1733 Fleet, Florida Keys
Much like the 1715-Fleet disaster
above, the 1733 Fleet was another entire Spanish convoy (except
for one ship) lost in a hurricane off Florida. The lesser
severity of the 1733 hurricane (which struck the fleet on July
15) and the shallowness of the wrecksites in the Keys, however,
made for many survivors and even left four ships in good enough
condition to be re-floated and sent back to Havana. A very
successful salvage effort by the Spanish soon commenced,
bringing up even more than the 12 million pesos of
precious cargo on the Fleet’s manifest (thanks to the usual
The wrecks themselves are spread
across 80 miles, from north of Key Largo down to south of Duck
Key, and include the following galleons (but note there is not
universal agreement as to which wrecksite pertains to each
galleon, and also note that each name is a contemporaneous
abbreviation or nickname): El Pópulo, El Infante,
San José, El Rubí (the capitana, or lead
vessel of the fleet), Chávez, Herrera, Tres
Puentes, San Pedro, El Terri (also spelled
Lerri or Herri), San Francisco, El Gallo
Indiano (the almiranta, or rear guard of the fleet),
Las Angustias, El Sueco de Arizón, San Fernando,
and San Ignacio. This last ship, San Ignacio, is
believed to be the source of many silver coins (and even some
gold coins) found in a reef area off Deer Key known as “Coffins
Patch,” the southwesternmost of all the 1733-Fleet wrecksites.
In addition, many other related sites are known, mostly the
wrecks of tag-along ships that accompanied the fleet proper.
The first and arguably most famous
of the wrecks of the 1733 Fleet to be located in modern times
was the Capitana El Rubí, which was discovered in 1948
and salvaged principally in the 1950s by Art McKee, whose Sunken
Treasure Museum on Plantation Key housed his finds for all to
see. Throughout the next several decades, however, the
wrecksites in the Keys became a virtual free-for-all, with many
disputes and confrontations, until the government created the
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990. The removal of
artifacts from any of the sites is prohibited today.
to the 1715 Fleet, and because of the extensive Spanish salvage
in the 1730s, the finds by modern divers have been modest,
especially in gold coins, of which there are far more fakes on
the market than genuine specimens! Nevertheless, the 1733 Fleet
has been a significant source for some of the rare Mexican
milled “pillar dollars” of 1732-1733 as well as the transitional
“klippe”-type coins of 1733.
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