The Writers Voice
The Women on Whitehead Street
While Jason Pike and Adrian Gorten were getting married, the Raven and the Detroit were making a steady seven knots northeast, up Sir Francis Drake’s channel past Saint Thomas, Saint John, and toward Tortola. Carney and Stogger were standing on the Raven’s stern.
“This is a damn long way to go to shake off that Royal Navy frigate”, Stogger said, obviously irritated.
“Its beautiful here,” Carney observed. The sun was bright and warm, the wind steady, and the scenery was spectacular. Craggy rock and thickly wooded islands dotted a shiny ocean surface. “Besides, I like these waters. And, I know where we can lose that damn limey bloodhound.”
Stogger looked at Carney sharply. “No offense meant,” Carney said.
“I have no love for the Royal Navy either. Just remember we want the goddamn treasure, not a bloody tour of the whole damn Caribbean.”
Right then Carney realized Stogger’s problem. “You’re not a sailor, are you?”
“I’m a soldier by profession; only a buccaneer through necessity. And I like the idea of owning a vast plantation, like the ones I used to see in the Confederacy.”
Carney nodded at the big Englishman. “Sounds good to me.”
Both ships spent the night anchored in Trellis Bay and then sailed the next day for the Bitter End, a small island, just north of Virgin Gorda, the island Christopher Columbus named the Fat Virgin. A trading post was here, and Carney bribed the merchant to pass on false intelligence: that he had taken his two ships across the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, to hide in the Indian Ocean. Then Carney carefully sailed north, through a studied route of treacherous shoals and back northwest, toward the Straits of Florida.
Carney expected the English frigate’s captain to do more than just question the trader. He was hoping the local natives would tell him that they witnessed Carney’s ships sailing north during plain daylight. Should the frigate follow his exact course, she would get her bottom ripped out on the sharp coral reefs lining the narrow channel; only Carney knew it well enough to navigate successfully.
Meanwhile, HMS Hercules was anchored in Road Town’s comfortable harbor at Tortola. Captain Croft had followed Carney’s ships to the Virgin Islands and was taking his officers to the Governor’s House for dinner. The crew was busy loading charcoal and livestock, and would work through the night. Croft expected to sail at dawn, and his men were in a surly mood. They wanted shore leave in the worst way, but Croft knew some of them would disappear if he let them loose in Road Town.
Hercules sailed northeast at sunrise. Lieutenant Frye, Croft’s first officer, had the watch and liked the wind blowing steadily from the south. Frye was a short, lean man with a shy personality, possessed methodical intelligence, and appreciated the quiet, clean efficiency of sailing ships. Frye shivered with excitement when he watched the wind harnessed in Hercules’ expansive canvas mainsail. He didn’t like the big paddle wheels or their casings, that had been added to a formerly sleek Hercules. And the thick smoke from the steam engine’s stack bothered his eyes and troubled his lungs. Consequently, he sent men aloft, a hundred feet up the fore and main masts, to unfurl Hercules’ topsails and royals.
Captain Croft gave his crew a day of liberty at the Baths, on the west side of Virgin Gorda, just south of Little Dix Bay. The sea was calm and it was easy to lower boats and let the crew ashore to get drunk and roast a pig with Jamaican Jerk Spice. Virgin Gorda had no towns and offered so little opportunities for deserters, that Croft expected to get all his men back on board.
“I don’t understand how those boulders got there,” Lieutenant Frye said, lowering his telescope.
“No one does. It is a geologic enigma of the Caribbean basin,” Croft explained. A number of huge, rounded boulders were totally out of place cluttering a sandy beach on Virgin Gorda’s western coast. The result was a series of small pools amongst these giant stones, which the sea freshened with its constant wave action. They were rocks that looked like they had been formed by tumbling water erosion, like giant pebbles that had traveled down some immensely violent river. But they were completely unexplainable on the beach of a quiet Caribbean island.
“Are we going ashore, sir?” Frye asked.
“I am. Order my gig over the side. You’re taking the ship’s launch north to the Bitter End, the anchorage at the northern tip of the island. The wind is right. I want to know if Carney is, or was, there; and I want you back by the morning. Be at it Mr. Frye.”
Lieutenant Frye came back at noon the next day with four wounded, men with deep cuts on the bottoms of their feet. Frye had tried to follow Carney’s treacherous path and grounded his boat on a sandspit. When the men, mostly barefoot, jumped out to push the boat off, they cut their feet on the sharp coral reef the sand had barely covered.
“No matter,” Croft said. “I know where Carney
is going. Plot a course for the Florida Keys. The governor on Tortola sent
us a dispatch from the Admiralty describing a salvage lamb tethered to a
treasure site, and quite proper pickings for the hungry old sea wolves we’re
Wyatt Scott examined his face in the mirror. Two days had passed since Jason Pike assaulted him, and the bruise was slowly healing. Then he peeled back his lip and looked at the fleshy, chewed-up inside of his cheek. He could still taste the blood.
“You wanted to see me, sir,” A. J. Case said, standing in the doorway to Scott’s small office.
“Sit down, Case,” Scott said and turned away from the mirror to look at the lieutenant. “Are you ready to sail?”
“I want to emphasize how important this mission is. Your first priority is to bring the Shenandoah back to Key West. You must not lose your ship. After what happened to Jeffers, we can’t afford another debacle.”
“Sir, are you ordering me not to put my ship in harm’s way?”
