San Jose a Florida Keys shipwreck is still giving up her treasure today!
The San Jose y Las Animas does not have any marker or mooring buoys to mark the dive site. She’s buried in 30' of water. It’s located off Tavernier about one mile east of Little Conch Reef. This is NOT a Sanctuary Preservation Area. The GPS coordinates are 24'56.919N and 080'29.334W.
She was a 326 ton 40 cannon Spanish Galleon named for Saint Joseph. Her owner was Joseph del Duque. She became part of the Spanish Plate Fleet in August 1732. It was commanded by Rodrigo de Torres. Her captain was Cristobal Fernandez Franco. She joined the flotilla at the Bay of Cadiz in Spain. Her Captain gave her the nickname of El Duque.
The 1733 fleet left Cuba on their return trip to Spain from the New World. The Florida Keys had just come into view when the winds began to howl from the east. The ships were scattered and driven northwest for 80 miles. Seventeen of the twenty two ships were driven onto or across the reefs that parallel the Florida Keys. Four of the ships made it safely back to Havana harbor and one sailed on to Spain.
The San Jose was loaded with porcelain, a treasure of silver pesos and general cargo. Her place in the fleet was near the El Capitan, a heavily armed Spanish Galleon. During the hurricane she was lifted across the reef by the huge waves. She ran aground near Cayo Tavanos, which is known today as Tavernier. She began to fill with water. She was soon flooded up to her poopdecks. The crew quickly made rafts from the broken timbers of the boat and the whole crew made it safely to shore.
In the following days and weeks efforts were made to recover the silver coins while leaving the rest of the cargo in the ship. This shipwreck was totally submerged and dug into the sand with none of the ship showing above the water. She was the only ship from the fleet to be grounded that did not get burned to the waterline.
In the 1960's treasure hunters with metal detectors hit upon a strong signal. There was nothing visible but sand and grass. They blew away the sand using a technique called mail boxing. Traces of a shipwreck began to show. A pile of ballast stones 135' long and 40' wide and as much as six feet high in places were uncovered. Two anchors were discovered on the east side of the shipwreck and 200 yards to the south was the ship’s large rudder. It was 25' long. This is where the ship had hit bottom. Twenty three cannons were discovered scattered all around the pile of ballast stones. In 1973 a new part of the ship was discovered 150 feet away from the main wreck. On the first day of digging $30,000 in gold and silver coins were recovered.
Strong storms and hurricanes passing through and near the Florida Keys have once again buried the San Jose shipwreck. There are just a few pieces of the ship’s timbers sticking out of the sand. If you plan to dive this wreck, it would be a great idea to take along an underwater metal detector and something to dig away the sand. Coral encrusted silver coins are still being found here today. It’s rumored that a good chunk of the treasure still remains buried in the sand just waiting to be found.
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