Because of the Gulf Stream and the limitations of primitive navigation techniques, the treasure fleets followed the Straits of Floridathe channel between the Florida Keys, Cuba, and the Bahamas connecting the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlanticon their way back to Spain. Treacherous reefs and shoals made this the most dangerous part of the journey. Although general weather conditions were better during the summer, the warm waters of the Atlantic could help produce strong storms called hurricanes.
In July 1715 and again in July 1733, Spain suffered financial setbacks when the treasure fleets were destroyed by hurricanes. The 1715 fleet wrecked along the Atlantic coast of southern Florida. The 1733 fleet sank along the Florida Keys. In both cases, the wreckage was spread over many miles of shoreline. Spain managed to recover much of the treasure and other goods following the disasters, but the sunken ships and remaining treasure lay forgotten until the 20th century when many were rediscovered. Two of these shipwrecksthe Urca de Lima from the 1715 disaster and the San Pedro from 1733are protected today as Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserves.
1. Trace the approximate route of the treasure fleets from Havana to Cape Canaveral. Why did the fleets follow this course? What dangers did they face in this area?
2. Why was the summer a potentially dangerous time to sail in this area?
3. Why do you think the wreckage would have been spread over many miles? How do you think this would have impacted attempts to rescue crews and recover treasure?
4. Locate the Urca de Lima and the San Pedro wrecks and describe their location.
* The image on this screen has a resolution of 72 dots per inch (dpi), and therefore will print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Map 2, but be aware that the file may take as much as 20 seconds to load with a 28.8K modem.