Story of Mel Fisher
Mel Fisher's famous quotation "Today's the Day!" became a reality on July 20, 1985. After 17 years of hardship and determination, he had finally discovered the "Mother Lode" of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha - the richest Spanish treasure galleon ever lost.
Mel Fisher's dreams of treasure began in childhood when he read Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and about pirates of the Spanish Main. After serving with the U.S. Army in World War II, Mel restlessly moved to Chicago, Denver, and then to Florida where he pursued his interest in diving. It was in Tampa, Florida that Mel saw his first real treasure from a sunken ship.
In 1950, Mel moved with his parents to California where they operated a chicken ranch. It was during its sale that he met his future wife, Dolores Horton (or Deo as he refers to her). Mel and Deo purchased one of the first scuba units perfected by Jacques Cousteu and opened Mel's Aqua Shop in Redondo Beach, California. It was the first dive shop in the world and they would eventually train more than 65,000 people in the science of scuba diving. Deo personally set a world underwater endurance record of 55 hours and 37 minutes. The Fisher family grew to include four children, sons Dirk, Kim, Kane and daughter Taffi.
In 1963, Mel met treasure hunter Kip Wagner and became his partner salvaging the remains of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet, which was lost off of Florida's East Coast. To assist them in recovering and locating this treasure, Mel developed a "mailbox" which when lowered over the ship's propellers, sent a column of clear water downward to the sea bottom enabling their divers to see.
It was soon realized that by increasing the downward thrust of the water column produced by the mailboxes, a hole could be blown in the ocean floor uncovering artifacts buried by centuries of sediment. This saved precious time and by the end of the 1960's the teams had recovered more than $20 Million in treasure from the 1715 Plate Fleet. Work continues to this day on this wreck site, bringing forth thousands of gold coins and countless pieces of precious jewelry and artifacts.
The first shift of Mel's treasure hunting focus from the 1715 fleet sites to the Atocha and the Florida Keys came in the middle of the 1960's because of the weather. Diving could not be performed year round off of the East Coast of Florida due to storms that came about in the winter months. During those times, Mel would begin his search for shipwrecks in the calmer waters of the tropical Keys.
As if guided by destiny, Mel renewed his interest in a sunken Spanish galleon lost in 1622 off the Metecumbe Keys of Florida. This galleon was quite possibly the richest treasure ship ever lost off the Florida coast. The name of the ship was the Nuestra Senora de Atocha . Mel Fisher had found a new goal worthy of his greatest efforts. The quest for this great ship and its over $500 Million in treasure began in 1968 and, despite many hardships and tests of faith, continued for almost two decades.
It was during this time that Mel and Deo suffered their greatest tragedy. Their son Dirk, his wife Angel, and fellow crewmember Rick Gage were lost to a tragic boating accident. Despite this devastating blow, Mel and Deo, with their other children, Kim, Kaneand Taffi, chose to press on in search of the Atocha "Mother Lode." In 1980, the Santa Margarita , sister ship of the Atocha , was located and its treasure provided the badly needed funds to continue Mel's search for the ever-illusive "Mother Lode."
Mel's dream almost came to a complete halt when the U.S. Government and the State of Florida laid claim to the wreck and it appeared that the treasure he and his family had worked so hard to recover would never be theirs. After legal battles that would take over 8 years to resolve and cost the Fishers over $4 million in legal fees, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, would finally grant Mel and his family complete ownership of the Atocha wreck and its treasures.
After over $20 million in expenditures and almost 20 years of searching, Mel's persistence and his enduing optimism finally paid off on July 20, 1985. Mel learned from his son Kane that his greatest dream had been realized. In the offices of the salvage headquarters in Key West, Florida the marine radio crackled to life with the words that would change his life forever, "Dad. Put away the charts. We've got the Mother Lode!" Just 34 miles west-southwest of Key West and resting in 55 feet of water was the treasure of the Atocha!
From that day forward, Mel Fisher became known as the "World's Greatest Treasure Hunter." People from all walks of life know of him from newspaper articles, magazine stories and television appearances. The National Geographic Society has produced two documentaries and published several articles about his finds.
Because of Mel's dream and perseverance, the entire world now has the opportunity to view the remains of 17 th Century Spain. He has added a chapter in history on the Atocha , and the world is thankful.