“I’m not giving orders, lieutenant, just advice. This is off the record. I’m trying to save your career. Don’t risk the Shenandoah. Keep in mind, this affair is Jason Pike’s idea. He’s setting himself and his well-armed brig as the bait. I suggest you consider not placing yourself between Pike and Carney, but wait until they are engaged. Carney has the Detroit and his own schooner, both well armed. If you try to protect the Sweet Pea, the Raven and the Detroit will concentrate their fire on you and force you to go for position. The brig won’t be able to keep up. You’ll be on your own against a sloop as fast, and armed just as you, and Carney’s big schooner. I propose you let Mr. Pike, his fancy English guns, and Lieutenant Wales’ men wear them down some, before you enter the fray. After all, isn’t the cavalry suppose to rescue the settlers from the Indians in just the nick of time?”
“I understand, sir. I totally see the logic of your advice,” Case said, thoughtfully scratching his long nose.
Scott smiled. Case was an ambitious and cautious young man. He would follow the prudent course.
About thirty miles west of Key West, amongst the Marquesas and in the middle of Hawk’s Channel, Harry told Rhinehart to lower the Sweet Pea’s fore and mainsail.
“We’re here. Drop the anchor,” he said stripping off his shirt and slipping his shoes off. “Please put the two smallest boats over the side.” Rhinehart nodded to Sam Lewis, and his sailors lowered two skiffs to the sea.
“I’m ready, Pappy. My, you are getting fat,” Addie admonished Harry with a bright, dimpled smile.
Harry looked down at his big belly and then to his daughter clad in a scanty swimming outfit. Addie had made it out of white cotton, and it left her long, slender arms and legs bare. “Skinny as you are, I’m surprised you don’t blow away in the wind.”
Harry turned to Jason. “Laddie, I’ll never understand why ya like ‘em with so little meat on their bones.”
Embarrassed, they both went hastily over the side. Sarah was laughing at Harry and the marines were admiring Addie’s figure. It was refreshing, Jason thought, to see Addie acting shy, just because she was in her underwear in front of two dozen healthy, young men.
Harry and Addie each took one rowboat, one Asbury to row, and diving goggles. They both spread out from the Sweet Pea to look for the wreck. Jason suspected Harry knew this was the wreck site because of the two coral and sand atolls several hundred yards north of their position. Harry had been watching the tiny islands all morning while they sailed west in Hawk’s Channel, triangulating on their position, and advising Rhinehart of the direction to steer.
Addie had told Jason how she forced Harry to describe to her exactly what the treasure looked like. She swam like a fish and could hold her breath underwater longer than anyone Jason ever knew; consequently, she was the best qualified to look for the treasure.
Rhinehart dropped the anchor and they waited as the Gortens and the Asburys rowed around the ship, stopping to dive about every thirty yards. “Seems a rather inefficient way of looking for treasure on the bottom of the sea,” Pip, the engineer, said. “What about using the diving bell?” They were standing at the stern watching out to sea and occasionally observing Addie or Harry as they came up for a breath.
“It’s shallow here and the water is clear. If there is anything on the bottom, they can see it just by swimming down twenty feet,” Rhinehart said.
“Addie can free-swim down forty or fifty feet,” Sarah added. “Sleek and muscular, she cuts the water like a barracuda.”
An hour later Harry popped up out of the sea and shouted, “I’ve found her; she’s down there.” Addie immediately had Miles row to join her father. She dove over the side, and when she surfaced ninety seconds later, Jason watched through the telescope as she waved for them to come.
“Captain, move the Sweet Pea over there,” Jason ordered, pointing. The boiler had steam up, so Rhinehart chose to use a longboat to carry a kedge anchor to the site; and the ship was effortlessly winched there at a reliable four knots.
Addie was wet and tired when she climbed up the rope ladder to the Sweet Pea’s gunnel. She literally fell into Jason’s arms as he stood on the deck, and Addie breathlessly said, “She’s down there. Pappy was right.” Then Addie looked around at all the questioning faces staring at her, the whole crew–sailors and marines, and she shouted, “There is a six-foot high ridge of coral-encrusted silver on the bottom, right under us. There’s enough treasure for everyone; we’re all rich!” And the entire crew cheered.
Rhinehart ordered, “Drop a stern anchor.” The German captain crossed his arms on his chest with satisfaction, and said formally, “Chief Lewis, send your lads aloft, furl the jib, fore and main topgallents and royals, and the spanker. Secure the steam engine. Gentlemen, we have arrived at our destination.”
Jason took Addie below to their cabin and peeled off her wet cottons, to wash her all over with a sponge and fresh water. Then he rubbed her down with a thick towel and tucked her in for a well-deserved nap. “You did well, Addie,” Jason said, sitting by her.
“Give me a kiss, commodore.” Addie smiled, putting a hand on the back of his neck and pulling him down toward her.
Above, the marines used the ship’s boats to move themselves, their supplies, and all the livestock–chickens, goats, and pigs–to Stone Atoll, one of the sandspits just north of the dive site. Crawford Wales’ command would be right at hand, but not cluttering up the decks of the Sweet Pea, while they worked the wreck.
The next morning Addie asked Jason, “Are you sure you want to do this?” They were in a small boat tied up to the Sweet Pea, while the diving bell was hanging from the cargo boom just over the surface of the sea. “I’ll follow you down,” Jason said.
Jason pulled the goggles over his eyes and tumbled over the side. Addie looked up at Rhinehart, on the quarterdeck, and waved her arm in a circular motion. The diving bell started down slowly. “As soon as the bell hits the surface, we get inside. Ready, Jase?” Jason saluted in response. Even commodores had bosses.
When the bell reached the water, Jason swam over two strokes, grabbed the edge and pushed himself under the surface and up into the sinking bell. Addie came in right next to him. Jason could see Addie easily because of the porthole midway up the bell, and there was ample light reflected through the water from under the bell. Jason reached forward, touched Addie’s shoulder, and she lightly kicked him in the thigh while treading water. Addie smiled vampishly.
Then she got serious. “Open the lower ballast valve behind you. I’ll open the top valve. Let’s see how she sits in the water with the ballast open to the sea.”
