National Geographic : 1969 Jun
We were on the spot, eager, well-equipped -and helpless. By day we watched a raging sea whose fury never seemed to lessen. By night, icy blasts from Greenland howled through my ill-fitting window to freeze my nose before escaping under my door. Each morning I judged the weather by the noise: If the breakers were crashing on the beach be neath our cottage, I could go back to sleep. We planned to chart every object we found at the wreck site. For that purpose it would have been convenient to divide up our area into precise squares, as is done in land arche ology and even on level sea bottoms. But the Girona's resting place did not lend itself to such regimentation. Here the only straight lines that could be established were those be tween one landmark and another. Toothpick of gold probably belonged to one of the young noblemen who sailed with Mar tinez de Leiva and perished with him in the Girona. These scions of Spain had taken with them enough money, golden chains, silken and velvet clothes, and jewels to make a fitting show when, with anticipated pomp and ceremony, they as sumed the rule of the conquered English kingdom. When at last the sea let us begin, we estab lished these lines with strong ropes, tagged their ends with reference numbers, took bear ings from one to another, and photographed the whole underwater network. All this gave us the basis of our chart. There was a limit, we knew, to what we could learn from the positions of the objects we found. Only the heaviest pieces would still be anywhere near the wreck site, and even these would have followed the slope of the bottom to their present resting places. Of the wooden ship itself, nothing could have sur vived. But the lines we rigged gave us ref erence points, and helped us find our way through the tumble of kelp-shrouded rocks. They helped us for two days. Then the seas rose and tore the whole system away. Louis did his best to repair it despite the 768 surges, but since he had to hold on with both hands and could not work with his teeth (clamped hard on his mouthpiece), he had to give up for the moment. We retreated to deep er water and resumed our hunt. Luck was with us from the start. We found gold coins minted in Seville, carrying the crown of Arag6n. We found buttons of gold, silver forks (opposite), and many silver and copper coins (pages 776-7). One afternoon, in less than an hour, I filled a jam pot, a Band Aid can, and a mustard jar with pieces of gold and silver. Their rich glow was almost enough to counteract the awful, joint-stiffening cold that grew from discomfort to agony during each dive. Yet, as I dug among my pebbles, I was con tent. "I have arrived," I told myself. "I am exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to do. I almost welcome the cold, the exhaustion, the nausea of seasickness...." At that moment a sweep of my right hand exposed a yellow object. Gold? No, only a shell. I picked it up, looked at it closely so as not to be fooled by such a shell next time. It was no shell at all, but a gold medallion. Before surfacing, I noted a black cemented mass of stones, cannon balls, and bits of me tallic debris. I spoke of it later to my col leagues, informing them in professorial tones that it was typical Spanish ballast and fraught with significance. "But," asked Maurice (who had also ex amined my find), "why did the Spaniards put navigational instruments in their ballast?" "But," asked Louis, "why are there pieces of gold in the middle of this significant ballast?"