  Highlighted throughout the exhibition are compelling true stories of the diverse people whose lives converged on the Whydah before its demise.  Multimedia galleries showcase this period of history, including the slave trade based in West Africa and the economic prosperity in the Caribbean. 

Visitors can get a sense of everyday life aboard the Whydah pirate ship, and meet Captain Sam Bellamy, one of the boldest and most successful pirates of his day.  Continue on the journey with Bellamy as he sails, looting dozens of ships before a violent storm sank the vessel off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, April 26, 1717.  

“This unique and extraordinary exhibit defines the best of exploration,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic's executive vice president, Mission Programs. “From an archaeological perspective, we have the discovery of the shipwreck, its excavation and the process by which it was authenticated. From a cultural perspective, we explore the rich history of the Caribbean trade routes during the 18th century and the inextricable link between the slave trade and piracy. This is the first time that this amazing story, with all of its interconnected layers and characters, will be presented in such an engaging format.”

Everyone is a treasure seeker in the Caribbean

These famous and infamous treasure seekers, coupled with the success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, continue to stimulate more and more “treasure hunters” to Caribbean waters in search of sacred dive spots and the mere possibility of catching a glimpse of glittering gold beneath the many types of wreckage. The ruthless Edward Teach or “Blackbeard” as he is known to most, reigned terror over many Caribbean islands during his days of piracy. His ghost is still seen in Nassau, Bahamas where the British Colonial Hilton now stands on the site once known as Old Fort Nassau. Out of respect to their former tenant, they have named the hotel bar, Blackbeard’s Cove.


Snorkelers and divers troll the caves surrounding Cayman Brac, in the Cayman Islands, hoping to discover one of Blackbeard’s hidden treasures. Legends of fishermen finding Blackbeard “loot” in caves in the British Virgin Islands also draw gold hunting enthusiasts.

Surrounded by the coral reefs off Grenada‘s coast, sunken ships of all sizes can be found at depths of between 30 -130 feet. Divers can enjoy exploring the wrecks and other wonders of the underwater world, particularly the wreck of the "Bianca C", a cruise ship of over 600 ft. in length also called the "Titanic of the Caribbean" because if its extraordinary size.
Pirates Gold
Ben Cober, of Cincinnati, Ohio says he has been to the Caribbean five times and has heard many stories about Norman Island, located in the British Virgin Islands. A hot spot for vacationers now because of The William Thornton (a floating bar that’s a pirate ship), Norman Island is most notorious for being the island that “Treasure Island” is based on.

Regarding buried or sunken treasure, Cober says, “On the southern point of the island is a series of caves, which dot the rocky coast with direct feed to the water. You can actually snorkel into these caves today. It is rumored that many a pirate used these caves to hide small boats and treasure in when angry fleets were searching for them.” The British Virgin Islands (B.V.I) are home to more than 300 documented shipwrecks.

All things, good and bad, must come to an end, and that is exactly the fate that befell most of the pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries. One such unlucky man was John Rackham, better known by the nickname "Calico Jack," one of the most ruthless pirates of his time. Calico Jack was eventually hanged at Gallows Point, Port Royal, in Jamaica, a well-known sanctuary for pirates of the 17th century. In 1692, the old city of Port Royal is said to have been destroyed by an earthquake, sliding into the sea below. Today, the new city of Port Royal greets visitors in search of adventure, some who claim to hear the church bells of the sunken city ringing out. Visitors can also explore the pirate past of 16th century Fort Charles, as well as the Maritime Museum and the Port Royal Archeological and Historical Museum.