Addie climbed the ladder on the inside of the bell and turned the ballast lever. Jason saw she was smiling as she held onto the ladder mounted to the side of the bell. Just above Jason was a ring around the inside, and there was a variety of salvage tools hanging from the hooks coming off this ring. Lower down was the rack of spears for fending off predators. Next to the weapons was the rectangular porthole, six inches high and fourteen wide.
The Jellyfish settled in the water, as both ballast valves were opened, and the ocean entered between the bell’s double walls. She stabilized half underwater.
“The air inside is keeping us afloat. We need more weight,” Jason said. Addie’s solution was twenty-pound sand bags hung on the bottom outer ring of the Jellyfish. The bags, two at a time, were lowered to them from the Sweet Pea, and Jason hung them on opposite sides of the bell. Very soon the whole bell was submerged and stable.
“Negative buoyancy,” Addie said, and they started a slow descent to the sandy bottom. Addie showed Jason how to clear his ears, by holding his nose and increasing the air pressure in his mouth and throat. “There is a tube between your throat and middle ear,” she explained. That seemed unlikely to Jason, but her method worked. “Always breath steadily whether we are going up or down.”
When they were close to the bottom, Addie put on her goggles and dropped down into the water. Several seconds later her head broke the surface inside the bell, and she told Jason to stop the descent. He reached up and tugged on the lever once. This lever was attached to a rope leading back up to the ship. One tug meant to halt the movement either up or down. The bell stopped its downward movement about three feet from the bottom. Addie handed Jason a crowbar. “Take a couple deep breaths and let’s go, sport,” she said enthusiastically. “There’s a treasure to raise.”
The actual effort of working the wreck site was exhausting and no fun at all. Using a crowbar to pry heavy chunks of silver loose from a reef and loading them into a basket tends to use up the air in your lungs quickly; frequent trips back to the Jellyfish were called for. Yet, it was a rewarding experience when Addie tugged on the basket’s line, and the first load of silver was hoisted up to the surface.
Addie and Jason took turns diving with the Asbury brothers for several days, to familiarize both of them with the Jellyfish. The brothers felt comfortable in the water and were not claustrophobic in the bell. They started regular diving operations the next week, and the progress was steady and profitable for the first several weeks.
Jason had set up a scheduled delivery of supplies with John Lowe’s company. Lowe already had a ship running up the Gulf coast of Florida every week or so. They brought livestock, vegetables, citrus, and most important, fresh water. The livestock stayed ashore with the marines, until they were ready to butcher a calf, pig, or several chickens.
Nick McSwain elected to stay on as resident fisherman. He said he wanted to see this adventure through to the end, and he would make lobster and crab traps to help feed the crew. “I’ll earn my keep,” he said, also expecting a share of the treasure, of course.
The salvage routine was planned and all hands were briefed and knew their jobs. The first step was firing up the boiler, which Harry did every morning at seven. Sarah and Addie served breakfast at eight. By nine, the Asbury lads went down for an hour and a half session of prying silver bars from the treasure embankment.
They raised four bars at a time in a basket, and the crew stowed them in the aft hold under lock and key. The lads managed an average of twelve to sixteen bars per session. They came up at ten-thirty to rest, and lunch was usually served at eleven‑thirty. The Asbury lads went back down from one to two‑thirty for more silver bars off the pile.
From three to four Addie had the Jellyfish; and Jason usually came along with her. He was starting to enjoy what Addie called ‘scrounging for artifacts’. They swam along the base and top of the silver reef, poking and digging up the loose sand looking for whatever might be there. Addie found pottery and tools and the true treasures of the wreck: bracelets and chains, rings, necklaces, and pendants–all soft, bright gold with emeralds the size of marbles.
They ended the day’s diving between four and four‑thirty. If rough weather appeared to be approaching, then the bell was lifted onto the main deck, to be lashed down for safe keeping.
During the evenings, Addie painted or worked on one of her French dolls. Sarah usually conducted a literature or Bible class for the younger members of the crew. It was important that the crew not get bored or lose interest in the salvage project. Often, Lieutenant Mackenzie, Pip, or Jason delivered a lecture on a military, historical, or scientific topic. And Addie gave a sketching lesson one night.
One morning after breakfast, Sarah became very upset. She was standing at the rail looking north, at Stone Atoll, through Rhinehart’s telescope. “Jase, get over here right now,” she yelled. “Look,” she said handing him the telescope.
The marines were lying on the small beach and swimming in the nude. Jason gave the glass back to Sarah and started to walk away.
“Aren’t you going to stop them?”
“No. But I’ll have someone row you over there, if you want.” Sarah blushed and gave Jason a frustrated expression, but put the telescope back to her eye.
Late in July, John Lowe’s weekly supply packet also brought Juan Geraldo Montez’s report from Seville, Spain. Jason looked through the bulky envelope in their cabin and turned to Sarah and Addie. “May we have a lecture, from you two, about the Atocha, to set the historical background for the crew,” Jason asked.
“Oh. This is wonderful,” Addie said, engrossed in examining the books, maps, and manuscripts. “We’ll deliver a lecture, as soon as we read everything,”
“Exactly, I want you to be interesting and entertaining, as well as informative. Let’s see if we can get our people really involved in this effort with some enthusiasm that is not just profit-motivated.” Sarah and Addie nodded eagerly, and were ready for their history class by the end of the week.
While the crew gathered on the main deck, the marines came aboard and they all sat cross‑legged under the light of half a dozen oil lamps as Addie and Sarah, the diver and the teacher, delivered their lecture from the quarterdeck.
“We intend to tell you about times gone by,” Sarah started off, “About the ship laden with silver on the bottom right under us. Why the Spaniards were mining the wealth of the New World, and why these riches were so important to their cause.
