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

San José

The New England-built 326-ton ship named Saint Joseph was constructed in 1728, but shortly afterward was purchased by Joseph del Duque, who renamed her San José y Las Animas and put her into service in the Spanish plate fleet joining Rodrigo de Torres's flota at the Bay of Cádiz in August 1732. Captained by Cristóbal Fernandez Franco, she was given the nicknames San José and El Duque. Carrying a cargo of porcelain, silver coins, and other goods, the ship sailed from Havana in the vanguard of the fleet near Capitana. When the hurricane drove the ships shoreward, San José cleared the reefs only to run aground off Cayo Tavanos (Tavernier Key) in the sand flats that stretch toward Hawk Channel. Her hull quickly flooded to the poopdeck, where crew, soldiers, and passengers sought refuge from the storm. All managed to reach the shore on rafts.

Because San José sank in 30 feet of water, little of her general cargo was recovered in the efforts of divers to save most of the silver coinage on board. Since no portion of the hull remained above the waterline after salvage, San José was not set afire like other wrecks. The wreckage of San José eventually became buried under the sand until 1968 when treasure hunters located some large magnetic anomalies with a magnetometer in 35 feet of water off Tavernier Key. At first, no evidence of the ship was visible on the bottom, but excavation through grass and sand turned up ballast and timbers. For several years they worked on the wreck, exposing a ballast pile 135 feet long, 40 feet wide, and six feet high in some places. At least 23 cannons lay strewn over the site. Two anchors were found on the eastern edge of the wreckage. Some 200 yards to the south, where San José must have originally struck the bottom, they discovered the ship's 25-foot long rudder. Modern salvage of the wreck produced many interesting artifacts, along with inevitable legal disputes.

Today, the wrecksite of San José has become buried again. In 30 feet of water, the site is covered by coarse, white sand littered with disarticulated pieces of ship timbers blown from several excavation holes. Very few ballast stones are visible. Without a substratum for shelter, natural resources are few; however one might see pelagic fish passing through, and even a sea turtle or two.

Location: 24° 56.919'N 80° 29.334'W

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