Vanessa Giacoppo says that although she lives in New Jersey, that hasn’t stopped her from moving forward with a dream to one day discover buried treasure in the Caribbean. She recently wrote, “This summer, I will be exploring the Dominican Republic. Although the "joke" is that I will be arriving with a pasta strainer, a sand shovel, goggles and flippers, I don't think it would surprise my friends or boyfriend if I actually brought such materials! I have a dream, and it includes diving deep and finding treasure: from gemstones, to gold coins, and anything in between, modern or ancient! We will be staying in Punta Cana, which means lost engagement rings in the sand, and near-by, amber stones with fossilized insects!”
Somewhere deep within all of us, lays that child who still longs to discover a secret buried treasure. It is just one of those childhood fantasies that seem to stick with us. For an interesting read about a modern teenager who believes she was a pirate, read The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King which will be released in February. The book tells a complex story of modern teenager, Saffron Adams and her quest to escape her unfortunate life to dig up the treasure she buried on a beach in Jamaica 300 hundred years earlier in her previous life as the dreaded pirate Emer Morrisey.


The Caribbean, having once been the piracy capital of the world, is now a treasure trove of gold and riches. The area is full of sunken ships from not only pirates and privateers, but also from war and inclement weather. During the Golden Age of Piracy, there were more than 2,000 pirates operating throughout the Caribbean and North American coast.  This writer lives in the area in Southern St Lucia known as Black Bay, supposedly named after Blackbeard and a possible buried treasure of his. Although I haven’t searched very diligently, I am still looking, and will keep you posted if something shiny turns up.

Author: Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph is no stranger to the Caribbean. Employed by American Airlines for 27 years, she spent most of that time traveling the world and in particular, the Caribbean. She is now living on the beautiful island of St Lucia and is a freelance writer for several ezines.

Email : Lea Ann Fessenden-Joseph
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January 2009
As we look back at the year of 2008 to see what solid actions the Caribbean region has taken to support the environment it’s fair to say that the Caribbean has certainly taken on the challenge, but have they done enough? The exquisite beaches, coral reefs, waterfalls and lush rainforests are the primary reasons tourists flock to the islands. Nature is the product that draws tourists to the Caribbean, and tourism is its primary bread winner. Implementation of sustainable tourism development tenets is one of the primary ways that the Caribbean can move forward in ensuring its collective future. ---> Read More
November 2008
If the banking and financial crisis hasn`t made you want to grab what little you have left and bury it on a remote island, you might want to consider the Cayman Islands. I hear the diving is incredible and those tropical drinks aren`t bad either. This fifth largest banking center in the world also touts the highest standard of living in the Caribbean with the average annual income of approximately $42,000. The Caymans have more registered businesses than its 65,000 inhabitants, and they are home to 279 banks with $1.5 trillion in banking liabilities. ---> Read More
October 2007
Southern St Lucia is a world of its own, quite different from the northern areas where luxury resorts and road traffic thrive. If you’re looking for that place that seems to only exist in pirate movies, the sweet, slow, natural Creole Caribbean awaits you in southern St Lucia. The South remains much as it was forty years ago, and there is still time to experience wonder even Oprah rates this as one of the “top five places to see in your lifetime.” ---> Read More
August 2008
If God descended from the heavens and told you that you had only one week remaining to enjoy life on earth, what would you do? Well, in countries all over the world the answer is “party like there’s no tomorrow.” In the Caribbean this is known Carnival or Mas (for masquerade.) There are other derivations of the word such as Bacchanal and Mardi Gras, but the result remains the same - unadulterated liberty and freedom of expression. ---> Read More
November 2008
For forty-nine years, docile Grenada slept peacefully. In 2004 and 2005, Hurricanes Ivan and Emily pummeled Grenada with unbelievable destruction. Grenada has fought back and has now turned The Spice Island into �a better product than before.� By the December 2005, the island�s hotel properties were back in operation and receiving their holiday season guests, a major accomplishment to be proud of. Then, bringing a strong economic boost, in walked multi-millionaire Peter de Savary, who saw the investment opportunity and quickly struck deals to bestow the island with exceptional properties. And now, in 2008 Grenada can proudly say that it has risen from the ashes to become a premiere destination for those seeking a second home in paradise. ---> Read More
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Last Updated On : 23 Feb 2014