MOST DIVERS ONLY DREAM OF getting in on the spoils of a shipwreck. But thanks to a Florida-based archaeological group with extra bunk space and a new diving platform, now any treasure hunter with an extra grand or so can help excavate a Spanish galleon loaded down with $100 million in coins, gold bars, and artifacts.
Amelia Research & Recovery (904-838-6619, www.ameliaresearch.com) is exploring the wreckage of the Santa Margarita, a galleon that sank in 1622, along with its sister ship the Atocha, about 27 miles west of Key West. Improving access to the spoils is the Polly-L, a vessel serving as a work platformcommon in the oil industry but never before deployed in the treasure trade. Operators use stilts to raise the Polly-L near the wreckage, creating an island immune to the storms that send most boats running for shore.
Six of the Polly-L's carpeted and air-conditioned rooms are available to paying divers for $250 per night, with a three-night minimum. The rate includes family-style meals and basic dive gear. Amelia plans to keep the Polly-L at the Santa Margarita site through April and then move to other wreck sites off Florida and North Carolina for the summer and fall before returning south in December.
Visitors are free to dive as much as they like, using metal detectors, right alongside the working divers as they blow holes in the sand in hopes of finding gold and silver bars, jewelry, gold chains, emeralds, bronze cannons, and other artifacts. Keep in mind that any booty remains the property of Motivation Inc., the company with which Amelia subcontractsthough finders will get first shot once the items go up for sale.