Urca De Lima Shipwreck

Diver inspecting the Urca de Lima
Diver inspecting the Urca de Lima

Photo courtesy of Florida Maritime Heritage trail, Florida Division of Historical Resources

The Urca de Lima is a wooden-hulled sailing ship that was part of a Spanish plate flota (feet). It sank off the east coast of Florida in 1715 during a hurricane. The vessel is flat-bottomed and round-bellied-- perfect for transporting goods across the Atlantic. The eleven vessels of the merchant convy were traveling from Havana, Cuba to Spain loaded with products from Mexico and Manilla. These products included vanilla, chocolate, and incense. While there was no royal treasure onboard, the Urca de Lima did contain private chests of silver. After it was grounded by the storm, the Urca de Lima was one of the first vessels to be salvaged by the Spanish. The Spanish then burned the hull to the waterline to hide its location from English freebooters.

The Urca de Lima was rediscovered in 1928. For the next 50 years the wreck was heavily salvaged. In the 1980s, the state of Florida stopped issuing salvage permits on the Urca de Lima and opened the wreck to the public. It was the state's first Underwater Archaeological Preserve. To recreate a visual sense of the original wreck, five cement replicas of cannons and an anchor were positioned around the wreck. All that remains of the ship is the 100 foot by 50 foot ballast mound which covers the hull timbers. Bottom sediments constantly cover and uncovers the vessel as a result of wave action, storms, and currents. The remains of the Urca de Lima are significant because the ship is well-preserved and is the only surviving wreck from that 1715 flota. The Urca de Lima is in good condition and has stabilized, reaching a state of equilibrium with its environment.

The Urca De Lima is the subject of an online lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

The Urca De Lima is located 200 yards offshore in 10-15 ft. of water about 1,000 yards north of Pepper Beach Park near Fort Pierce with its axis pointing from the northeast to the southwest. A mooring buoy placed at the site should be used in lieu of anchoring to protect the shipwreck from anchor damage. The shipwreck is located within a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve, and a laminated underwater guide is available from local dive shops. The preserve is open to the public year round, free of charge.