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THE FANGS OF CHINCHORRO. (sunken treasure hunters).

Jamaica… Hispaniola… Cuba… Granada… The names sound like music and make your heart skip a beat. Located on the 88th degree of longitude in the colorful Caribbean Sea, the small country is hidden behind a long coral reef. The reef stretches along the coast, protecting sandy beaches from the ocean waves. Dozens of small islands in emerald waters lie between the reef and the coast. All are covered with mangroves and coconut palms. The underwater world is good for diving and fishing. On each island, finding a secluded bay for your yacht and hot white sand is easy. There is no one there, just the birds and the fish. And they will tell no one about you and what you are doing there.

And in the dense greenery of the coast, tropical birds whistle their songs and parrots tease tourists by imitating the sound of a human voice. Crocodiles and turtles hide in the lagoons and rivers, and jaguars and monkeys live in the mountain jungles.
Coconuts and bananas, oranges, lemons and grapefruits, mangoes, avocados, black cherries, plums and sea grapes, almonds, pineapples, and many other fruits are everywhere. The mountain valleys have coffee and cocoa trees and melons with juicy nectar. The coconut will quench your thirst – just stick a knife in and the juice squirts out like champagne from a bottle!
There are no crowded cities. There is no traffic on the roads and motorways and no smog. Instead, there are fragrant sea breezes, bright blue skies, and smiling, tanned people. This Caribbean paradise captivated Jack with its beauty and seduced him to new adventures. A long time ago, Jack realized one simple thing – he should live in a place where other people come to vacation. So he moved here and said goodbye to noisy, smoggy Los Angeles.

Jack chose a spot in a small fishing village on a picturesque peninsula. This strip of land stretches for twenty miles, washed by the sea and the waters of the lagoon. The lagoon is covered with mangroves. The peninsula is so narrow in places that a stone thrown from the sea will hit the water in the lagoon.
All the locals and their children are keen fishermen. Small restaurants, tavernas, and open-air kitchens tempt you all day long with the aromas of grilled and fresh fish delicacies. How about a fillet of barracuda or red snapper marinated in a spicy mojo rojo sauce? The fish is grilled with vegetables and topped with this spicy sauce. Oh my, it is delicious!

The yachts from the States, Mexico, and Guatemala are always in the bay. Fishing boats return daily with fresh catches of crab, lobster, tuna, mackerel, and more.
Fishing competitions and children’s sailing regattas are held here regularly, as well as festivals and the annual public marathon. On these days, visitors come from all over, music plays day and night, the beaches are full of barefoot and tipsy tourists, and two dozen hotels and restaurants are overcrowded. The fishing village is small, but only a snob who does not understand the beauty of life would fail to enjoy its atmosphere.

Jack has rented a bungalow on the coast. He meets the sunrise by cycling, swimming in the fragrant warm sea, or running barefoot on the beach. Jack loves fishing and sometimes he catches a big bass.
Yesterday was a rainy day. The fishing is always good after the rain. In the early morning sky, Jack sees his old friends Orion, Scorpius, and Cassiopeia, they are all here. Polaris, barely glowing in the cold space, is too far away from his warm paradise. Sometimes Jack sees the Southern Cross on the horizon. Our planet is small.
In a few minutes, dawn will draw a line between sky and sea, and the stars will fade into the mist. The wily fish easily took the soft sardine from his hook, and all Jack caught today was excitement. But the next minute the sun came out of the sea and he jumped into the water to meet it.

The owner of the bungalow was a fisherman. One day he went to Guatemala to visit relatives and died there. The relatives had taken all his belongings, but a few boxes of magazines and newspapers were left on the veranda. Sipping his morning coffee, Jack leafed through the old magazines. This country had been a British colony until recently, so it was interesting to see pictures from the colonial era.
Among the magazines, Jack came across a notebook, its pages scribbled in uneven handwriting. As Jack began to read the notes, he couldn’t stop, so fascinating was his discovery. The notebook was a unique register of ships sunk in local waters during colonial wars and piracy. The treasure hunter sleeps in all of us. If that monster is awakened, the soul will know no rest. Jack’s eyes dug into the yellowed pages….

