Occasionally one is fortunate enough to find a wreck that is not completely buried and the artifacts tell a compelling story. For your enjoyment I pen the following.
Story of the Southern Bahamas Wreck
By Diving Doc, Director of History Hunters.
I found this site a while back by accident. The main body of this wreck lies in only 15 feet of water. In this area are a total of 28 cannon (seventeen now visible). Some of these are seven feet long with a bore of approximately 2 and a half inches; others are eight and a half feet with an approximate bore of 3 and a half inches. Without the corrosion the diameters might be three plus and four plus inches.
The large number of cannon (and there may be more) certainly indicate a major warship. The battery of two different calibers is characteristic of the Spanish and French frigates in the 18th century. There is no Spanish record of this loss or salvage in this area that I have been able to find. If there was any recovery, it is reasonable to expect that the cannon and anchors would have been recovered along with any cargo. This was standard procedure as the cannon and anchors were very hard to come by and very valuable in the New World. I have photographed identical cannon at the Arsenal in Madrid.
The distance between the two 15-foot anchors and the rudder gudgeons1/pintles2 is about 180 feet. It can be seen that the anchor ring is not set and I presume that these two anchors fell with the vessel. Since these artifacts are at opposite ends of the wreck, I presume that the length might be 180 feet.
At approximately this same distance of 180 feet to the east lies a huge broken anchor 17 feet in length. The ring is set and this anchor shank points in the general direction of the wreck. Not too far from this anchor lie both the broken fluke and a large catting block4. They tell a tale of desperation and death. This is one of the largest anchors I know of for this time period.
At a distance from the ballast pile of less than 100 yards lay a group of five of the smaller cannon and a mile and a half from the main wreck site is a similar small cannon and a small kedge anchor, about ten feet long by five across the flukes, perhaps carried there with wooden wreckage. Some of the remaining hull planking is periodically uncovered by the tide. It appears that the original hull was sheathed with a lighter colored wood and then covered with lead sheeting. I presume from the pictures that the outer sheathing was cedar and the hull itself was oak.
Archival sources detail an anti-fouling mixture that was applied between the hull and the outer cedar sheathing. This mixture consisted of Tabonuco oil5, chalk, and tar. The Spanish had a pitch lake in Trinidad and it appears that the inside of the hull was covered with pitch. Numerous pieces of lead sheeting were found everywhere in the vicinity of the hull. I also found lead pipe, presumably for the bilge pump, guttering, and a very large block of lead in the forward hull. I also observed a copper patch inside of the forward hull.
In places where the original planks had deteriorated their outline was preserved by pitch. At one time the Spanish ships that were sent to Vera Cruz were sheathed and leaded because they suffered so much from ship worms in the warm water during their long wait to load the treasure. In the forward part of the hull interior is what appears to be a patch of copper sheeting. There are pieces of lead sheeting and lead piping everywhere. There were also pieces of what appeared to be lead guttering.
Scattered throughout the wreck Red tiles were observed on both sides of the reef, and some of these standing on edge in a group of six, as those packaged. These have been identified as a type of Spanish tiles made in Mexico. Trunnels3 and spikes were observed and iron fittings from gun carriages and rigging. The gudgeons and pintles were not hammered or chipped but they appear to have held their form, perhaps they are bronze. This may also be true of the hawse holes (where the anchor rode goes) that seem to have held their shape without deterioration.
The ballast pile is made up of two types of rocks. The greater part is composed of smooth river rock. The other part consisted of worked brownstone rubble. This was identified by the staff at the Fisher Museum as coming from Havana. In my estimation the amount of ballast by itself is not sufficient for a vessel this size.
This wreck lies in an area that historically, is not noted for Spanish Navigation. Research has revealed that in the 18th Century Spanish ships once again passed thru the Passages of the Lower Bahamas to enter the Atlantic and return to Spain. Many of these pictures show determining features and details that are unique to Spanish ships of the 18th Century.
From the position of the large sheet anchor I presume that when the crew realized their danger they immediately dropped their biggest anchor but it was too late, it didn't hold, it broke and the catting block (used to lower the anchor) was found with the fluke. The huge ring on the broken anchor points in the general direction of the wreck itself. I assume from the position of the cannon that the wreck fell down on her port side.
The small number of cannon in the bow area (two) may be because part of the bow was broken off and carried off the other small cannon and one small 10 foot anchor (the kedge) a great distance to the west. Both the left and right bower anchors (each 15 feet long) appear to have fallen from the bow to their present position as they are not set and are in very close proximity to the remains of the hull.
When I first found the wreck there was no deep sand and scattered about in plain sight were what remained of the rigging and a very large number of corroded cast iron hoops. Could the hoops have been from coin barrels? A large sounding lead that I observed shows a great deal of electrolysis. Could this indicate a large amount of precious metal?
This shipwreck is a future project that promises to add more pages to the History of Spanish Navigation in the New World.
1. Gudgeon: In boats, gudgeons nest in pintles and are either affixed to the transom of the boat or to the rudder. They are used to attach the rudder to the boat so that it can swing freely. The corresponding fitting on the rudder slides or clips into place. The rudder can then be turned with the tiller.
2. Pintle: It is affixed to a gudgeon to hold the rudder onto the boat.
3. Trunnel: A wooden peg that is used to fasten timbers in shipbuilding; water causes the peg to swell and hold the timbers fast.
3. Catting block: Large heavy pulley block used for raising anchor in preparation for sea travel.