“You all know Martin Luther was the priest who started the Protestant Reformation in 1521, when he disputed Rome’s immoral rule of the Christian world, all of Europe. Before Luther, there were many clerics and commoners alike that were unhappy with the style of Rome’s dominion; but Luther succeeded in starting a revolution, because between 1450 and 1520 there had been a succession of particularly licentious and venal popes. Consequently, men of good conscience all over Northern Europe rose in rebellion, not against God or Christ, but against Rome. All of the Scandinavian countries, Holland, and Northern Germany fought and won theological independence from the Catholic Church and the Catholic nobles’ secular rule.
“By 1600 Northern Europe was Protestant and Southern Europe was still under Rome’s religious control. But this was a turning point: Christopher Columbus had introduced Europe to the Caribbean, and the Indians innocently let the Spanish know about the silver, gold, and emeralds available here. After that the Indians’ fate was sealed. The Spaniards quickly sent expeditions under Cortez and Pizarro to conquer Mexico and Peru and steal their treasure for shipment to Spain. The Spanish, with their cannons and muskets, easily enslaved the Indians and put them to mining as much wealth as possible from their lands to send home. A hundred years of colonization, the whole 16th century, gave the Spanish a very efficient system for looting the wealth of the Indies, Central, and South America.
“The balance of power in Europe shifted because of this influx of wealth to the Spanish Hapsburgs and their allies: the Italians, and the Austrians. They attempted the re‑conquest of the German city‑states for Catholicism at best. At the least, they hoped to halt the spread of this Protestant heresy farther south into their domains. To fund this religious war, the flow of precious metals from the new world was vital.
“In the Caribbean, the Spanish had set up their headquarters at Havana. In the year of our Lord, 1616, they commissioned the building of four armed galleons by Captain Alonso Ferrera’s
shipyard,” Sarah said and left the podium.
Addie took her place and continued the lecture. “Sarah set the period. I’m going to tell you about the Atocha,” Addie started off. “The new ships were thirty‑three feet abeam and one hundred and ten feet long. These galleons would draw fourteen feet of depth and carry square-rigged sails fore and main, with a mizzen rigged for a lateen sail.
“Our Lady of Atocha–Nuestra Señora de Atocha–carried twenty brass cannon, five heavy anchors, and one launch. The anchors and fastenings came from Vizcaya. The spars and rigging came from Flanders and Germany. The cannon were Spanish cast, and bought from the House of Trade in Seville.
“On her maiden voyage, the Atocha’s mainmast broke in half and she returned to Havana, perhaps a small foreboding of what was to come. The mast was replaced, and the ship sailed again for Spain. She arrived at Guadalquivir, port of Seville, at the end of 1620. Her first cargo to the Caribbean consisted of Andalusian wine, Flemish cloth, jars of olive oil, and hundreds of boxes of mercury. Can anyone guess what the mercury was for?” Addie asked.
“The refining of silver,” Pip said quickly.
“Oh! I forgot about you,” she wagged her finger at the resident engineer. “The Atocha was part of the Tierra Firme Fleet and crossed the Atlantic, stopping at Dominica, Maracaibo, Santa Marta, Cartagena, and finally Portobello on the coast of Panama. Here, caravans of mules brought in the silver from the mines of Potosi, from Panama City, from Peru, and even as far away as Chili. The South Seas Fleet came up the Pacific coast of South America bringing her share to the gateway of Panama. When the wealth of Spanish Central America was collected at Portobello they held a great trade festival.
“The Manilla Fleet crossed the Pacific to land at Acapulco with cargos of china, porcelain, and silk. These goods were transported to Veracruz, where they were loaded on the New Spain Fleet for the short journey to Havana.
“Tons of silver were loaded on the Atocha and the other galleons of the fleet at Portobello. Most belonged to Philip IV, King of Spain, but considerable private treasure was also on board, oh, and smuggled wealth too. The Spaniards back then gave the king his due, but they all withheld treasure from the manifests submitted to the tax officials. And specifically, the jewelry and gems were the easiest items to hide. There could be a lot more down there than the manifests show.” Addie finished with raised eyebrows and a knowing glance around her audience.
Sarah moved to the lectern and opened her notes. “The treasure fleet left Portobello July 22, 1622, and returned to Cartagena for more treasure, mostly gold; and then north to Havana, where they arrived August 22, and running behind schedule.” Sarah paused and looked around. “We all know the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
“The Marquis de Cadereita, commanding the Fleet, ordered them to hurry the loading of additional treasure. For the Atocha, 582 slabs of copper from the mines of Cuba were loaded aboard the already heavy, and crowded ship.
“The Marquis, the other fleet officials, and the Havana government met to discuss a sailing date for the Tierra Firme Fleet. This was a complex discussion with many conflicting concerns. The first, and very real, concern was sailing in the middle of the hurricane season. But if they waited and sailed in the fall, they would come into the North Atlantic during the worst of the winter storm season. The safest course of action was to wait and sail for Spain in the spring.
“These were the choices the Marquis had to weigh in his mind when considering the safety of so many people and so much of his realm’s wealth. Factors compelling him to sail at the earliest date were: the building interest on debts, merchants waiting impatiently for overdue payments, and passengers–ignorant of the sea–but eager to get home.
“And these were desperate times. Spain was fighting and financing a terribly hard pressed war, for their faith, in Southern Germany. Spain, back then, was no different than we are in our century,” Sarah said philosophically. “She spent whatever revenues she raised and easily went into debt to back reckless military ventures.
“No one knows exactly why the Marquis decided to sail. Most likely, I think he knew the pressing need for his cargo in Spain, and hoped, or believed, God would watch over his ships. The fleet sailed September 4th, 1622. Addie will detail the demise of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita,” Sarah said sadly.
