KEY WEST, Florida Keys — The 24th anniversary of shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher’s discovery of the sunken Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha is to be commemorated now through Sunday, July 19, during Mel Fisher Days on the island the late salvor called home.
Fisher and his crew uncovered a $400 million cache of Atocha treasure and artifacts on July 20, 1985, after a 16-year search. The galleon sank approximately 35 miles southwest of Key West during a 1622 hurricane.
Fisher’s son Kim Fisher and grandson Sean Fisher lead the continuing search for Atocha artifacts and treasures remaining on the ocean floor. Each year, Fisher family members and friends present the festival.
Mel Fisher Days activities are to benefit Key West’s Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St., where objects from the Atocha and other shipwrecks are conserved, studied and displayed. Museum visitors can view items including gold and silver bars and coins, cannons and smaller weapons, rare navigational instruments, ornate jewelry and even a 77.7-carat emerald.
Festival events are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St. in Key West’s Historic Seaport. The evening’s highlight is the presentation of the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award, to be granted posthumously to Deo Fisher, Mel’s wife and partner in adventure, who died in January 2009. A video tribute is planned to honor her. Other attractions at the Schooner Wharf kickoff include games, contests, live entertainment, raffles and more than $4,000 in authentic treasure prizes.
At 5 p.m. Friday, an exuberant parade on Key West’s Duval Street is to celebrate the Atocha saga. A “hard times pub crawl,” recalling Fisher’s financial woes before the shipwreck find, is to start at Rick’s Bar, 208 Duval St. Saturday, July 18, those possessing Mel’s optimistic spirit can try their luck at a Midnight Gambler Poker Tournament set for 8:15 p.m. to 2 a.m. aboard Sunset Watersports’ Party Cat catamaran.
The festival culminates in a reunion of the “golden crew” that searched for the Atocha with Fisher. The reunion and pool party are scheduled 1-3 p.m. Sunday, July 19, the day before the anniversary of the historic discovery, at Dante’s Key West, 951 Caroline St.
For more information, visit melfisher.com or call Sharon Wiley at (305) 296-6534.
For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539) or explore this Web site.
Legendary shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher and his wife and partner Deo Fisher are shown here during one of their early adventures together. Photo courtesy of Mel Fisher's Treasures
Mel Fisher made treasure hunting famous in the 20th Century with his underwater discoveries just miles off Key West.
A diver examines gold bars and chains found on the site of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha shipwreck about 35 miles off Key West, Fla. Photo by Pat Clyne/Mel Fisher Museum