Search for Columbus's Lost Ship The Santa Maria: History of the Search Part 3

About the search for Christopher Columbus's ship the Santa Maria which he sailed to America, history and background.

The Continuing Search for . . . the Santa Maria

THE SEARCH: John Frye, author of The Search for the Santa Maria, points out with a touch of bitterness that the Santa Maria is "a ship whose name is known to every schoolchild, yet few knew that the Santa Maria never returned to Spain, and still fewer knew that she had been lost on a Haitian reef." In fact, only half a dozen students of Columbus' voyages have actually visited the area in search of any telltale remains of Columbus' famous flagship, an adventure which Frye describes as "something worth doing--for itself."

In 1527 a friend of Columbus visited the spot collecting material for his Historia de las Indias. The natives still called the harbor Puerto Navidad, but there was no Santa Maria and no fort. In the 1780s a French topographer proposed that shoreline changes from soil erosion and shifting sands had altered locations of the past. In 1927, a young American naval officer, who started the vast sisal plantation of La Plantation Dauphin, and who had studied the area closely, tried to locate either the Santa Maria or where fort La Navidad had been. He failed.

The most important Columbian studies were made by the historian Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University. In 1939 he retraced the 4 Columbus voyages of discovery, a careful and cautious reconstruction which resulted in his prizewinning biography of Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea. Morison, without benefit of aerial reconnaissance or underwater exploration, postulated 3 possible sites of the wreck of the Santa Maria reckoning from Columbus' times, distances, and descriptions. All 3 of his preferred locations were close to shore and within the waters protected by the 14-mi.-long barrier reef 3 mi. offshore between Cap Haitien and Caracol Point.

The search for the Santa Maria quickened in 1949 when Don J. Lungwitz, manager of La Plantation Dauphin, flying his plane from the plantation to the Cap Haitien airport, noticed "an oval, ship-shaped blur" on the large reef. Interest was further spurred when Edwin Link, an industrialist and amateur oceanographer, found an anchor in Cap Haitien Bay which might easily have belonged to the Santa Maria. In 1967 Fred Dickson, a treasure diver, a member of the Explorers Club of New York, and a Spanish history major at Yale University, became obsessed with the idea of finding the remains of the Santa Maria, as a "challenge for modern exploration." He set about systematically and scientifically organizing the Santa Maria Foundation, raising money, involving distinguished professors of marine geology and ocean engineering, assembling masses of technical equipment, and turning skeptics into advisers at the Smithsonian Institution.

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