“Let’s take a break. Harry, offer up a rum ration,” Jason suggested, “before we hear about the end of this unfortunate journey.”
Jason walked over to stand next to Pip and Mackenzie. “The ladies are doing a bloody detailed job of it. I feel like I’m sailing with all those poor bloody beggars,” Pip said.
Mackenzie nodded, “Me too; sad story.”
Jason lit a thin cigar for himself and gave another to Mackenzie. “They died with a lot of money. That’s always been an important goal,” he commented.
Addie cleared her throat and said, “The fleet was twenty‑eight ships, galleons and smaller vessels, all hoping there was safety in numbers. And, like Sarah said, they trusted in God, perhaps a little too much or too often.
“The fleet sailed northeast for the Florida Keys and the gulf stream which would take them out into the Atlantic. But just the next day, the seas grew rough and the wind gusted to gale force. When the skies grew dark, the fleet knew they were in trouble. Some of the ships started to lose their masts, and all the ships had to reduce sail. Rudders were smashed away by the massive seas, and ships lost the ability to steer in the savage fury of the growing storm. Some ships fell behind and were lost from sight. The Nuestra Señora de La Consolacion capsized in full view of the Atocha, and there was nothing they could do to help their drowning comrades.
“Imagine the sense of helplessness and fear those people must have experienced. Sometimes all our pride and power, the machines we build, are nothing; just dust in the wind before the onslaught of the dark horseman that nature occasionally unleashes upon us.” Addie paused for a breath and looked around at her silent but attentive audience; all eyes were wide and everyone was waiting for her next word.
“By sundown Monday, September 5th, each ship was on its own in the fight for survival against the hurricane. On the ships with priests, they began to hear confessions. Catholics believe that to die unconfessed means that their soul will wander in purgatory for all eternity.
“That night, the wind shifted and was from the south. Most of the fleet was past the danger of grounding in the Tortugas, ironically, where we peacefully lay at anchor right now. But five of the fleet were irresistably born toward the reefs of the keys, so feared by Spanish mariners. Come Tuesday morning, both the Atocha and the Santa Margarita were destined to crash into Tortuga’s shoals and be split open. The storm was raging, most of the crew and all the passengers were below. Hands on deck had tied themselves to the masts, and all were praying for their lives and more importantly, for their very souls.
“There were eyewitness accounts of the Atocha’s grounding on the reef, but I don’t wish to go into all the tragic details. All of the crew and passengers were lost, except for five sailors
clinging to the mizzen mast, still above water as the hull lay smashed on the reef below. They were rescued Tuesday by a small ship, the Santa Cruz.
“The fleet returned to Havana. Repairs were started on the ships and the commanders met for a conference on September 12th. Obviously they were upset. Five hundred and fifty people were drowned and a huge fortune lost. They decided to start salvage efforts before the location of the wrecks became common knowledge. Spain had a lot of rivals in the Caribbean in the 1620s.
“The Marquis de Cadereita commissioned Gaspar de Vargas, an experienced old sailor, to find and salvage the three lost galleons: the Atocha, the Santa Margarita and the Rosario. Meanwhile, the survivors from the Rosario were struggling against thirst, hunger and the relentless sun on Loggerhead Key, a short distance from where their galleon had grounded on a reef.
“Gaspar de Vargas was led to the protruding mizzenmast of the sunken Atocha by Bartolome Lopez, whose small ship also survived the massive storm. Vargas sent divers down; but they couldn’t get access to the holds of the Atocha because the hatches were intact, clamped, and lashed tightly. Vargas needed explosives to blow apart the hull, to lay the treasure open for
“Vargas sailed west and found the Rosario and her survivors. But Vargas was more concerned with the Rosario than her crew and passengers. First, he burned the dead ship to her waterline and hoisted all her wealth of silver and copper plus the Rosario’s guns on his own ship.
“On October 5th, another devastating hurricane struck the keys. Vargas’ salvage effort was close to completion, but his men and the survivors of the Rosario sought what meager high ground they could find on Loggerhead Key as a new storm raged about them.
“This early October storm also ripped the hull of the Atocha away from it’s ballast of silver and copper and carried it every which way, at the whims of this latest storm.
“Sarah will finish up about what we learned of the earliest attempts to salvage these wrecks,” Addie said, somewhat distracted.
“Are you all right?” Jason whispered in her ear putting his arm around her.
“Yes, I just had a chill for a few moments. A cold feeling enters me when I think about those cheerless days so long ago.”
“While the Spanish mobilized a salvage effort in the Caribbean,” Sarah said. “There was financial turmoil at home. Knowledge of the tragedy reached Spain during February, 1623. The Spanish treasure systems’ agents were bankrupt. The merchants of Seville asked the king to suspend claims from their creditors. And Philip IV’s government was devastated without the revenue from the fleet.
“Meanwhile in the Caribbean the Marquis de Cadereita had sailed from Havana, at the end of February, to take personal charge of the salvage effort. Consequently, the small circular group of atolls where they camped came to be named after the Marquis, Cayos del Marque’s--Keys of the Marquis.
“Vargas was having little luck raising treasure, even with experienced free-swimming pearl divers. The rough weather, over fifty feet of depth, and shifting sands were proving too tough a combination of opponents. The Spanish salvors worked through the summer, but found nothing else from the Atocha or Santa Margarita. Finally Vargas and his crew gave up and went home.
“The next effort to raise treasure came three years later. Francisco Nunez Melian was a well-connected entrepreneur, who contracted with the Havana government to search for and raise the treasure. Melian had maps prepared by Vargas’ associates, and a bronze diving bell equipped with a window.
“During June, 1626, Melian brought up a silver bar from the Santa Margarita. An extensive examination of the site convinced Melian the old enemy of shifting sand and the Santa Margarita’s own ballast were the greatest impairment to the salvage effort.
