Sunken Dreams: A 16th-century shipwreck marks Spain's last chance to claim the American South
by Samir S. Patel, Shipwrecks (May, 2013)
Just 12 feet below the surface of Pensacola Bay the visibility is zero. A hand grabs mine and guides it to a hard patch in the soft sand. Floating words appear: "We are at the stern." The hand then pulls me shoulder-deep into a hole. More words: "Sternpost." A moment later, there's no more hand. I scan the gray-green haze for bubbles but see nothing. Following procedure, I wait 30 seconds and surface. My guide, University of West Florida (UWF) archaeologist John Bratten, bobs just 10 feet away, an underwater writing slate in hand. We drift back to the dive platform, a custom-built barge where a group of UWF graduate and undergraduate students tend to gear, take notes in yellow field books, and help each other in and out of the water. They're excavating the wreck of a ship from the 1559 colonization fleet led by Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano, a Spanish nobleman possessed of more ambition than luck.
Pensacola Bay, in Florida's western panhandle, is littered with wrecks, from Civil War-era ships to steamers to fishing boats. It is, after all, Hurricane Alley, and it was a great storm that sank this ship and five others in Luna's fleet, dooming one of Spain's most promising attempts to settle the Southeast United States and expand the colony of New Spain (Mexico) north and east, all the way to the Atlantic Coast. That storm--let's call it a force majeure--looms large over the eventual colonization of North America.
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