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John's Journal... Entry 114, Day 1

David Horan - The Treasure Sultan

Discovering the Treasure Ship "Atocha"

EDITOR'S NOTE: David Horan's clients know him as the Treasure Sultan. Horan of Key West, Florida, is one of the leading attorneys in the nation on admiralty law as it pertains to ownership of sunken treasure, sunken ships and underwater artifacts. His clients have salvaged some of the greatest underwater treasures and historical finds in the world, including the "Atocha," the "Santa Margarita," the "Andreadoria," the "Titanic," the "San Miguel De Archangel" and the "El Cazador." Horan also has had the opportunity to scuba dive on many of these wrecks. This week, Horan will share with us his adventures, photos and tales of great treasure finds made by ordinary people like you and me.

On July 20, 1985, I received a call from the salvage company Treasure Salvers. The voice on the phone asked if I would like to see what the "Atocha" looked like. When I replied, "What do you mean?" the phone person explained that Mel Fischer of Key West, Florida, and his team had found the "Atocha" a few years ago but didn't realize that they had located the ship. When Fischer and his crew returned to the site and looked closer at it with side-scan sonar, they discovered that they had located the "Atocha." Then when I saw the sonar in their offices, I said, "This image looks like a galleon. Why haven't we gone after it before now?" The people in the office explained that they were processing so much data that they didn't notice it.

Mel's son Cain had already found nine bronze cannons when they called me into the office. Then on the morning of July 20, 1985 when Cain reached the wreck, he put on his scuba gear, swam out from his boat and found a hump on the bottom covered in coral and other types of growth. He noticed some irregular objects in this hump. When he ran his hand-held underwater metal detector over the hump, the machine began to scream. Normally, a metal detector will give off ticks when it hits metal. But, when it hits a really hot reading, all the ticks blend together and give off one long screaming sound.

Not long after I received another phone call. "We've found the main pile," the voice on the phone told me. I began to jump up and down and scream wildly. I shut down my law office, got in my boat and drove straight to Cain's boat.
My son Paul accompanied me. When we reached the location, we immediately put on our scuba gear. Paul and I swam down to the wreck together. Once we got to the bottom, I spotted a reef made up of silver bars, 25- to 30-feet long and about 5- to 6-feet wide. The silver bars stuck up on the bottom in different directions. I could see lobsters in the holes between the silver bars. Each of these bars weighed between 80 to 100 pounds. I also saw mounds of coins that looked like a lava flow covering the ocean's bottom. I said to myself, "This is what an underwater treasure is supposed to look like." I got so excited that I nearly bit the tips off my regulator. The treasure I saw laying on the bottom totally mesmerized me. For years and years, I'd listened to Mel Fischer say, "Today, we'll find the treasure." Finally, he had found the treasure he had searched for for so many years.

When we arrived on the site, other divers were already loading silver bars into milk crates that power winches pulled on-board Cain's boat. The first piece of treasure I picked up was an 80-pound silver bar. I broke the bar loose from the encrustation that held it to the other bars. I carried the heavy silver bar across the bottom and loaded it into the milk crate. Power winches pulled the milk crates with the silver bars up from the bottom, and then the men stacked the bars on the deck of the boat. A photographer took my son Paul's picture as he carried one of the huge silver bars across the ocean floor to the crate. The photograph of Paul went out over the wire service and announced Mel Fischer's find to the world. Paul's picture appeared on the front page of the "London Times" and on the front pages of publications all over the world. The coins laid in encrusted globs along the ocean floor. After we loaded up some silver bars, we broke off globs of coins to send to the surface. We recovered 32 tons of silver bars from the "Atocha" and more than 250,000 coins.

I dove on the "Atocha" many times. I'd been involved in court battles to prove Fischer's ownership of the "Atocha" since 1975. Fischer found some of the "Atocha's" treasure in 1971 and in 1972, but no one believed he actually had found the "Atocha." In 1973, Mel's team found a bar with some markings on it. The markings turned out to be the manifest number, the shipper's mark and the purity of the bar. We actually had a copy of the "Atocha's" manifest number when the ship left from Havana in 1622. We compared the silver bar that Fischer found with the "Atocha's" manifest number and proved that the bar belonged to the "Atocha." So, we proved that Fischer found the Atocha long before he found the motherload of the ship.

In 1980 or 1981 we found the sister ship of the "Atocha" -- the "Santa Margarita." I was on the site when a diver found a 29-pound-gold-money chain at the "Santa Margarita" wreck. Some of the links of this chain weighed more than an ounce each. I helped to bring it to the surface. I've found so many wonderful treasures on the "Atocha" and the "Santa Margarita" that I can't remember which day I enjoyed the most.

If you find a treasure and you want to contact me, you can email me at bhw608@hotmail.com, call me at (352) 294-4585 or write to me at 608 Whitehead Street, Key West, Fl 33040.




Check back each day this week for more about Dave Horan...

Day 1 - Discovering the Treasure Ship "Atocha"
Day 2 - The Treasure Attorney
Day 3 - Treasures of the "El Cazador"
Day 4 - The Jupiter Wreck
Day 5 - What To do If You Find A Sunken Or Duried Treasure

John's Journal