1733 Spanish Galleon Trail: Explore the Spanish Plate Fleet disaster of 1733.


El Rubi was flagship of the 1733 fleet, carrying the king's treasure and commanded by General Rodrigo de Torres. Her master was Don Balthesar de la Torre. According to the manifest, she carried more than two thousand boxes of gold and silver coins and bullion, hundreds of ingots of copper, as well as cochineal, indigo, vanilla, chocolate, and tobacco. During the hurricane, the flagship grounded just inside the reef line northeast of Upper Matecumbe Key. The Capitana had been leaking badly before she ran aground and no one aboard expected to survive. Her only casualties were two men that were flung into the sea, and a sailor crushed by the tiller when the ship struck bottom. She became totally submerged, rolling on her starboard side, facing seaward. As survivors gathered ashore on Upper Matecumbe Key, General Torres ordered the construction of two forts to guard the king's treasure to be salvaged from Capitana. Meanwhile, divers from Havana managed to recover all but seven boxes of coins, most of the copper, and some of the cochineal and indigo.

The remains of El Rubi were the first of the 1733 wrecks to be rediscovered in modern times. In 1938, fisherman Reggie Roberts took diver Art McKee to the site in 27 feet of water off Tavernier Key. For more than a decade, McKee and several associates worked on the massive mound of ballast, timbers, and debris, recovering cannons, silver coins, statues and religious medals, small arms and edged weapons, jewelry, navigational instruments, ship's gear, and galley wares.

Realizing the historical importance of the many items salvaged from the wreck, McKee built in 1949 one of the world's first museums devoted to a shipwreck. He also shared the wrecksite with thousands of tourists by taking them out to its location in a glass-bottom boat, allowing many to dive with his hard hat. Several television films were made at the wrecksite; this publicity and the increased popularity of skin diving led to the discovery of other shipwrecks in the 1733 fleet. Inevitably, Capitana and the other sites were worked over the years by weekend wreck explorers. By the 1970s, the wrecksite had begun to sink into the sand, and by the late 1980s had become completely buried. Today what remains of Capitana is buried under a white sand bottom with small patches of sea grass in 19 feet of clear water. Scattered ballast stones and a few displaced timber fragments can be seen in several depressions in the seafloor caused by excavation. Marine life to be seen includes stingrays, barracudas, and jacks.

Location: 24° 55.491'N 80° 30.891'W

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