They say that the treasure is worth millions, still waiting in the ocean just offshore of Fort Myers, Florida!
It’s a story that sounds like a Hemingway novel, Humphrey Bogart movie, or at least a Jimmy Buffett song.
The Spanish Civil War rages from 1936-1939: a conflict between the Republic and Franco’s Nationalists. But, not all who fight against the fascists are Spanish. Included in this group are American soldiers, aviators, medical personnel, technicians, and others. Called the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”, they begin arriving and fighting in 1937.
Among those in the brigade is a man named Scott.
While in Seville, Mr. Scott is able to find time to do a little research in the Archives of the Indies. Looking through information about shipwrecks, he finds references and a map regarding the location of a galleon that went down in 1700 near the Isle of Pines in Cuba.
What was in that treasure ship? According to the stories, it contains millions of dollars worth of gold in its treasure chests!
End of One War, the Start of Another
In 1939, the war ends. Scott and the other Abraham Lincoln fighters return home to the United States. But, only a few years later, World War Two draws Scott back to conflict, and he spends four years in the U.S. Navy.
During that time, he gathers a group of three men to combine their resources, purchase a boat, and go after the treasure that Scott had read about a few years earlier.
According to the story, over the course of several years, they each raise $10,000 and meet annually to make plans.
In 1950, every one of them quits his job, takes $10,000, and meets at Scott’s house in Tampa, Florida. From there, they go to Green Cove Springs, Florida. Why Green Cove Springs? That’s where the Navy has mothballed a fleet of ships and boats.
Eventually, they end up with a surplus PT boat. PT boats are small, fast boats used initially for dashing in and torpedoing enemy vessels. Some were converted later as gunboats. If you remember the story of John F. Kennedy and his PT 109 or the TV show McHale’s Navy, you have an idea of what one looks like.
They had three 12 cylinder Packard gasoline engines. Some included superchargers, special propellers, intercoolers, dual magnetos and/or dual spark plugs. In other words, powerful and relatively fast!
The group brings the PT boat back to Tampa for an overhaul and completely black paint job. I’m guessing they added some fuel tanks for the trip past Golfo de Guanahacabibes and around to the south side of Cuba: the return trip is well past the PT’s range even if they refuel at Key West.
The men take no chances as they prepare to go into foreign waters and gather a massive treasure. A .50 caliber machine gun is fixed to the boat as well as a small cannon.
They spend three months refitting and provisioning the PT to be prepared to hunt the gold.
Headed Toward Treasure
The treasure hunters cast off and make for Cuba, plowing through the blue and turquoise waves of the Gulf of Mexico. After three days, they arrive at the Isle of Pines and anchor at the treasure site by nightfall.
The next day, as planned, three men slip into the clear waters while one keeps watch from the boat. Diving in 30 feet of water with a metal detector and rods to probe the sand, they locate what they think is the treasure site. But, it’s covered in about 5 or 6 feet of sand.
Not a problem. The group had planned for this and uses a powerful jet pump to force water over the area and clear it.
Eventually, in what must have been an exhilarating moment, the outline of wreckage and chests emerges from the sand. Thrilled with their discovery, they hoist the chests onto the PT boat.
In fact, the group supposedly sees more chests but they leave them for two reasons. First, according to the tale, they can only carry eight of the heavily-laden chests safely. Second, trouble has arrived.
A Cuban gunboat has appeared. The crew of the PT boat is commanded to prepare to be boarded and searched.
A Run for the Coast
One of the men grabs the .50 machine gun and lays into the Cuban boat, devastating it with a hail of bullets. Now, with blood on their hands, the crew of the PT boat fires up the engines and has the craft headed back to the U.S. at full throttle.
Somewhere around the western tip of Cuba, they pick up two items on the radio that are concerning. The Cuban Navy is searching for a band of pirates in a PT boat, and a hurricane might be brewing. Double trouble!
They can’t seek shelter in Cuba, their location must have been closer to Key West than Cancun, so they keep the bow pointed toward the Florida Straits…and the hurricane.
As the waves and winds grow, they decide to try to reach western Florida and bury the chests wherever they land. To cover their tracks, they figure they will scuttle the boat, hiding the PT in the watery depths and returning later to recover their gold.
But, more troubles hit.
At some location opposite the Ten Thousand Islands of the lower west coast of Florida, the stress on the boat is too much and one of the engines stops working. But, the men press on at reduced speed until, as the story goes, the second engine gives out somewhere off Fort Myers Beach.
In desperation, they launch a small lifeboat and sink the big boat. Apparently, in their attempt to reach shore with the lifeboat, only one man survives the ordeal of the adventure.
Like all treasure tales, there are questions that come up. For instance, if this story is true, I’m curious why they didn’t make for the Florida Leys instead of the Fort Meyers area. I guess, if this happened, only that one man knew.
That man, it’s said, was the one who flew over the area for years, spending his life trying to find the gold again.
© Mark Dorr 2014, All Rights Reserved