On July 24, 1715, a fleet of eleven Spanish Galleons heavy with treasure set sail from Havana to Spain. All of the Spanish vessels were driven onto the Florida coast by a hurricane between the St. Lucie and Sebastian Inlets sinking near present day Sebastian. Seven hundred lives and millions of dollars of gold, silver coins and jewelry were strewn along the east-central coast of Florida. While much has been salvaged from the wrecks, (eleven sank – five have been identified) more than half the treasure remains undiscovered on the bottom.
Since that time, finds along the beaches of central Florida continue daily. The good news is, anyone finding treasure on the beach gets to keep what they find (note that this is on the beaches only; not in the dunes, the water or any state parks) Wait, Spanish treasure scattered on the beach for the taking?
Armed with my brand new Garrett Ace 250 metal detector, sunblock and a sand scoop I set off to hunt for lost treasure.
My hopes of striking gold faded during the several hours walking the shore near Wabasso Beach in central Florida, sweeping the detector over the beach and turning up nothing but bottle caps and pennies. I was about to call it a day (and yes even call the whole treasure-on-the-beach thing a myth) when I heard a faint tone in my headphones. I stopped and looked down at the spot; just barren sand, probably another bottle cap. I passed the detector again and again came the chirping tone. Something was there. I squatted and began to dig with a small garden shovel. After a few scoops something that looked like a small oreo cookie appeared nestled in the sand. I swung the detector back over the hole where I had found the first cookie.
The pulse from my Garrett rose, and I spilled the sand next to the hole. I sifted through the mound of sand until I found another blackened object about the size of a quarter. After cleaning off wet sand I noticed the tell-tale squared-off shape and black color of both cookies. I had found Spanish treasure; it was a Spanish reale black with 300 years of oxidation. It had taken over three hundred years for waves and currents to tumble it across the bottom and onto the beach beneath my feet.
I actually yelled: “Hey look! Treasure!” I looked around. The beach was empty.
Where to hunt
Professional treasure companies still have leases to search these waters, so to hunt legally you must stay on the beaches beyond the surf line. Also respect private property whenever encountered between where the beach sand ends (known as the escarpment) to U.S. Highway A1A that parallels the coast and also do not hunt in the sand dunes – they are protected.
Just north of Sebastian Inlet is an area known as Half-Reale Beach. The name comes from the most common type of silver coins that are found there. Use a metal detector to work the area around the beach entrance at Bonsteel Park.
Try Wabasso Beach, just south of Sebastian Inlet. The 1618 and 1715 wrecks account for the treasures found here. The scatter range for this area stretches down to Indian River Shores.
Walk the beach soon after a storm’s blown through. The high surf stirs up the sediment and often picks up coins, and tumbles them right onto the beaches.
Look for areas where shells have collected where strong currents are sweeping across the bottom and depositing loose objects onto the beach sand.
If you go
Consider it a must to visit the McLarty State Treasure Museum, on A1A just south of Sebastian Inlet. Besides hearing informal presentations by staff about the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet and the history of all the treasure that’s been salvaged, they have a movie room that offers a flick showing treasure salvors, various finds and other interesting details.
It only costs $2 to enter. There’s a short boardwalk behind the building that overlooks the beach where many treasure discoveries have taken place over the years. Some of the galleon cannons were found literally right where the tide breaks onto the beaches.
You don’t have to travel to central Florida to hunt for buried gold. Next time you’re anchored at a secluded cove you can find jewelry and gold on nearby beaches and sandbars. Try hunting your local sandbar where tanning oil slicked bodies drop gold and silver jewelry. Or the tide line around your local beach.
My favorite low cost detector is the Garrett ace 250. It’s an all-around great machine capable of most detecting jobs. The coil is submersible so you can hunt close to the water and the headphones help when working in loud surf. Look for youtube video tutorials to get you up to speed with the technical aspects of beach detecting.