National Geographic : 1962 Jan
Here is a graveyard of countless brave sail ing ships. Spanish galleons, English men-o' war, pirate vessels, and privateers foundered on the reef's hidden fangs. In the 19th century alone, several hundred vessels met death here, and the wrecking masters of Key West gleaned close to ten million dollars from sal vage operations. In today's salt-water preserve the bound aries are marked by buoys, and visitors even tually will ride glass-bottomed boats above the lovely coral gardens. Even now the more active visitors fasten on mask and snorkel and bob face-down in gentle swells for a clos er look at gaudy reef fish. The most adventur ous strap on breathing units and descend to the beautiful coral world that underwater photographer Jerry Greenberg describes viv idly on pages 70 to 89. Author Found Wreck of the Winchester Heavy seas break directly on the outer coral barrier, where the seaward edge of the reef comes up abruptly from the deeper waters of the Gulf Stream. Here, 23 years ago, I found the scattered remains of H.M.S. Win chester, which went down off Carysfort Reef, five miles east of Key Largo, in 1695.* A British ship of the line with 60 guns and a crew of 350, the square-rigged Winchester fought with the West India Squadron in the war with France, harrying ports of the French islands. Mission accomplished, she refreshed at Jamaica, then set sail for England and home. But scurvy-that age-old plague of the sea- began to lay her crew low. I did not Giant sea whips, or gorgonians, reach for the sun like saguaros in a cactus forest. Blue striped grunt (Haemulon sciurus) peers past the smaller branches below. Gold watch raised from H.M.S. Winchester, which went down off Carysfort Reef in 1695, shows the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arabic. Here a lump of rock bears the imprint of the dial's face in black iron oxide. For 264 years the watch lay on the bottom, sandwiched between an iron fitting and rock ballast. When he discovered the Winchester's grave in 1939, the author salvaged cannon, cannonballs, wrought-iron fittings, and a brass sundial, as recounted in the December, 1941, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. On a return visit 20 years later, this remarkable watch and a universal ring sundial were recovered. 61 uncover this interesting fact until two years ago, when I learned that the Winchester's log had been saved. Writing to the Public Record Office in London, I obtained photo static copies of the last few pages. On September 14, 1695, the unhappy cap tain recorded that: "... we had not above 7 men Well our Shipp increasing upon us by the water She made in the holds & we Left Distitute of all ability to pump it out our peo ple being all dead and Sick...." Ten days later a vicious gale struck the ship off the Florida Keys. With the crew help less, only a few men able to stand, the Win chester broke her back on the reef. Key Largo, the nearest land, was inhabited only by fierce Calusa Indians, notorious for practicing human sacrifice and keeping slaves. There was no thought of seeking refuge there. An accompanying vessel rescued eight men the only survivors. For 244 years Winchester's guns, some weighing more than two tons, lay five fath oms deep, while shipworms made a sieve of her rotten hull. By 1939, when we located the wreck and raised the cannon, the ship had disintegrated. Eighteen months ago I paid a return visit to Winchester's grave. With an air lift and free-diving gear, I hoped to recover objects overlooked by previous expeditions. Fortune favored us. We raised coral-encrusted cannon *For a description of Winchester's last voyage and the discovery of its wreck, see "Florida Cannon Solve Mystery of Sunken Ship," by Charles M. Brookfield, in the December, 1941, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. KODACHROME(ABOVE) BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHER ROBERTF. SISSON AND ANSCOCHROMEBY JERRY GREENBERG© N.G.S .