Tripping Over Treasure

Tripping Over Treasure

Tripping Over Treasure

Get this…. In 1970, while snorkeling just off Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman, a lucky couple found a gold cross encrusted with emeralds. They literally tripped over lost treasure from a Spanish galleon. This discovery could only have been more incredible if one of them had stubbed their toe on it or even somehow managed to get slapped across the face with it. The American couple were on vacation at the time and decided to go rent some tanks to see what else they could find in the same area. By the end of their trip they had pulled up a 13 foot gold chain, a platinum bar and 300lbs of gold objects.

As soon as word got out, there was a gold rush on the Grand Cayman. Everybody wanted to dive in the same spot hoping to find a piece of treasure of their own. Accordingly, a new dive site was made and aptly named Lost Treasure, you can get a sneaky peak of that {HERE} While you’re there, also check out the neighboring site Spanish Anchor which is named after a 16th century anchor that you can find embedded into the reef.

Can you imagine heading out for a dive and chancing upon a treasure trove? And what really gets me chomping at the bit is that this isn’t anything like an isolated case,  people have been tripping over treasure underwater for centuries.

More recently, in Florida last year $4.5M worth of lost treasure turned up off the coast of Vero Beach. The haul, discovered by kitchen & bathroom remodeler William Bartlett, came from Spanish galleons that were destroyed in a hurricane 300 hundred years before. All that time, the gold was just sat there waiting for somebody to swim over it, luckily for Mr Bartlett, he was that somebody.

The Adventure Begins

Every piece of sunken treasure has a fascinating story to tell and the kinds of tales that go down with ships are the ones that movies are made of. Each event will be unique but if you take a brief look at the history books, you will see how the stage was set.

Shortly after the “discovery” of the Americas, the waters of the western Atlantic became of hive of activity for greedy Europeans. Most prominently, the Spanish worked away like army ants extracting as much of the new worlds wealth as possible. Shipping routes were established and regular fleets of wooden vessels were dispatched from Spain. Cargo like books and luxury items were exchanged for gold, silver and precious stones.

As the ships left port, the potential disasters that could befall them were as vast and unknown as the ocean itself. From pirates to privateers to the naval powers of rival countries, all were obsessed with redirecting the flow of wealth to their own pockets. In acts of war and outright robbery, thousands of ships were sunk leaving the untold riches that went down with them worthless to the drowning sailors.

In addition to the threats from people there were also the natural elements to consider. Hurricanes, storms and squalls ravage the waters of the Caribbean. Perilously rocky reefs that hide just below the surface of the water have been known to tear a hull open causing a galleon to sink in minutes. Strong winds at night can push a ship into any number of hazards from sand banks to the shore itself. To cut a long story short, there’s no shortage of ways for a ship to meet with an untimely end, when you think about it like that, it’s surprising that we aren’t finding more treasure while pootling around down there.


Treasure isn’t limited to gold and cannons, neither is it geographically confined to the western Atlantic. The Romans, Greeks and Vikings all used the ocean to trade and invade, all have lost valuable artifacts and currencies along the way. Global trade routes have been competing against the forces of nature for centuries, even modern super container ships can encounter some form of bad luck which results in their valuable load spilling into the sea. Wars have seen thousands of ships around the world perish and, even in the UK where the coastline is dived extensively, new wrecks continue to be discovered.

In 1900 a Greek sponge diver working off the coastline was shocked to find what he thought were rotting corpses of men and horses at the bottom of the sea. It turned out that the diver had actually discovered lost statues from what has now become known as the Antikythera Wreck. In amongst the countless treasures from the ancient world was an artifact believed to be the oldest computer known to man. The mechanism, dated as being from the second century BC, is perhaps the most advanced technology from its time. Its function was to track the cycles of the solar system and nothing rivaling its complexity was created again for the next thousand years. How do you even put a price on such a discovery?

A Different Kind of Treasure

Pirates, treasure, sunken warships and stories form the sea are fascinating to me. As such, when I hear about the possibility of finding some treasure on a dive, straight away I’m hooked. The thought of finding some artifact, gold or war relic has led the opportunist in me to conduct underwater searches myself, but unfortunately, I don’t have much to show for it.

One such venture was while I was working as a diver in South Korea. I had heard about a bell that was stolen by the Japanese in the 1500’s, and it’s rumored that the 10 foot tall object was pulled from the ashes of a Korean temple that had been burned to the ground by the invaders. The plan to ferry the plundered bell back to Japan was scuppered by a storm which sent the precarious load to the bottom of the sea. Divers claim that while out on the east coast, they can sometimes hear it’s faint toll.

Interest in this story was raised when an underwater fisherman claimed that he had happened upon such an object. The fisherman was underwater trying to recover some of his netting rig when he noticed the structure which at first, he thought was the bow of a wrecked ship. Upon returning to shore, the fisherman couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d seen. Months later, when someone reminded him of the story of the pilfered bell, he became certain that was what he had found. Unfortunately, the fisherman didn’t keep coordinates of where he had seen the bell and his subsequent searches proved fruitless.

As the potential re-discovery of such a valuable object became known about within the dive community, opportunists like myself took to the water to try to re-locate the artifact. I didn’t find any trace of the bell but while searching the frigid Korean waters, I did discover an 8 foot statue of a penis and testicles. I guess one man’s trash is another mans treasure but the statue actually turned out to have been deliberately sunk. Korea has similar phallic statues around its coastline in order to appease the angry spirit of a lady who was washed into the sea just before her wedding day. Fishing communities offer the statues in order to improve their catch.


To finish up, here’s a story heard from a diver I once met on a live aboard. He and some buddies were set to go for a dive somewhere in the English channel on a WWII wreck at a depth of around 55M (180′). They pulled up on the site which was marked with GPS coordinates, donned their twin sets, stages and other technical gear required for the dive and dropped in. Dives of this nature in the UK can be pretty tough even on a good day, the divers were lucky that the weather and current were in their favor. My buddy recalls that as he got to the bottom, he landed on the wrecks midship, got stable and started exploring the dive site. When he reached the bow, he found an object that looked out of place against the back drop of the decaying sunken ship. A brightly colored container had been attached to it and after having given it some consideration, curiosity got the better of him, he decided to bring it up with him.

Upon surfacing, the group opened the container and were astonished to find a haul of drugs packed in there. Of course no one knows for sure but the suspicion was that the divers had tripped over quite an elaborate smuggling venture. It was believed that the contraband was en route to the UK from mainland Europe and the tec diving smugglers were using the wreck off the south coast as a drop off point.  Although different to piracy, it does lend a modern spin on the tales of illegal activities upon the high seas.

There are still untold amounts of treasure of one description or another out there in the oceans, rivers and lakes of the world. It has to make you wonder what you have unknowingly swum over in the past. From a lost wedding ring, to a full blown pirates booty, any one of us could have been just feet away from sunken riches. Each new discovery you read about will be a reminder that there must be mountains of loot still out there to find, and with that in mind, what are you waiting for, let’s go find our fortune!

About the Author: Drew McArthur is a professional dive instructor and boat captain currently working at Divetech on Grand Cayman. Since his first dive over 20 years ago, he has found himself in all kinds of underwater environments from golf ponds on the side of a snowy Welsh mountain to the tropical paradise he has now become accustomed to. A fanatic of all things tech, one of the main things Drew loves about Grand Cayman is the accessibility of such premier dive sites. Check out Drew’s blog here.

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