Treasure Maps 2.0
No matter how many dimensions the directions come in, hunting for underwater gold has gone way beyond the ex-marks-the-spot style of yesteryear. To lead the way, experts at Mel Fisher’s Treasures broke down some of their latest maps.
This 3-D render shows the sea floor that became the final resting place of the Atocha. The mountain-like area is the reef, only 14 ft. below the water’s surface, that was the likely cause of the hole in the ship’s bow (behind the reef, the water drops off into a 100-ft.-deep valley). “The yellow represents where the survey boat actually drove,” says Gary Randolph, vice president and director of operations for Mel Fisher’s Treasures. “We drive over, back and forth, and move over 30 ft. after each run. It’s called ‘mowing the lawn.’”The boat drags a magnometer, which detects iron, just above the ocean floor. The equipment is attached to a cable that, in turn, is attached to a computer, which records iron hits, seen here in red. “We try to keep the equipment as close to the bottom as possible, because the farther away you are, the harder it is to detect small things,” Randolph says. “You can detect an iron ship spike or pin from a couple of feet away, and detect a galleon anchor up to 100 ft. away.” The flat blue areas likely aren’t flat, he says. The company just hasn’t mapped the area yet, and has no data for it.
In this two-dimensional view of the Atocha wreck site, different colors represent the depth of the ocean floor. The bright yellow (bottom) is the shallowest part of the reef, probably where the Atocha hit; light blue represents the outer reef, while the darker blue represents an area of sand called Hawk’s Channel. (The large purple areas haven’t been surveyed.)“The Atocha came in and hit the shallowest part of the reef,” Randolph says. “That punched a hole in the bow. Then she went up the chart and sank, intact.” The red dots represent iron hits. One is the Galleon Anchor, he says, the first anchor that the Atocha dropped when it was sinking. Below the Galleon Anchor are timbers with iron pins and brass spikes—pieces of another, newer wreck, probably from the 1800s. “There was nothing valuable there,” Randolph says. “It wasn’t an intact wreck, just pieces of one that was breaking apart.”
This close-up of the area where the Galleon Anchor was found shows red dots representing iron hits from the magnometer. “The number represents how strong that magnetic target was,” Randolph says. “They’re measured in gammas, which can range from 1 to 2000. One would be a single ship spike or pin; 2000 would be a huge chunk of iron, a modern pipe or something like that.” Galleon anchors register around 500 gammas.
These areas have history and a bright future: Mel Fisher himself found huge amounts of gold and silver from Atocha at “The Main Pile,” and his company continues to find thousands of uncut Columbia emeralds at “Emerald City.” Likewise, the “Grapnel Anchor” stays true to its name. “”It’s where we found a grapnel-style anchor that was on the Atocha and dropped out along this trail as the ship broke up in the second hurricane,” Randolph says.