For centuries, the waters of the New World have been filled with ships of colonists and pirates. Hurricanes and storms, sea battles, and the cannons have sunk or blown apart hundreds of ships laden with treasure… According to professional treasure hunters, the bottom of the Caribbean Sea is strewn with gold and silver.
The Spanish were the first to plunder here. From the legitimate cargo of each ship returning to Spain, the king took twenty percent as a tax. This tax was called “The Royal Fifth”.
Often captains and ship owners tried to compensate for the risk of a dangerous voyage through pirate-infested seas by hiding some of the treasure from royal inspectors. Although smuggling was punishable by ten years in prison, almost everyone participated. There were times when the cargo hidden on board exceeded the legal cargo.

Copies of the declaration were sent to Spain on small mail ships called “avisos”. These documents, kept in archives, allowed experts to calculate the amount of valuable cargo that Spain lost in their transport from its overseas colonies.
The calculation was made at the beginning of the twentieth century when an ounce of gold cost only $20. At that price, the total value of the treasure lost in the Caribbean, including the waters of Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda, was about two billion dollars.
Since then, the price of gold has increased fifty-fold, and today the value of sunken treasure is estimated at one hundred billion dollars!

But this is only the visible part, the part that was recorded in the cargo manifests and has survived to this day. The visible part of an iceberg, excluding smuggling.
Many of the smuggling facts have been confirmed by the findings of expert scientists, marine archaeologists, and professional treasure hunters who have raised tons of gold and silver bars from the seabed. These did not bear the stigma of royal treasure. Plus, some of the archives were also destroyed by fire or flood.
Of course, these lost archives contained important information about the coordinates of the sunken ships. Finding a sunken ship without these missing archives is no longer possible, and only a miracle can bring luck to the treasure hunters.

Here Jack thought that, given the smuggling and missing archives, we could add a modest fifty percent to the hundred billion to get an even more intriguing figure.
Here’s an interesting fact. One of the most famous and successful treasure hunters, Sir Robert Marks, was knighted three times by the royal houses of Europe in recognition of his services to maritime archaeology.
A courageous adventurer, Sir Robert Marks devoted his life to a dangerous profession, exploring more than three thousand shipwreck sites in the waters of 62 countries.
Between dives, he spent 12 years in archives and libraries, researching tonnes of old Spanish manifestos and writing more than 60 books (!) on the subject.
This very professional and respected man concluded that only ONE PERCENT of all known sunken treasures has ever been found!
Here Jack (and I) would agree that the Caribbean seabed is paved with gold, just as the old streets of Paris or London were paved with cobblestones.
As Jack continued to read, it occurred to him that the pages he had found were merely a list of ships that had sunk in the waters of British Honduras between 1847 and 1981. That means, since the days when these waters were taken from the Spanish by the British.

The English are meticulous and pedantic. They kept meticulous records of ships lost in the waters of British Honduras. But what about the two and a half centuries before the British invasion? Who recorded the shipwrecks between 1500 and 1750? The history of tragedies in which ships carrying treasure disappeared in these waters is shrouded in mystery. Many ships fell prey to the pirates, who usually burned and sank the evidence of their bloody deeds.
Over those two and a half centuries, dozens of ships were also lost on the coral reef, which is the longest in the western hemisphere, stretching 170 miles from Mexico to Honduras. Heavy warships avoided these dangerous areas and it was not until the arrival of the British that shipping began to develop in the waters of their new colony.
Many ships were lost in the shallows and reefs of the Caribbean. On the border with Mexican waters, huge shoals are stretching 25 miles from north to south and about 10 miles from east to west. This is a very dangerous area to sail in.
There are three islands in these shallow waters: Norte, Central, and Lobos. Only fishermen have lived there since time immemorial. The waters around these islands are home to the Chinchorro reefs. They only show their teeth at low tide or during storms. When the weather is calm, these fangs predators hide underwater, waiting for their next prey…

“…In 1659, the Spanish ship “Ayuda”, loaded with gold and diamonds, was lost in these waters, and at about the same time the galleon “Santiago”, with 2 million silver pesos on board, was washed up on the reefs of Chinchorro by a hurricane.

