El Lerri sank during the 1733 hurricane that hit the Florida Keys
El Lerri shipwreck does not have any marker or mooring buoys to mark the dive site. The depth of the water is 15'. She’s located one mile south of Lower Matecumbe Key. This is NOT a Sanctuary Preservation area, but it does have an admiralty claim on it belonging to Carl Fismer. The GPS coordinates are 24'50.761N and 080'42.850W.
The vessel was a 486 ton merchant ship built in England. It was 100' long and 30' wide. All that remains today is this huge pile of ballast stones totally encrusted in coral.
El Lerri was a merchant ship in the 1733 Fleet along with 4 Spanish galleons, 18 merchant ships and several smaller vessels carrying a treasure of 20,000,000 Mexican silver pesos back to Spain from the New World. Before she sailed in the Silver Plate Fleet she delivered sherry between Spain and England. She was named the El Terri. Her owner was Guillermo Terry the Marques of Canada. She was put into service with the Silver Plate Fleet and was then called the San Felipe. Her captain was Don Jose' del Villar y Andrada The fleet was commanded by Lieutenant-General Rodrigo de Torres aboard the El Rubi. Which is known as the El Capitan wreck today. It was a 60 gun Spanish Galleon, the Flagship of the fleet.
The fleet left Havana harbor on their return trip to Spain on Friday, September 13, 1733. The next day de Torres was hit with a sudden wind shift from the east that continued to get stronger. He ordered the Captains of the other ships to turn back and run to Cuba. His orders came too late for all but five of the ships. Four made it back to Havana safely and one sailed on to Spain with no damage. The rest of the fleet was scattered and driven westward over a distance of 80 miles. They were either sunk or swamped as they lay on the reefs of the Florida Keys.
The survivors made it to shore on makeshift rafts. They stayed in small groups on the different islands. They constructed crude shelters with whatever had washed up from the storm
. The Spanish admiralty in Havana sent one sailing sloop to search for the wrecks. Before it could return another ship arrived with reports of many large ships aground near “Head of the Martyrs.”
Nine rescue ships were loaded with supplies, food, water, divers and salvage equipment. They were ordered to find the lost sailors and recover any cargo and treasure they could. The ships that could be refloated were towed back to Cuba. Those that couldn’t be refloated were burnt to the waterline. This made it easy for the divers to enter the ship’s hold and hid the shipwrecks from pirates. The wrecks were marked on their charts so they could return over the years and recover more treasure. When the recovered treasure was tallied, they discovered that their was more gold and silver than was listed on the original manifest. This was proof of the contraband being smuggled back to the homeland by the Sailors.
El Lerri is a good dive site to snorkel and it has a great backdrop for taking underwater pictures in the Florida Keys.
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