By Captain Craig Eubank
Also known as the Mel Fisher Treasure Museum!
Back in 1986, I moved to Key West, Florida. Not for the usual reasons of beaches, boat drinks and a decadent lifestyle, but to be a treasure hunter. Since I was young, my father had been an avid reader of National Geographic Magazine and often talked of Mel Fisher and his Treasure Salvors crew and their relentless pursuit of several seventeen century sunken shipwrecks. Being a young impressionable boy, I was mesmerized by the thought of pirates, treasure, gold and silver.
When I was suddenly offered the job of actually working for the man, I jumped at the chance. No experience necessary, just an eagerness to be a part of what I considered history in the finding. I spent the next three years working first as a bookkeeper, then a boatyard minion, and finally second mate on Kane Fishers’ (Mel’s’ son) M/V Dauntless. Any opportunity to participate in the archeological process I jumped at. The atmosphere around the business seemed to be that if you were willing to work they wouldn’t get in your way, regardless of your qualifications, and that is where I earned my knowledge. “Fake it ‘til you make it” was a credo I lived by. Besides, it wasn’t as if I could have gone to school to get a degree in “Treasure Hunting.”
After three short years, the treasure hunting experience had pretty much run its’ course for me. I had jumped on the bandwagon back in ’86; a year after Mel had discovered the main cultural deposit of the “Nuestra Senora de Atocha” (sank in 1622) and the recovery was fairly complete by now. I stayed in touch with the wonderful friends I had made there for the next several years and with the passing of Mel in 1999, I started my own charter fishing business… But, I never forgot the wonderful education and experiences I had had there.
Fast forward to 2012. I now have a successful charter fishing business located at the historic charterboat row in downtown Key West, Florida; and three sons. A fathers’ dream is always that they obediently follow in the family business and have great curiosity for how daddy got where he is today. So, one weekend, I planned a trip with Zachary, my nine year old, to visit the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum. To give him perspective of just how Key West came to be famous and where his father got his start. Captain Craig is the only way my youngest has heard me referred to all his life. He has no reason to question why, but I wanted to give him some sort of perspective on how I came to be.
We parked downtown, and walked to the museum located at the end of Greene Street. Its located just down from Captain Tony’s’ Saloon and across from the historic Customs House. The museum’s entry-way is grand with a larger than life display of period cannons, anchors, and wrought iron accoutrements that would impress the most jaded of pirates.
Last decade, my friend, Wendy Martin, designed most of the displays in the museum. The progress from early Spanish culture, and their move to exploration of the new world, to “procuring” resources from the new world and returning them to Europe, is wonderfully illustrated. The museum flows in a perfectly matter of fact way, with plenty of short, easily read, display cards providing just enough information to keep your interest without making your eyes roll back in your head. Even my nine year old was kept interested (even without an Xbox controller) and solicited intelligent questions; shocking! The main displays are from the “Nuestra Senora de Atocha,” and the “Santa Margarita.” Both sister galleons that sank in a hurricane west of the Marquesas Keys in 1622. The museum isn’t all about treasure and pirates. An English Slave ship from the same time period, “Henrietta Marie”, is well documented also to show that precious metals weren’t the only cargo “imported.” My personal sign that our visit was successful was when Zachary asked several questions about ship construction, ballast, and living conditions. I held my breath as he stared at the exhibit showing the tiny iron handcuffs that were recovered from the English slaver. “Yes, they brought children from Africa too,” I said.
The museum is filled with a breath-taking amount of gold, silver, and jewelry but its ultimate exhibition is about history, historic ocean travel, and how the average mariner lived. Sometimes, not a pretty picture, but necessary to tell the whole story. And this is well illustrated at the MFMHS museum. If my nine year old can be kept captivated for more than fifteen minutes, your family will love this museum. History, adventure, and the reality of the pirate life are all worth the visit. This museum is truly a one of a kind and to only be found in Key West, Florida. Plan to visit!
Captain Craig Eubank owns the charterboat, “Absolut” and fishes in Key West, Florida. He can be reached at www.AbsolutFishingKeyWest.com.