In September 1749, another terrible hurricane scattered more than 20 English merchant ships with valuable cargo on the reefs. Many of these ships were pulled onto the reefs of Chinchorro. Attempts were later made to recover the treasure. The salvagers found nothing, not a cent. The reefs had swallowed everything!

Two years later, the reefs of Chinchorro swallowed more victims. The “Caldera”, “Escacel”, “Far Star”, “Ginger Screw”, “Glen View”, “Penelope”, “San Andreas”, “Tropic”, and other vessels met their end there. All were loaded with valuable cargo.

In 1769, the English merchant ship “Liberty” disappeared on the reefs. Three years later, two more American merchant ships, the “Andrew” and the “Industry”, were lost in the area.

In 1776, the Irish merchant ship “Hercules” disappeared in the same area, and in 1821, the French merchant ship “Sires” disappeared…”
The treacherous reefs of Chinchorro seem to feed on drowned sailors and golden pesos. Nothing lost there has ever been found, ever!

Jack’s coffee had gone cold, his cigar extinguished. He was holding a notebook that reeked of maritime tragedies of the past. And then he had a crazy idea that maybe he should rent a sailboat and visit those damned reefs…? It was a great idea because he had brought with him all the diving equipment from California, including a sensitive underwater metal detector. He wanted to make his diving exciting and it looked like the time had come for that.
Here Jack smiled and decided to toast the success of his crazy idea. So off he went to the local tavern with the serious intention of drinking a big glass of rum…..

THE PIRATE’S NEST.

Ambergris Caye is the northern island of the country. The nearest is Caye Caulker, and these two islands in colonial times became a convenient base for pirates. Here there was food and water, pirates could repair their schooners and wait for booty.
In 1785-1790, the Spanish galleon “Santiago”, laden with gold, silver, and precious stones, was lost on the reefs of Bacalar Chico, off the northern tip of Ambergris Caye. In 1822 an English ship with valuable cargo was also lost in an unknown tragedy. Treasure from these shipwrecks still lies on the seabed.
Since these two islands are near a long reef, the pirates used a cunning method to lure their victims’ ships onto the reef. From an old local man, Jack learned the story of how they did it.
The pirates’ accomplice was the wind, which in these parts blows from sea to land all year round. From the shore, the reef is easily recognizable by the crest of a wave which, as it jumps over the reef, whips up white foam. From the sea, this foam is not visible, and here lies the danger.
A passing ship needed drinking water and provisions, but the reef became a problem on the way to shore. Posing as local fishermen, the pirates approached the ship in boats and offered their services. Having previously placed two lit torches on the reef, they now guaranteed the captain safe passage between the lights, promising that wine, good food, and entertainment awaited the crew. The unsuspecting captain would steer the ship between the torches, and when the bottom of the ship was plowed by the reef, the pirates pounced, plundered, and burned the vessel. Ships captured in this insidious way were lost, the pirates left no witnesses, and the sea washed the evidence of their crimes off the reef.


Jack decided to charter a yacht on Ambergris Caye, the island closest to the reefs he wanted to visit. A small plane from a local airline flew him to the island in the morning. Jack left his luggage at the hotel and went to look for the yacht. He was lucky that day. A single-masted, thirty-foot Dutch-built yacht was just right. It had everything he needed, including electronics and a working diesel engine.
Satisfied with his find, Jack went to the local tavern for a dinner and it was a grilled bass. At the other end of the long table, a local fisherman was munching on a fried iguana. The mere sight of the reptile made Jack uneasy. When the fisherman finished, he sat down with a bottle of rum. The fisherman’s name was “Three Pence” and Jack asked him how he came to be called that.