“Melian recruited a larger force of ships, sailors, and divers at Havana and set up a campsite on the Marquesas. And this endeavor was very successful; Melian’s crew recovered over sixty‑four thousand silver coins, silver ingots, copper slabs, and eight bronze cannons.
“At the end of the summer of 1626, Melian was recalled to Havana to include what he had brought up with that year’s fleet, again sailing at an inopportune time.” Sarah looked up and shook her head back and forth. “I swear; men, and more often institutions, never learn from their past mistakes,” she drawled and everyone laughed, except a few who realized what they were supposed to laugh at.
“Aside from the habit of trying to sail to Europe during hurricane season; these were bad times for Spain. King Philip owed huge amounts to his creditors. In France, Cardinal Lucon de la Richelieu ascended to Minister of State for a weak King Louis XIII and proved to be more a Frenchman than a loyal Catholic. Richelieu aligned France with the Protestant North against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.
“Just as threatening were the Dutch mariners. Holland’s industrious seafarers were attacking Spanish interests in the Philippines, Pacific Mexico, and challenging Portuguese Brazil.
In 1628 the Dutch admiral, Piet Hein, with thirty warships, captured the whole treasure fleet right off the coast of Cuba. Despite their large well‑armed ships, the Spaniards couldn’t beat the Dutch in a pitched sea battle, anymore than they could the English.
“1629, for Melian, was similar to 1628. The salvage effort was harassed by the Dutch, and not a great deal of treasure was raised. But Melian finally received the high office he had been campaigning for: he was named governor of Venezuela. So the Spanish made yet another foolish mistake. They promoted their most successful treasure salvor out of his job.
“Spain’s fortunes sank as the wars of the Counter Reformation went against her. When Sweden joined the Protestant cause under the leadership of her energetic warrior king, Gustavus Adolphus, Spain’s chances dropped further. The Spanish province of Catalonia chose the opportunity to revolt, and Portugal also won her independence from Spain.
“In the Caribbean, England captured Jamaica and Barbados from Spain. The Dutch set up on Curacao. Now pirates as well as storms ravaged Spanish trade in the Caribbean. Spain’s prestige lessened as her hegemony in Europe and the Caribbean shrank up.
“The great schism in the Christian Church was now permanent, and Spain, once destined to rule the world, was no longer a great power. The mineral wealth of the Spanish Caribbean had been squandered on dreams of conquest and was now exhausted. Except, of course, for a long forgotten galleon, which now rests below us.
“I pray to God in Heaven,” Sarah pleaded, “that we make better use of this treasure, than those who came before us, and those who threaten us now with more devil‑made plans of conquest and slavery. May God protect us!” she said strongly, almost as if it were a demand and not a request. “Let us observe a moment of silence in respect for the two hundred and sixty souls who perished with the sinking of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
“Questions?” Sarah asked, after the short silence of bowed heads. Addie moved out from under Jason’s arm to join her at the center of the quarterdeck rail.
“Lassie,” Nick McSwain asked. “Are you suggesting this cargo we’re raising is cursed by the dearly departed, or possibly even God?”
The women put their heads together to whisper, and Sarah said, “No and yes. No, there is no specific supernatural curse to the lost treasure that lies beneath us.”
“But,” Addie took over, “Yes, there is the eternal and universal curse of what greed does to men’s souls, when gold and silver are within their grasp.”
“And women, too,” Jason voiced. “Your half of the species is not immune to a fondness for gems and jewelry.”
Jason’s comment brought on much nodding and applause from the audience. “The commodore has a point,” Addie admitted, as Sarah threw Jason a nasty glance. “Any other questions?”
“Why did the Spaniards fail in the Caribbean?” Miles Asbury
asked. “Why were they different from the other Europeans, whose colonies thrived and were not in continual revolt, like those the Spaniards settled?”
“Most Europeans came to colonize the New World; the Spaniards came to plunder it,” Addie explained. “The people that crossed the Atlantic from France, Holland, and England often came to avoid persecution: Puritans from England and the Huguenots of France. Some came to avoid debtor’s prison or as indentured servants. Others came, aristocrats, second and third sons of titled nobles whose estates and title must pass to the first born. They came to birth new dynasties. But, rich or poor, they all came to the New World for a fresh start in life.
“The men of Spain and Portugal came here for the same reason men go to sea. They wanted to acquire wealth, so they could go home and retire to a comfortable estate. They felt no sense of guilt for enslaving the Indians, because they knew they would leave it all behind. The Spaniards left no roots, only mestizo and mulatto bastards, and a legacy of social and political turmoil in Central and South America that has lasted until our time and probably for well into the future.”
There were no more questions and the assemblage broke up quietly, as the crew contemplated the death and despair long associated with the treasure of the Atocha.
On the nights when they had no educational recreation planned, the crew spent the evening chiseling encrusted coral off of silver ingots. There was no more popular enterprise than cleaning the silver bars and coins. Jason explained to everyone they were adopting the British navy’s prize system for the treasure: every member of the crew was going to get a share appropriate to their rank.
On windy and rainy nights, they all stayed below. The crew in their quarters in the fo’c’sle, supervised by Chief Lewis and subjected to Nick McSwain’s crusty stories about the good ole’ days and the Seminole Indian Wars. Jason billeted Mackenzie and Pip in a tent just behind the main mast. Subalterns were usually nervous, light sleepers and exactly what Jason wanted on deck, amidships on moonless nights.
Addie and Jason spent rainy evenings in their cabin, usually with Sarah’s company. She read poetry, and occasionally, when Sarah found a particularly meaningful passage; she subjected Addie and Jason to a reading. Jason spent these evenings sitting at the small wall‑mounted desk, reading or working on business, both the present salvage endeavor and work that Sam Meeker sent him regarding Pike Ltd.
