El Capitan is a treasure ship that’s entombed in the bottom of the ocean in the Florida Keys

El Capitan has no markers to mark the dive site. The depth of the water here is 20'. This site has no mooring buoys. It’s located six miles east southeast of Windley Key. The GPS coordinates are 24'55.491N and 080'31.891W.

This treasure ship is one from the Nueva Espana Fleet. She was the flagship of the fleet her name was the El Rubi. The fleet was made up of armed galleons, merchant ships and smaller ships that were carrying the silver pesos and gold coins. The fleet left Havana harbor on July 13, 1733 on their way home to Spain. A day later a hurricane hit the fleet and sent them onto the reefs of the Florida Keys. Only five of the 22 ships made it out of the hurricane four sailed back to Cuba safety and one sailed on to Spain without damage.

El Capitan

During the next few years the Spaniards with the help of the natives in the Florida Keys salvaged the shipwrecks. They lay on the reefs undisturbed for a couple of hundred years. In the 1950's treasure hunters with the help of underwater metal detectors rediscovered the treasure ships. At this time large pieces of the ships were still visible. They brought up cannons, figurines, muskets, silver pesos and a number of gold coins. There was no interest in archaeological surveys and preservation. This was all about the loot and selling it for profit. I can tell you right now I would have done the same thing. The salvers kept some of the best pieces for their private collections but the rest was sold to the highest bidder.

All that’s left of the shipwreck today is a large pile of ballast stones. These too are hidden. They’ve been entombed over time with coral. A few timbers are still protruding from the site.

This shipwreck is under the protection of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, it’s included in a research and recovery permit. That means it’s illegal to take anything from this site. The cops on the water try to monitor this area closely.

The story told by locals says that the mother lode from the El Capitan is still buried under the sand here in the waters of the Florida Keys. It’s just waiting to be discovered.



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