It's a BIG ocean out there!
Apr 17, 2008
|“It’s a big, big ocean out there.” - Thursday, April 17
“Today’s the day!”
Two quotes from Mel Fisher, the greatest treasure hunter the world has ever known. And today we went to see his museum.
The museum is located in Sebastian, a town on the west side of the Indian River Lagoon, and directly across the Intracoastal Waterway from the McLarty Museum we visited yesterday. Strait across the water they’re only a mile apart, but by land it’s a ten mile drive from Long Point Campground where we spent the night.
During his life Mel Fisher actually created two museums. The other is in Key West, located 40 miles from the site of his greatest find, the 1622 wreck of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Referred to by treasure hunters as ‘the Mother Lode’, the Atocha was thought to be one of the richest treasure ships that ever sailed. Mel Fisher spent some twenty years searching for her, but in finding and salvaging her Mel assured his place in history.
From wrecks like the Atocha, the Santa Margarita and the ships of the Plate Fleet, over the years Fisher and his crews found and recovered treasure valued at nearly half a billion dollars. No other treasure hunter in the world has ever come close to equaling his success - and to this day his children continue the successful search.
In 1963 when Kip Wagner recruited Mel Fisher to help him find the ships of the Plate Fleet, Fisher was already an expert diver and one of the worlds leading pioneers in the art and science of scuba diving. The museum uses video, press clippings, and a dazzling display of artifacts to tell his story, and what a fascinating story it is.
There is also a laboratory where recovered items are documented and restored, and a gift shop where some of the items are for sale. Prices vary from as low as $30 for a coin reproduction struck from one of the recovered silver bars, to $800,000 for a four piece set of diamond and gold jewelry.
We settled for a reproduction of a 1/4 Real. That’s a coin containing 1/4 ounce of silver. By comparison, a 1 Real coin contains a full ounce of silver. Real's were cut out of an eight ounce bar of silver - hence the term ‘pieces of eight’. In 1622, the year the Atocha was lost, the average seaman was paid 1 Real a month in wages. The coins are irregular in shape, so small pieces could be ‘clipped’ or ‘shaved’ off of them without noticeably altering the coin’s appearance. Since the value was in the weight, this lessened the coin’s value and the ‘clipper’ could melt down the chips into an untraceable lump of silver and sell it for a profit. ‘Clipping’ and ‘shaving’ became synonymous for cheating, and are used to this day to describe fraudulent transactions.
Isn’t it wonderful - the stuff we learn on the road? I considered buying the $800,000 set of jewelry. In one of our brochures there was a coupon for 10% off - and it isn’t every day that you have the opportunity to save $80,000! But by not buying it I managed to save the whole $800,000, and that was just too good a deal to pass up.
We left the Fisher Museum in the early afternoon, and spent the next hour and a half driving north again, this time through Cocoa Beach to the town of Cape Canaveral. To get to them we had to re-cross the Intracoastal Waterway again, this time made up of two rivers, the Indian and the Banana. Our destination was a campground known as Jetty Park located at Port Canaveral, and our literature said to ‘follow the signs’. Unfortunately there are no signs to Jetty Park, and finding it is no easy matter, even if you kind of know where to look (on the jetty of course).
A wrong turn took us to the gate of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but we got turned around and finally found the park - tucked in behind the port facilities. And what a find it was! (I felt like Mel Fisher) From our campsite we could see the channel and a big cruise ship was going out. We walked out to the channel and spent the next hour and a half watching another cruise ship go out (the Disney Wonder), and a cargo ship come in (the Lapis Arrow, complete with two tugs and a pilot boat).
The park has beach frontage and a pier over the jetty, and both are inhabited by fearless birds. Brown pelicans and cormorants circle and plunge into the water, flocks of terns line the beach, and a wood stork (yes, I said a wood stork) patrols the pier and coaxes fish out of the fishermen. The stork was so confident it was almost creepy, and I got so close to one of the pelicans I think I could have reached out and petted him.
On the beach I focused my camera on a flock of terns and then walked toward them, hoping to catch them taking off in flight. It works with the seagulls at home, but the terns just kept backing away. I thought I was going to have to go up and nudge one, but they finally reluctantly took off and flew about six feet to a place where they had room to back off again if I followed them. I didn’t. I gave up and called it a day - but what a GREAT day it was!