“When I was a boy I used to fish for a living and sell my catch to the English for three pence. That’s what they called me and I’ve forgotten my real name,” laughed the toothless old man.

“Rumor has it that your ancestors were pirates,” Jack poured some rum into the old man’s glass.

“Pirates were real men, not like your current politicians,” Three Pence grinned. “My father was a pirate, and my grandfather and his father were pirates. Pirates were outlaws, but they weren’t fools,” he poured the contents of the glass into his mouth and gave a satisfied quack.

“One day the pirates were driven out and moved to the Indian Ocean. And piracy still thrives there, in Madagascar,” he glanced meaningfully at the bottle, and Jack took the hint.

“So, what do you know about the ships at the bottom of the sea?” he nudged the old man closer to the subject.”Hoey and the gold at the bottom keeps you awake too? ” Three Pence chuckled.

“Yes, – Jack sighed, the reefs of Chinchorro keep me awake”.

“Don’t go there, ” the old man’s face grew grave. “Many have tried, but none of those have returned. It’s a devilish place, even the local fishermen avoid it.”
“Why don’t you try your luck here, on the Bacalar Chico? ” Three Pence jabbed his finger at the window where the sea splashed.
“Two hundred years ago a Spanish ship loaded with gold sank here. But our government has already declared these waters a nature reserve, so it’s forbidden to go there… unless you’re a pirate…” Three Pence coughed and winked at Jack.
Then he turned serious and added that the Coast Guard guys are no fools and if you want to mess with them, you could end up in jail. That was the end of the conversation and he turned his glass upside down, signaling that it was time to go home.

CHARRO.

The next day was rainy. Jack was fiddling with the awning when he heard a small boat approaching his yacht. A muscular, dark-skinned fellow jumped up on deck:

“My name is Charro, and the Three Pence is my grandfather,” he said with a white-toothed smile. The rain turned into a downpour.

“Charro, I liked your grandfather and now I see his grandson, so let’s hide from the rain and have some coffee”.

“My grandfather said that yesterday he was drinking rum with an American who was going to Chinchorro. So I decided to look at this nutter,” Charro stirred the coffee in his cup and smiled.
“And ..?” – Jack smiled too and stirred his coffee in the opposite direction.
“The nutter looks like a normal person to me,” Charro shrugged.
“There are no normal people in this world, but only not examined ones,” Jack grinned and pulled out a notebook.

“I had a friend who lived there. We used to go fishing sometimes, I know those waters,” Charro flipped through the pages of the notebook.
“The friend must have found something there,” he continued, “the last time I saw him, he was mumbling something about gold. I thought there was something wrong with his head. He went missing last year, and the only thing they found on the shore was one of his fins. There’s a lot of sharks out there…”
“Charro, can you show me the place? ” Jack looked him straight in the eyes.
Charro squirmed in his seat, “Looks like my grandfather was right with his diagnosis.”
Jack offered him a share. And Charro accepted. Another nutter had appeared in the world…

THE DEVIL’S PLACE.

The sea was stormy and they sailed slowly, under one sail. At last the outline of an island appeared through the rain.
This is Lobos,” Charro handed Jack a thermos of coffee, “a friend of mine used to live on this island. It’s shallow, and you can only approach the pier from the southwest.
Take the wheel,” Jack shifted to give him a seat.

The old wooden jetty was full of holes and an old man was standing on it to help them dock the boat. He shook Jack’s hand and nodded to his partner “Hey Charro, it’s been a while since you’ve been here, how’s my mateo doing?”
“Uncle Roberto, good to see you,” Charro waved a bottle of rum at him, “your mateo Three Pense is in good health and sends you a gift. We have decided to fish here for a week, will you share the sea with us?”
“No problem,” an old man took a big swig straight from the bottle.
“Ha, it’s nectar,” he exhaled and licked his lips.
“Come on, I’ll take you under the roof, you’re as wet as crabs! Your friend’s mother is visiting relatives on the mainland, so you can stay in their place. You know our village, ask someone if you need anything,” he nodded to Charro and took another good swig from the bottle.