When Jason was bored, he brought out his chest of firearms from under the large bed. The guns needed to be cleaned and oiled on a regular basis. This procedure always distracted both Addie and Sarah from their activities and drew them into conversation.
“You know you always change our mood when you start playing with your guns,” Sarah said one wet night.
“I know; but the pirates are going to come one day and we should be ready. I’ve got a pistol I want you to start practicing with tomorrow, Sarah.” Jason handed her a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber, double-action revolver. “Remember, you said you wanted to learn to shoot.”
Sarah handled and examined the pistol delicately, as her eyes swelled with tears. “Because of my Bruce,” she said, “and only because of his memory, will I use this weapon to defend myself against his murderers. I pray Jesus may forgive me.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Jason said. “And you agree to practice enough to become competent with it, right?” Jason asked, wanting a definite commitment.
“I already made my pledge,” Sarah said. “Addie, here, this one must be for you.” Sarah picked up the second .38 pistol in the gun case and handed it to Addie.
Addie took the pistol and checked the cylinder to see the gun was unloaded, and then she inspected the barrel. “I’ll shoot anyone who assaults my person; I have no problem with defending myself.”
“But, I want you to practice as well,” Jason told her.
Addie glared at Jason. “You want me to get so I can shoot bottles off a fence post at ten yards, Jase. Can’t you wait until I have a son, and as he grows, you can teach him to be a gunfighter.”
That was very nasty and uncalled for, Jason thought. “I tried to get both of you to go to Mobile, even offered you a trip to Europe, but you wanted to come along. Well, this is my show and you both are my responsibility. There will be regular practice with your pistols every other day after breakfast. I’ll set up your targets, probably bottles in the sea bobbing at ten yards,” he said to Addie.
She threw the pistol down and turned away. Jason left the cabin and climbed the companionway to pace the quarterdeck, troubled and divided in his purpose, as he looked out over the calm sea.
Addie came up behind Jason and put her arms around him. “You’re such a tough guy, Jase. Won’t you try to understand the rest of us?” she asked.
“I understand all about everybody, Addie. That’s the only thing you don’t like about me. I just want you and Sarah to learn to shoot pistols well enough to protect yourselves when Carney comes.”
“All right, I suppose that’s reasonable. Come back to our cabin. Come back to me, tonight,” Addie asked and Jason couldn’t resist her. They went below, arm in arm. Despite Addie’s apprehensions about the expected confrontation, Jason was pleased she still wanted to hungrily make love all night long.
Those were rewarding days for all of them. Jason knew it was the calm before the proverbial storm. Their divers were averaging a ton of silver a day. Soon enough, Carney would come for his share. If he came with his swift schooner, armed with decent, new cannons and Jeffers’ captured sloop, run by Stogger and his crew, they would be in for a hard fight. The timing of the battle was critical; and Jason hoped A. J. Case and the Shenandoah were right at hand.
One morning, Miles Asbury was unable to dive, because of an ear infection, and Jason took his place for the salvage routine. He went looking for Nolan and found him in the hold talking to Harry near the boiler. Jason assumed Harry was teaching him some facet of the boiler’s operation, when he walked over to them.
“Always remember, the only thing a good dog can’t do, that a woman can do,” Harry said, “is bury a bone without digging a hole.”
“C’mon Nolan. Time to go under,” Jason said. “Harry, glad to see you’re teaching the young men what they need to know.”
Harry smiled. “They need to know how to play hide the sausage.”
Jason and Nolan had been on the bottom working the wreck for an hour when a fifteen foot tiger shark came prowling around, attracted by the commotion of divers, the Jellyfish, and the movement of the treasure basket up and down. Jason was trying to pry a sixty-pound hunk of silver loose from the pile on the bottom when he looked up to see the sleek, grayish-white monster effortlessly glide by, just ten feet above him and Nolan. Jason tapped Nolan and pointed up at the fish and then to the bell. They both swam right in, pulling themselves up the sides, until their feet were out of the water on the six inch ledge around the inside bottom of the bell.
“Jesus Christ, Almighty!” Nolan shouted, getting close to real panic.
“Calm down and grab a spear. Just a damn fish,” Jason reassured Nolan. They had several short steel spears in a rack on the side of the bell. Nolan had been trained to jab a shark or barracuda that poked up into the bell from the open bottom.
“A big damn fish! Let’s get the hell out of here,” Nolan said. Jason reached up and worked the dive lever, so they would raise the Jellyfish.
While working the wreck site, they kept the bell at three feet off the sand, too little space for a large shark to get under and up at them with chomping jaws. But Jason chose ascent, because he panicked just a bit himself. The shark was circling the bell; and down here, in his world, Jason felt himself to be the helpless intruder.
The bell jerked and started up. The water level dropped and then climbed back. They rose slowly and the expanding air pushed the water level down. “Keep breathing,” Jason told a panicky Nolan. “Holding your breath, while ascending in the bell, will kill you just as much as doing it outside, in the water. Keeping pressurized air in your lungs while the ambient pressure drops and internal volume increases, as we rise, will cause an embolism, and you’ll burst a lung. Nolan, you’ll drown in your own blood,” Jason lectured.
“What the hell are you talking about? That fucking shark is gonna eat us!” Nolan screamed, trying to claw his way higher up the bell.
When they were halfway to the surface the shark passed right under them, his fin striking the bottom of the bell. Nolan’s face was white. “You ain’t payin’ me enough for this,” his voice terrified.
Jason held a spear down and in front of himself. “If that big bast . . .” And the monster charged right up into the bottom of the bell. An open, wide, lusting mouth with rows of sharpened bone teeth and soulless, hungry eyes–black as death–the shark was looking about for a meal. Jason jabbed down, right into the monster’s snout. Nolan did the same. The shark snorted, shaking back and forth, spraying blood all over them, and then disappeared down through the bloody water.
