It’s been quite a summer for treasure hunting in Florida.
Less than a month after the Schmitt family of Sanford announced their $1 million sunken treasure find, Brent Brisben announced his $4.5 million discovery.
On July 30 and 31 off the coast of Vero Beach, Brisben, who is captain of the S/V Capitana, and his crew recovered 350 gold coins.
Nine of the coins found are known as Royals and valued at $300,000 apiece; these were specially made for King of Spain Phillip V in the early 1700s.
“People love treasure stories. It resonates with everybody — every demographic, young and old, rich and poor,” Brisben said. “People freak out that we’re literally 10-15 feet off the beach in 2-3 feet of water.”
The treasure finds have significant meaning because July 30, 2015, marked the 300th anniversary of the 1715 Fleet shipwreck.
On July 24, 1715, eleven ships traveled from Havana to Spain to deliver “the queen’s jewels” — at least $400 million worth of jewelry and gold. All was lost at sea, however, when a hurricane hit July 31, 1715.
More than 1,000 people died in the maritime tragedy.
Brisben is owner of 1715 Fleet — Queens Jewels LLC, which has exclusive salvage rights to the 1715 Fleet shipwreck. The Schmitt family are subcontractors for Brisben. On June 17 — Hillary Schmitt’s 22nd birthday — the family found $1 million in treasure in shallow waters off Fort Pierce.
This year’s treasure-hunting season, May through September, has produced quite the booty.
“For a treasure diver such as myself, a find like this is the equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal,” William Bartlett said in an email. Bartlett is the diver who recovered the coins from the bottom of the ocean. “This is what we (treasure hunters of the 1715 Fleet) all come here to do. For four months out of the year we eat, sleep and live treasure. When we’re not actually treasure hunting, we’re usually talking about treasure hunting. We hang out with other treasure hunters.”
Brisben appeared on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose on Wednesday to talk about his treasure adventures.
“It’s been magical,” Brisben said. “What’s amazing about this is we found it on the actual anniversary. We found 230 gold coins on the 30th, and the hurricane started on the evening of the 30th (in 1715).”
The crew picked up 75 more gold coins the next day. “It’s crazy, honestly,” he said.
It is illegal for anyone to enter the waters without a permit from his organization, Brisben said. The 1715 Fleet wrecks typically produce the most artifacts on an annual basis.
The gold belongs to the U.S. District Court of Florida. In the case of the Schmitt family’s find, the state will keep 20% of it, and the rest will be split among Brisben and the Schmitts.
The same process applies to the latest find. The state will assess the treasure, and then Brisben and his crew will divvy up the remaining 80%.
The S/V Capitana crew includes Jonah Martinez, co-captain, who picked the dive site where the artifacts were found; Bartlett; and Dan Beckingham.
“Things happen in strange occurrences. There are energies involved in the shipwreck. If you were going to ask me five, six years ago when I first got into this, I would have never believed,” said Brisben. “It’s been a magical anniversary year. It’s a tragedy that continues to tell its story every year.”
A news conference is set for Thursday at Capt. Hiram’s in Sebastian.