The Jesus Maria de la Limpia Concepcion, affectionately known as La Capitana (the “Capitana”), weighed 1,150 tons and had 44 bronze cannons. She was the largest galleon yet built for King Philip IV and was part of the South Sea Armada.
In October 1654, the Capitana prepared to set sail, but her troubles began before she even left port. In an unannounced inspection by the Viceroy of Peru, a large amount of silver ingots and silver wedges were discovered in the private cabin of Captain General Don Baltasar Pardo de Figueroa. He was immediately arrested, leaving the Capitana without a captain. The Senior Admiral was in line as successor, but he was earlier ordered to sail to Acapulco on the galleon Santiago. Therefore, Francisco de Sosa was named Captain General. His second in command was Bernardo de Campos who was also the silvermaster. As silvermaster he was in charge of inventorying all silver brought aboard the Capitana. Once the Viceroy determined that there were no more smuggled goods, the Capitana was given permission to set sail.
Departure and Sinking
On October 18, 1654, the Capitana was ready to set sail. However, fate intervened when the anchor cable parted sending the anchor to the sea floor. Recovery of the anchor took all day and it was nightfall before the Capitana was again ready to set sail. She left port accompanied by an 1,100 ton galleon called the San Francisco Solano (the “Solano”). The voyage proved to be an uneventful one until the night of October 26 when the lookout of the Capitana saw the breakers up ahead. Unfortunately, efforts to turn the Capitana around only drove it into a large reef just off the coast of Chanduy, Ecuador. Striking the reef hard three times, they lost their rudder and began taking on water.
Unable to get assistance from the Solano, they managed to drive the ship closer to shore and anchored her in four and one-half fathoms of water. By anchoring her in relatively shallow water there was a better chance of salvaging her treasure. During the salvage, it became apparent that there was much more silver on board the Capitana than was registered on the inventory. This discrepancy brought about an investigation by the Viceroy and was followed by numerous arrests.
17th Century Salvage
The fact that the Capitana was greatly overloaded hindered the salvage efforts. Most of the silver bars and coins were in the very bottom of the hull and the weight of the cargo piled on top of the treasure further hindered the salvage efforts. To make matters worse, on top of the cargo were 12,000 bales of wool, even though wool had been expressly forbidden aboard the king’s royal galleons. The salvaging of the Capitana took place from 1654 to 1662. Approximately 7 million pesos were recovered (even though only 3 million pesos were officially registered) and it is likely that there was actually 9-10 million pesos on board the Capitana.
The shipwreck was discovered in 1996 and a joint venture began between Herman Moro of SubAmerica Discoveries and Rob McClung of Maritime Explorations International. However, the old adage of “treasure is trouble” proved to be true as rival salvors began to cause trouble for Moro and McClung by spreading rumors of looting by the American joint venture. They also tried to make potential investors in the joint venture believe that Moro and McClung were “salting” the site to make it look like the Capitana shipwreck. Eventually, Moro and McClung succeeded in securing the site and getting the Ecuadoran government’s permission to begin salvaging; of course, with the government receiving half of everything salvaged. When all was said and done, thousands of silver coins were recovered, along with numerous artifacts.
©2008 BBWS, Inc.