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« on: August 15, 2009, 11:22:34 pm »
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The Spanish Amada, the vanguard of Phillip II's attempt to crush England in 1588, was the mightiest battle fleet the world had yet see, a massive display of sea power consisting of 30,000 men and 1,00 cannon aboard 24 galleons, 40 armed merchantmen, and 36 smaller vessels, supported by 25 supply ships. After two weeks of running fight against the English navy, which was outnumbered though not outgunned and was led by veteran privateers such as Hawkins and Drake, the Armada was still a formidable force of more than 100 ships. But adverse winds and the depredationsof the English had left the Spaniards without the stomach to continue the battle. On 2nd August, off the coast of Scotland, their commander, the Duke of Medina Sidonia, issued his orders. The fleet was to head back to Spain, not though the English Channel where the enemy could once more attack, but round Cape Wrath in the nort of Scotland and the west of Ireland - a route which his captains did not have charts. This handicap would not have mattered if all the ships had obeyed instructions and stayed well offshore. But some, desperate for food and fresh water, ventured onto the wild west Irish coast, where they were wrecked and their crews drowned or slaughtered.

Wrecks Galore

Altogether, between 20 and 25 vessels were lost in Medina's retreat, in addition to about the sam number captured or sunk in the earlier fighting. The search for the wrecks, and the treasure that at least some of them carried, continues to fascinate many people. Those wrecks that have been located - through not all salvaged - are scattered over a wide area. El Gran Grifon went down in Stroms Hellierm off Fair Isle in the Shetlands. The Duque de Florencia perished in Tobermory Bay, Scotland. La Trinidad Valencera sank in the Bay of Kinnagoe. Off the Irish coast, the Girona was wrecked on the Bunboyes Rock, off Antrim, three wrecks have been traced in Streedagh in Sligo, and the Santa Maria de la Rossa foundered on Great Blasquet Island near the Dingle Peninsula. The San Pedro Mayor successfully rounded Scotland and Ireland, only to be blown ashore near Hope Cove in Devon. So it is possible that further Armada ships may lie almost anywhere along the western coast of the British Isles.

Treasure Lost and Found

Rumors of treasure carried by the Armada began to grow even before the fleet was finally defeated. They were fed by a prize taken by Francis Drake. In the midst of battle, Drake took time off to escort the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora del Rosario ashore in Dorset, and to help himself to the 55,000 ducats she was carrying. Legends of Spanish treasure abound on the Rish coast, and it is possible that local inhabitants pillaged the more accessible wrecks as soon as they could.

The diver Archibald Milller worked on the Florencia in the 17th century, but it was not until the 1960s that full-scale attempts began at salvaging the remnants of the Armada. The Belgian Robert Stenuit searched for the Gironia off Antrim in Ireland.

In 1967, Stenuit found the site, retrieving pieces-of-eight, an anchor and a gold chain. The following year, he returned with better equipment and discovered a whole collection of magnificent items, now on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. Among them were more than 400 gold coins, some 800 silver coins, and precious jewelry set with gems, including a brooch depiciting a salamander, and a gold box in which holy relics were carried.
The Girona finds are not necessaily typical. The ship, which was Italian even though it sailed with the Armada, had taken aboard the valuables from two other wrecked vessels before foundering herself. Nevertheless, contemporary records show that the Armada was a floting treasure store as well as a battle fleet. The prospects of such riches are more than enough to keep the quest for the Armada wrecks alive. However, even when a ship is located, disappointment may follow. The Santa Maria de la Rosa, found in 1968, yielded only two pewter plates, a medallion, and a handful pf gold and silver coins.

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