Though Spanish coins had been found on local beaches and what appeared to be shipwreck debris, including cannons, surfaced after storms during the first half of the 20th Century, no successful efforts to salvage the wrecks some locals believed to be just offshore were made until the 1960s. Multiple entities conducted research and held permits to explore, but the most fruitful of these was held by Kip Wagner, who, along with his physician and friend Dr. Kip Kelso and a newly formed company, Real Eight Corporation, discovered and secured leases on six wrecks between the Sebastian Inlet to the north and just south of Fort Pierce Inlet to the south.
Wagner, a construction worker who relocated to Florida from Ohio, and Dr. Kelso worked together to determine if the existing clues pointed to the 1715 Fleet. It was at that time assumed that the wrecks occurred further south, near the Florida Keys. In 1959, Dr. Kelso connected the written work and a 1775 map of Florida found in British cartographer Bernard Romans’s A Concise History of East and West Florida with the area just south of the Sebastian Inlet. A notation here on the map stated, “Opposite this River, perished, the Admiral, commanding the Plate Fleet 1715, the rest of the Fleet 14 in number, between this & y Bleech Yard.” The Bleech Yard was near Fort Pierce Inlet.
Since then, priceless artifacts including gold, silver, and emeralds have been recovered offshore by lease holders and sub-contractors who dive and excavate the wrecks each summer when the ocean is calm enough for shallow water diving. They continue to reveal the story of a tragic maritime disaster during the Colonial Period. The lease was owned for a long period by the Fisher family (Mel Fisher himself contributed to treasure discoveries on the wrecks before and after his famous finding of the Atocha off the coast of Key West in 1985). 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels currently holds the lease to excavate and works with a number of subcontractors to bring up amazing finds each summer. As dictated in the Federal Admiralty lease, the state of Florida receives up to 20 percent of artifacts found on each site after each salvage season for inclusion in museum displays.