A creaky staircase led to the room of Charro’s friend: fishing gear, diving equipment, binoculars, guns with spears. And many pencil drawings pinned to the wooden walls. The presence of the owner was everywhere as if he had just left and could return at any moment.
There was a wide makeshift bed in the corner and Jack stuck his curious nose under it. He pulled out a drawer covered with a towel. And under the towel… Mamma Mia, it’s silver! Jack was holding a heavy brick, dull grey. There were coins in a small leather pouch, and they all turned out to be gold! The coins were well preserved and the year of minting was easy to read: 1659.
With trembling hands, Jack pulled a notebook out of his jacket and flipped through the pages… There it was! “…the Spanish galleon ‘Ayuda’ with a cargo of gold and diamonds in 1659…”
“Your friend found the galleon, damn it!” Jack shook his notebook in front of an astonished Charro. There must be a map somewhere with these places marked! They searched every nook and cranny… but there was no map! It was getting dark and they decided not to use the generator, just lit candles. It’s better without the rumble of the engine.

Candle in hand, Jack walked slowly from one drawing to the next. In the light of the candle, they seemed to come alive. They depicted the life of a fishing village: nets, boats, and the sea. And one drawing was probably a self-portrait: a young man with eyes wide open and gold coins in his open palms…
“He had a sense of humor,” Jack smiled, he liked this drawing.
The next drawing was a grotesque depiction of a Spanish galleon. The ship was in distress on a stormy sea, its sails torn by the wind. Jack drew the fire closer to read the name of the galleon… and the candle almost fell out of his hands…
“Come here,” he beckoned to Charro, asking him to read the name of the ship. Charro murmured… “AYUDA…”
“Exactly! A thousand devils, your friend knew what he’d found!”
Jack kept waving his arms, looking like an idiot.
“He knew there was a lot of gold in there! That’s why people thought he was mad!”
Jack moved the candle closer to the drawing again. There was a small cross between the masts of the galleon. It looks like that mark was done on the back of the drawing. Picking up the knife, Jack carefully removed the buttons holding the drawing to the wall and turned it over. It was a map! The cross pointed to a spot between the reefs.

The torrential rain was soaking the island covering the sea in a thick fog. But they ignored the bad weather getting stuck on the map. The marked spot was three miles from the island. They divided the area into squares and drew the passages between the reefs according to the depth marks.
On the third day, the storm finally passed. And they headed out to sea.
Marine electronic devices were a fantastic helper! Without it, they would have been trapped by the reefs. At low tide in the morning they could see reef fangs above the surface.
They reached the site and dropped anchor. The depth there was no more than thirty meters, in some places even less.
For the first dive, Jack took a metal detector, a large knife, and a sharp-toothed pick. Plus some special markers to help him mark the spots on the bottom. His tank was full, and Jack didn’t seem to have forgotten anything. The other end of the signal line was in Charro’s hands. The frequent twitching will be a signal for him to pull Jack out immediately.

After marking the time and place on the map, Jack descends. The water is clear and visibility is good. On the way down he tests the coral wall with a metal detector. Coral is a marine animal that eats anything that settles on it. The sunken coins cannot be found without the device, they are hidden under the armor of this immovable predator. Jack sees many small fish around. They graze on coral, nibble on grass, and fatten up.
The whole bottom is a coral plateau, here his device began to squeak weakly. Jack found the spot where the signal was strong and stable, marked it, and started with the pick. The water around him became muddy and that slowed his work down. A splintered piece of coral the size of a fist was heavy, it looked like there was something inside. Jack throws it into the bag.
The sand between the coral tips is hard and compacted. Jack moves on, towards their anchor, continuing to probe the sand with the instrument. Still nothing.

