By Mark Irvin Clifton, van Dongen
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I was transfixed by a storm moving in off the Straits of Florida. Regrettably, I would be returning to Atlanta the next morning, slipping back into the rat race. My short stay in paradise was drawing to a close. There would be no more fishing for bonefish, the “Gray Ghost” of the flats. No more searching for “Big Moe,” the 18foot hammerhead shark that dominated our fishing guide’s everyday thoughts, much like Hemingway’s Santiago, the old man who went 84 days without taking a fish. No more idyllic days skimming about the nearby clumps of mangrove keys, doing nothing more than watching nature unfold in its most profound majesty.
A diver would sit atop the tower, keeping Holloway’s 44 Jedwin Smith boat in the theodolite’s crosshairs. Deviation from course was monitored by radio between boat and tower. Throughout the 1970 dive season, despite crisscrossing what amounted to thousands of miles in a west-by-southwest arc near the Quicksands between Rebecca Shoal and the outer reef, they found nothing to indicate that the Atocha had gone down in this area. Then one of Lyon’s researchers in Seville came across a document that said that the Margarita had gone down east of the Keys’ last mangrove island, which prompted Fisher’s crew to move its search area to Boca Grande Channel.
But when Wagner and Fisher discovered gold in abundance, Florida’s archaeological community immediately stepped forward, claiming that the salvors were destroying the state’s cultural heritage. Leading the dispute was a state marine archaeologist who viewed all commercial treasure hunters as modern-day pirates and thieves. The archaeologist’s argument was that only qualified archaeologists could properly map a wreck site, excavate, catalog, and successfully preserve the newly discovered artifacts.