I lived aboard my sailboat for several years and spent some of those years sailing in the Caribbean and along the coast Central America.
My Treasure Hunting Adventure Begins
The many islands of the Bahamas are the setting for countless treasure tales involving pirates, sunken ships and buried pirate gold. I had my own treasure hunting experience there and the following is yet another tall treasure tale of the Bahamas. A few years ago I quit my job and bought a small vintage sailboat and left the United States to sail to the Caribbean and beyond. What I envisioned would be a circumnavigation of the globe ended up as more of a circumnavigation of the Caribbean, yet I had the time of my life. During my years of sailing I ended up getting a larger boat along the way, getting married and meeting all kinds of interesting characters.
In the early part of my voyage, after arriving in Great Abaco, one of the many islands in the Bahamas, I found a small anchorage called Little Harbour, on the southeastern side of the island where I decided to anchor and spend a few weeks. The anchorage was calm, the people were friendly and the beer was very cold. Considering that I had no refrigeration and things like cold beer and fresh hamburgers were a delicacy, I decided it was worth staying there for a while before I sailed on southward toward Puerto Rico.
Little Harbour Abaco is like a small island itself, although it is part of the larger island of Great Abaco. A terribly rough road across a narrow spit of land connects it to the larger community of Marsh Harbour, and pretty much the only visitors to to arrive there do so by sailboat. Pete's Pub, a tiny bar, built from wrecked boats, and weathered by numerous hurricanes, sits on the shore next to the late sculptor Randolph Johnson's gallery and studio, which is now run by his son Pete, who is also an accomplished sculptor.
Pete's Pub offers thirsty sailors cold Kalik beer and burgers, and runs mostly on an honor system. If the bartender is nowhere to be found, you can fix yourself a drink and simply leave some money in the jar. At the time I was there, whatever local resident that happened to be at the bar when a sailboat arrived became the bartender. Not far from Little Harbour Abaco there is a low lying cay offshore of the larger island called Lynyard Cay. It has a storied history, and at the time I was there was private property and off limits to uninvited guests.
Pete's Pub was then ran by a likable pirate type of Bahamian who we'll call Autry, for the purpose of this story. He was the main caretaker of the bar and for a while employed myself and a sailing friend to help rebuild the place, which had been heavily damaged by hurricane Floyd only weeks before.
There I also met a group of professional treasure hunters who were searching for lost treasure on nearby Lynyard Cay. After drinking and visiting with the treasure hunters for a few days I was eventually invited to come over to the island and join in the search for what they told me might be lost Spanish treasure. Supposedly a Spanish treasure ship had once wrecked on the reef just offshore of the cay and a wealthy American investor was dishing out some serious cash to locate any treasure it may have spilled out of its hull.
I Travel Over to Treasure Island
When I arrived over at the island there was more cold Kalik beer to be had and I could tell that the treasure hunters were thoroughly enjoying their work. They invited me to come out to the treasure hunting area with them and we went just offshore in a medium-sized aluminum work boat that was laden with air compressors and pumping equipment. Although we were not following good diving practices, and diving after drinking, we put on our gear and went down to the bottom carrying hoses attached to large pumps up inside the boat, as we breathed surface supplied air from a compressor.
The treasure hunters were using the pump to suck out sand and move it away from the work zone so that they could search for treasure along the rocky bottom. Apparently a magnetometer, which had been previously towed up and down the shore by the work boat had indicated that there was a large magnetic anomaly in the area. All of this was exciting to hear and I worked feverishly alongside the men, helping move the heavy hoses around while one of the divers operated the vacuum hose used to suck up sand from the seafloor. The water around us became so murky we couldn't see our hands in front of our faces, yet we toiled on for hours. At such a shallow depth it was possible to work for quite a while before worrying about the "bends" which can occur when divers spend too long submerged at depth. Up on the surface and mounted on the side of our work boat was a sifting screen. The pump disgorged the sand laden water into it and the screen caught any small objects that were sucked up from the bottom.
We were finding some relics, including old square nails, buttons, and bits of old glass, yet no gold. There were definitely some indications that a very old vessel had sunk there, and it was exciting to be a part of the search.
That day our treasure hunting work was suddenly cut short, as the main suction pump broke down and we all had to return to shore to drink more Kalik beer, which is brewed in the Bahamas and pretty much the only beverage available in Little Harbour Abaco, as the water is not fit to drink. To continue the excavation a new impeller part would have to come out of Miami and the men used that as excuse to head on over to Pete's Pub in Little Harbor until the part arrived by small plane in a couple of days.
They were a likable bunch of guys, each from some faraway place such as Scotland, South Africa or Australia, and they were all happy to be living the treasure hunting dream, which in this case involved having a wealthy sponsor supply the food and beverages, as well as getting paid for swimming in warm Caribbean water all day. Finding a bit of gold would be nice icing on the cake, yet I got the impression they knew that was a slim chance.
At the end of several days of treasure hunting it was finally time to part ways. I had to take advantage of a good weather window and sail onward toward Puerto Rico, where I was to meet my fiance. I thanked them for the opportunity to live my dream, which was to search for Spanish treasure as well, and returned in my little Seaworthy dinghy back to where my sailboat was anchored in Little Harbor.
Not all That "Beeps" is Gold
Later that evening, as I was visiting with the bartender, Autry, who knew just about everything that was, or had ever been going on in Abaco and the Bahamas, I learned that there just might have been a fly in the ointment.
It seems that it was well known local knowledge that a Spanish ore ship, laden with iron, sank on the reef offshore. The owner of the cay, a wealthy Bahamian man, would show pieces of the wreck to rich treasure hunting investors, who would then bring in a boat with a magnetometer and find from the readings it gave off that there was really something big lying under the sand and coral. The investor would then fork out a large sum of money to hire divers and treasure hunters, like the ones I had just met, as well as pay a sum of money for the right to explore for treasure on the island. Time after time, over the years, this scenario would replay itself and the treasure hunting team would search for a few months and then eventually call it quits, having exhausted the investor's money searching for the elusive Lyford Cay Spanish Treasure.
How this scam continued to go on, over and over again, amazed me, yet Autry assured me that the same exact scenario had played out several times. "It's pretty good for my business, they buy a lot of beer and hamburgers" he said.
As I finally sailed away from Little Harbour, Abaco I realized the the real treasure of the Bahamas lies in its rich history, stories, and the colorful characters who inhabit the islands and timeless places like Pete's Pub. I'm forever thankful for the treasures that I found there.
I did have a chance to be a part of finding an actual lost Spanish wreck on an earlier occasion. For that story see A True Story of Spanish Treasure in The Bahamas
© 2021 Nolen Hart