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Shipwreck booty beckons in Drakes Bay

The age of treasure hunters passed its prime years ago, unless you count Nicolas Cage movies. But according to a San Jose environmental engineer, Brian Kelleher, there’s a 400-year-old shipwrecked galleon waiting to be discovered off the coast of Marin County in Drakes Bay.

The ship, known as The San Agustín, should be mostly intact and could even contain valuable treasure, he told the IJ:

“The crew was able to salvage some of the lighter items, but the heavier chests and barrels were too heavy to get off.”

The San Agustín arrived in Drakes Bay in 1595, captained by Sebastian Rodriguez Ceremeño and operated by an 80-member crew. They interacted with the native people, the Coast Miwok, in what was the first known interaction between Europeans and natives in the area.

The two-ton galleon was owned by several wealthy Philippine merchants who cut a deal with the Spanish crown – they were allowed to bring and sell merchandise to Mexico in return for exploring what is now the West Coast, on behalf of Spain.

The ship and her crew soon ran into bad luck. A fierce November storm arose and pounded their ship, knocking her into the shore and running her aground.

Kelleher began trying to locate the ship after studying captain Ceremeño and his expedition. And after translating the ship’s log from Portuguese to English, he believes he can pinpoint the ship’s location.

This isn’t the first time someone has attempted to find the ship. In 1997, the National Park Service came up short with their own search.

Kelleher says the reason that that attempt failed because it was based on a much older, sometimes inaccurate translation of the ship’s log, which he believes misled earlier searches. He says his translation will provide a more accurate picture of the wreck’s location.

Gordon White, a Drake’s Bay Park Service head, didn’t seem to mind receiving new information from an independent researcher:

“We will look at what he has and we will have researchers in the field review it as well. We appreciate his energy and interest in this.”

Though the shipwreck has not yet been found, the Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Board is considering establishing the area as a historic site.

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