Nolan and Jason each grabbed another spear. “He better not come back. I’m gonna try for an eye, if he does!” Nolan said, breathing deeply, and pumped up, anxious to strike again–his fear forgotten. Then they heard muffled gunshots through ten feet of water.
“The shark must have surfaced and is drawing rifle fire from above,” Jason said.
“How we gonna get out of this damn thing?”
“We’ll have ‘em lift us right onto the ship. The worst is over.” And they stayed glued to the inside of the bell until it came to rest on three 4" X 4" beams set across the top of the forward hold. Jason and Nolan dropped down into the hold, hot from the steam boiler just aft of them.
Addie put her arms around Jason and he explained, “I saw the shark and we got in the bell before he started eating us.”
“He. You’re jumping to conclusions, Jase. The hungriest shark is usually a pregnant female. I’m relieved to see you have all your necessary parts.”
“Addie, it would be quite demeaning to my ego, if I was dismembered by a girl,” Jason laughed.
“Jase, can you come up here?” Harry called from the main deck. Jason got a shirt and pants from his cabin and joined Harry, Mackenzie, McSwain, and Rhinehart on the quarterdeck.
“Didn’t you like her hospitality, laddie?” Harry asked.
“That shark damn near tried to bite off my pecker,” Jason responded, using the dialect of a Texas cowboy, talking as if a rattler came up on him when he was indisposed, trying to poop on the open range.
Mackenzie laughed. “Jason, you are the most amusing rich person I have ever met.”
“I know. I haven’t had that much practice. Give me ten years and I’ll be very stuffy.”
Then Jason said to McSwain, “You’re the fisherman! Get that damn thing on a hook. Use the capstan to reel it in, so we can shoot it.”
“Aye.” McSwain used a big hook and large chunks of turtle meat for bait. The shark circled the Sweet Pea once and came for the turtle steak. The line jerked out of McSwain’s hand, and the shark ran with it. Harry let out three hundred yards of line, before the shark stopped running. Then he started the winch and used the capstan like a fishing rod. He let the monster fight and then run, when it was strong and willing. Then the capstan pulled it back in when the shark tried to rest.
After an hour of sea battle, Rhinehart commented, “This would take all day without the machine you brought.”
“I feel sorry for that shark, fighting it’s life out to an exhausted finish on the end of a rope and hook,” Jason said. “The crew doesn’t even have to work up a sweat.”
Rhinehart shrugged and laughed. “Not chivalrous enough for you? Why don’t you go spearfishing again?” That thought sent shivers down Jason’s spine.
Another hour and they had the gray monster on it’s last fifty feet of rope. The giant shark pitched and pulled on the line, the large hook embedded in it’s massive jawbone. The creature died with no mercy from the Sweet Pea’s crew. When it flapped to the surface, twisting and straining against the rope, Lewis’ sailors fired their rifles repeatedly into the shark. Sharp black holes appeared in the monster’s head and side, and the wounds started to ebb blood. The shark tried to dive, but the steam engine hauled it back to the surface; and the men on deck fired a fresh volley into the bloody beast, when it surfaced for the last time. After another twenty minutes of squirming, weakening death the beast was finished, but the area had filled with many smaller sharks circling the Sweet Pea. The tiger shark’s carcass was torn apart, and devoured in a feeding frenzy.
“An easy kill this time,” Addie said standing next to Jason. “When will Carney come?”
“Any time now.” Jason pulled on a cigar and enjoyed the fresh breeze after the gory fight. “We’ve got what they want: tons of silver, hundreds of pounds of gold, and a chest of emeralds.”
That night, after a light dinner and everyone had gone to bed, Jason and Addie took a dip in the sea. Addie dropped her clothes on their private gallery, pushed the rope ladder over the side, and stepped off to drop into the ocean. Jason followed, and when he bobbed to the surface next to her and grabbed the ladder, Addie held him about the waist. Between the two of them naked, there was not much floatation.
“You spend all day working in the water. Aren’t you afraid you’ll shrivel up like . . .”
”Don’t say it,” Addie interrupted. “A prune! That’s what you were gonna say. I told you never to use that word in my presence. And, by the way,” Addie held his shoulders and let her slender form float to the surface. Her cute backside broke water like two perfectly formed, small, twin mounds of white sand. “If your digestive tract ever needs prunes to keep up your daily gastric operations, then you’re too old for me; and I’ll drop you like a hot potato.”
Jason reached forward and drew her back to him, and she grasped at his body eagerly. “You’re not ready,” she said disappointed.
“There’s more to life than just lust, you vamp.”
“Are you tired, Jase?” She scowled. The moon was full, and Addie’s lovely and curious face was displayed by a silver sheen the night’s bright mistress always cast across a calm sea, on a clear night.
Jason clasped her closer; and they kissed deeply, while holding onto the rope ladder at the stern of the Sweet Pea. “I love you, Addie,” Jason said.
“I know you do. And I love you so intensely I feel it in the marrow of my bones. I feel the sensation every time I look at you. When I snuggle my head on your shoulder and smell your scent, your strength, your vitality,” then with a sense of urgency, “Where is your vitality?” Addie asked, consternation obvious on her curious, lovely face.
“Relax, Addie. I want tonight to be special, slow and easy.” And they stayed embraced on the ladder, kissing, caressing each other, while the gentle sea lapped at them and the silver moon oversaw and approved their lovemaking.
Gradually, Addie’s passion jumped the tiny gap and swelled in Jason’s loins. “Oh, what’s this! Finally got the wind in yer’ sails, commodore?”
“Climb on board, woman.”
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