With his side vision, Jack catches sight of a huge barracuda, about four or five feet long. A very dangerous and cunning predator, it sits motionless in the water like a stick and stares at him with a deadpan stare. It can attack within seconds and moves with incredible speed. Just in case, Jack pressed his back against the coral wall and pulled out his knife. That way it would be harder for the predator to attack him. But the dive was ruined, it was better to leave, so Jack slowly rose to the surface, keeping his eyes on the barracuda.
On deck, he dipped a piece of coral into a bucket of water and hit it lightly with a pickaxe to remove the growths. Inside were metal rounds that looked like coins. They were so stuck together that they needed to be electrolyzed. Jack shared his concerns about the barracuda with Charro, and his partner assured him that there was no shark where the barracuda hunted and the two predators didn’t graze in the same place.
“If the barracuda isn’t hungry, it won’t attack, there are plenty of fish for its lunch. Just don’t turn your back on it,” laughs Charro.
“Thanks, mate, you’ve comforted me,” Jack smiled sadly.
They moved on to the next spot. At the very bottom, the detector howled a powerful tone through the headphones. After examining the object, Jake decided that either an anchor or a ship’s cannon lurked beneath the coral. A different instrument was needed here: with his pickaxe, it was like tickling an elephant’s leg with a toothbrush. Around this spot, the instrument gives false readings over a wide radius.

They’ve finished their dive for the day. All that remained was to mark on the map the places they had surveyed and record the comments in the logbook. This took all of the afternoon, and at sunset, tired but satisfied, they had a dinner of fried fresh catch. Charro doesn’t drink, but I will. I pour a glass of rum and tell my partner that tomorrow it will be his turn to visit the barracuda. Charro grins and strums his little guitar, humming a song in his obscure language.

It rained all night, but in the morning the sea was calm. Jack equipped the Charro and pushed him into the water. Time was clicking and soon the stopwatch showed that the air in his partner’s tank was running out. Jack pulled the rope and Charro floated to the surface. His net was stuffed with coral bits, and he was jumping for a few minutes, shaking the water out of his ears. And then he shook out the contents of his pockets….. On the deck were eight gold coins, the doubloons from the galleon Ayuda!
These doubloons are priceless. They could ask any price at the most prestigious auctions in the world. There was a fortune on deck. They began to dance crazily and shouting wildly.
“You’ve ruined my life! How am I supposed to live with this?” Charro was almost hysterical.
Jack poured a bucket of water over his head and wished him a happy life.

Tomorrow it was Jack’s turn to go underwater. On the map, Charro showed him where he had found gold and left flags. Jack is on the spot, he can see Charro’s marks. Here the reefs stick out their sharp fangs and the passages between them are very narrow. But the detector gives a good signal right there. Jack took off his tank and squeezed through the narrow coral fangs, dragging the tank behind him. The storms hadn’t disturbed the seabed here, the reef became a natural barrier. Soon Jack forged a few gold coins out of the sand, and then a gold chain, three feet long. Wow! This is the find of the century!

A shadow appeared over his head… it was a barracuda again. Jack crawled out of the coral crevice and at the moment something burned his thigh. Now there’s a cloud of blood around him.
Charro pulls him to the surface as hard as he can. On deck, Jack is holding gold out to him, but Charro doesn’t want the gold, he’s trying to plug the wound in Jack’s thigh. It looks like the barracuda has severed his artery, blood gushing from the wound.
Jack doesn’t feel any pain, but he feels cold asking Charro to cover him with something. Charro pulls a blanket and wraps Jack in it. He pours him a full glass of rum and Jack looks into his eyes in grateful silence. He already has trouble speaking.
Jack drinks the full glass, the rum tastes so good today. Suddenly he feels a force lifting him. From above he sees the yacht and his body on its deck, Charro leaning over him.
The force lifts him higher and higher, and now the yacht is a small dot.
Jack sees frigates around him, those magnificent sea birds. The frigates surround him and Jack also has strong wings! The sun, sinking into the sea, sends him its parting green ray. It’s a good sign of luck!

© Copyright: Walter Maria, Certificate of Publication No. 217070201926

Published inNovels

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