A Story Of Lost Spanish Treasure In The Bahamas
I’m no longer sailing but just over a decade ago I quit my job, sold almost all that I owned and set out in a small, 28′ sailboat to see the world. I sailed somewhere around 20,000 miles during that time around the Caribbean and South and Central America and discovered a lot of interesting places and people. Among those people were a bunch of treasure hunters in the Bahamas who were scouring the shallow waters off of Great Abaco island for lost Spanish treasure. My small sailboat was anchored in a a protected and isolated anchorage called Little Harbor on the east side of Abaco and for a few weeks I frequented the small bar on shore when not diving for lobster, fishing for bonefish with my fly rod or exploring the nearby cays in my small inflatable dinghy. I was on a budget of about ten dollars a day and lived very simply back then. I ate whatever I could catch on a hook or pull from underneath a coral ledge for my dinner, trying to make my sailing funds go as far as possible.
Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour was the only serious leak in my tight budget but the beer, Kalik from the Bahamas, was still pretty cheap and very cold. The open air structure consisted of a palm thatched roof and old timbers from boats that had been shipwrecked on the rugged coast of east Abaco. Land crabs cruised the sand floor and took care of any food that fell on there. In the timbers that held together Pete’s Pub were carved the boat names of dozens sailors who had stopped in, some on around the world cruises and others like me just wandering aimlessly searching for something we couldn’t put our fingers on.
It was at Pete’s Pub, I met a group of four fun loving guys who said they were professional treasure hunters. They were camping on a nearby island and looking for Spanish Treasure on the cay just off of Great Abaco. I won’t mention the name of the actual cay, which has likely changed hands, for the simple reason that the new owner might be confused with the somewhat shady one in this story.
The group invited me to come along, and for a few hours I was a real treasure hunter. I put on my dive gear and worked with them as they used high volume pumps and hoses to move the seafloor sand around and sift if for any traces of gold or other Spanish treasure that was suspected to be there. A rich investor was funding the operation, and was very enthusiastic after his hired treasure hunters had located a mass of metal with a device called a magnetometer that they had towed behind a boat a few yards offshore. The readings were so high that they were sure there was gold down there, at least that is what they told me.
I got the chance to spend an exciting day with my new friends doing something I had always dreamed of but never imagined that I would get the chance to. Back on the island we sat and drank a few Kaliks while sitting underneath the palm trees and I talked with them about other treasure hunting expeditions they had been on in the Caribbean Islands. (Continued below)
Map Of Great Abaco Island
Late that evening as the sun was setting over the water I left their good company and wished them good luck in finding the lost Spanish Treasure. After arriving back over at my boat anchored not far from Pete’s Pub in Little Harbor, I paddled ashore in my kayak, leaving the inflatable dinghy behind. Starting the fickle Nissan outboard could sometimes be a little tricky, especially after a few rum and Coke’s or cold Kaliks. Treasure hunting was hard work and I was thirsty. The burgers weren’t bad either and I decided to splurge for a “cheeseburger in Paradise” as Jimmy Buffett calls them.
Aubrey, the part time proprietor and house philosopher was wearing what looked like an old ladies’ Sunday hat with a plastic daisy sticking out of it, shorts and a tattered tee shirt that read “show me your titties”. He stayed barefoot most of the time, as I was finding myself doing as well, and lived in the small “A” frame room above the bar. He poured me a drink, began cooking my burger and we discussed the treasure operation on the nearby cay. To say that Aubrey was a colorful character would be putting it mildly. He told me that he was a direct descendant of one of the pirates that used to roam the Caribbean, but I can’t recall which one he named. When I told him about the a wealthy financier, who was bankrolling the treasure hunting operation he looked at me, raised a wild eyebrow and said “boy whaaat?”, (which is the Bahamian equivalent of “come on, really man get real!”). “They’ve been pullin that scam over on that cay since I was ten years old”, he said. “Yep, there was a ship, and it was Spanish alright, but it was no treasure ship”. “Tingum over there that owns the cay, (“tingum” or “thing – um”, is another one of those uniquely Bahamian phases meaning “that dude, thing, etc”), has been telling that treasure story for years and getting rich Americans to lease the whole place for a lot of cash.”
The rich investors would be given some small pieces of the old Spanish wreck, which according to Aubrey was a Spanish iron ore boat on its way to a foundry in Cuba when it was blown off course and crashed on the reef in the 1700’s. The owner of the cay would then tell them that “according to local legend it was a treasure ship carrying gold but not much is known about it”. Gold fever sets in and the the rich investor then hires professional treasure hunters to come and search for it. Along the way the owner of the cay makes a little more money on the side by leasing them boats, etc.
“They come along and their metal detectors just go plain crazy over the spot where the Spanish iron ore boat dumped its cargo”, he said. Aubrey went on about the Abaco treasure scheme, and I hung on every word. Whether true or not it was a great story.
I thought it was possibly the most clever and hilarious scheme I had ever heard of and as dishonest as it was, I had to give some credit to the clever owner of the cay.
So there’s a Bahamian treasure tale of lost gold, or more like fools gold for you. You can take it for what its worth. For those investors out there who might stumble across this story, it might just have been one of those tall tales that Bahamians love to tell tourists and you probably did spend your money looking for real Spanish treasure in the Bahamas.
Of all the people in the Caribbean, Bahamians are the best at telling wonderfully embellished tales. I did find a very old brass rivet, possibly from the 1700’s, while looking for Bahamian Spanish treasure that day with the guys. I still treasure it as if it were real gold, since looking at it brings back memories of that very fun time in my life.
As for real treasure, there are many tales of lost pirate gold in the Bahamas. Not far from Little Harbor, at the very bottom of Great Abaco Island sits the magnificent old Hole in The Wall lighthouse. Its old kerosene powered lamp and Fresnel lens are now gone and it stands atop a high cliff on the shore as a silent sentinel looking out over a vast swath of the Atlantic ocean. Blowholes, where the big Atlantic waves enter a hole in a rock and shoot straight skyward, can be seen erupting at random times up and down the rugged cliffs below the lighthouse, putting the fountains of the Mirage in Las Vegas to shame when the seas are stormy. While staying with friends in Marsh Harbor I got the opportunity to drive down the long jungle path to this very remote old lighthouse. A cave, hidden in the dense jungle growth, lies only few hundred yards from the lighthouse and is known of only by a few locals. We explored that old cave one day and found an interesting carving of an old schooner on the rock walls. Paths had been chipped out of the limestone so that something large could be stored at the back of that cave. I’ll have more on that trip in another article.
The Bahamas are full of treasure. It’s not Spanish or pirate treasure that the Bahamas are famous for, it is the richness of a diverse population who love life and the art of storytelling. I hope you enjoyed my tale.
Note: A few weeks after this story took place hurricane Floyd, a category 5 with over 230 mph winds destroyed most of Pete’s Pub. I sailed back there, along with a Bahamian friend and we spent several weeks rebuilding the place and acting as the cooks and bartenders while Aubrey was away for a few days. There in Little Harbor I got to fulfill two of my dreams, to hunt for treasure and to run an island bar. You can’t ask for much more than that.