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Treasure Hunter on 25-Year Quest to Claim Spanish Wreck

treasure hunting, discoveries

With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's demise capturing the world's attention this week, present-day explorers are focused on making their own heart-stopping discoveries.

One group on the hunt is Florida-based Jupiter Wreck Inc., led by Dominic Addario.

For the past 25 years, Addario has been at the helm of expeditions to recover what he believes is a 1600s Spanish shipwreck off the eastern coast of the Sunshine State.

His interest was piqued in 1987, when two surfers who’d fallen off their boards mentioned to him that they’d seen a cannon half-buried underwater.

Addario was running daily boating trips, not treasure hunting, in those days. "We had no idea that was a whole shipwreck there," Addario told BusinessNewsDaily. "Within the first week, we discovered four more cannons and lots and lots of coins."

In the following weeks and months, the Jupiter Wreck team unearthed cannons, cannon balls, muskets and thousands of coins. That set the stage for a quarter-century quest to recover the rest of the debris.

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"Once you start researching everything, it makes it even more exciting," said Addario, who says the best part is the emotional rush of putting his hands on something that had been lost for 400 years. "It is almost better than sex."

Jupiter Wreck's expeditions consist of six-member teams working with a number of vessels, skiffs and specialized equipment.

At the heart of the operation is the Motor Research Vessel named Enterprise, a 65-foot foil-assisted aluminum catamaran. The boat is equipped with unique undersea mobile excavation and sand bypassing and transferring technology. 

"There is still so much more to explore," Addario said. "Every time we dive, we find something new."

In addition to their finds early on, Jupiter Wreck has uncovered thousands of silver and gold coins and a 78-pound silver bar, all of which Addario believes come from Spain's San Miguel Archangel, a boat thought to have shipwrecked off the coast of Florida in 1659.

"There is no question in our minds it is a Spanish ship," Addario said.  All of the coins are [dated] between 1652 and 1659."

Addario believes the actual wreckage is buried 45 feet under the ocean's floor.

He has faced some challenges, including a legal battle with the state of Florida over the wreckage and the site. While courts have named Jupiter Wreck the shipwreck's custodian, they have also granted the state permission to restrict Addario and his team from using any machinery to dig up sand to find the rest of it.

"This has been going on for 24 years," Addario said of the frustrating legal battle.

While Addario said the items he has recovered are worth millions of dollars, he adds that finding the ship, or possible ships, below the ocean's surface could reveal a treasure trove of ancient remnants.

"The payoff could be enormous," he said.

Already, though, Addario said the quarter-century voyage has been well worth it.

"I am real proud of what I have accomplished," Addario said. "It has just been one adventure after another."

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance business and technology writer who has worked in public relations and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.