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

Research Expedition

Preparing for the expeditionThe field survey portion of this project was conducted in Summer 2004 during two and one-half months with a crew of four archaeologists: Dr. Roger Smith, Della Scott-Ireton, Jennifer McKinnon and Jason Raupp. Our field headquarters were located on Lower Matecumbe Key: a central location to all of the shipwrecks. The nearest site was merely a twenty minute boat ride, while the farthest by boat was an hour and a half. Only one shipwreck required that we pull our boats and trailer them to a closer location.

Out in the WaterTo relocate the shipwrecks we utilized GPS numbers extracted from two sources: “Galleon Alley” a book by Robert Weller and “Galleon Hunter” a video by Don Ferguson. In a couple of instances the shipwrecks were even displayed prominently on our preloaded GPS mapping system. Once we were in the general vicinity of the site we used two techniques to pinpoint the locations of the shipwrecks. The first being the tried and true method of towing, and the second utilizing a technique that allows the diver to increase their search area while decreasing their effort expenditure: Scooters. Scooters allowed us to quickly locate and define the site boundaries as some of the wrecks were scattered as far as a couple hundred feet in one direction.

Surveying a location underwater.After locating the shipwrecks, mapping the sites was a relatively straightforward task. We utilized a very simple but effective technique to map the wrecks. Simply explained we used an azimuth with a measuring tape attached and took distances and bearings at ten degree intervals. This method only requires two divers: one to remain stationary holding the azimuth on north and the divers tape on the correct bearing, and the second diver to swim the tape out and map in the details. Low visibility occasionally required a third diver to swim the tape out and make sure it remained straight.

Recording information about a location underwater.Natural and cultural features were mapped including the edges of ballast piles, surrounding grass and sand pockets, ship timbers, large corals, intrusive features, old datum markers, and excavated or disturbed areas. After mapping the sites we returned to our headquarters and began drawing our site plans, plotting the distances and bearings, and downloading photos.

Reviewing information on the deck of the ship.These preliminary site plans were then traced on mylar and taken back down on the site where we ground-truthed the data. Weather days were spent at the headquarters as we sifted through the historical data written about each site. (Data sheet) Data sheets were also created for each wreck that allowed us to access important information at a glance and rank the sites according to their archaeological integrity and opportunities for visitation as part of the 1733 Spanish Galleon Trail.

Discussing the location from the maps.Speaking of weather; there was plenty of it. Just as the Spanish mariners in 1733 were affected by a hurricane, so were we. Four of them to be exact. (Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne) Fortunately none of the four passed directly over us but we certainly felt the effects both above water and below. While we patiently waited for the weather to cooperate we continued to work on our site plans. After the storms passed, the crew headed back out to the sites and continued to map. All in all the fieldwork portion of this project was a great success; we located and surveyed each of the thirteen sites, made several connections with local researchers and managers, and enjoyed ourselves all the while. We hope you enjoy the results.