The Almiranta Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas (1656)
The Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas was one of the ships of the fleet that sailed from the port of Cartagena de Indias on July 3, 1655. She carried some 5 million pesos and other goods, partly from a Spanish shipwreck off Ecuador.
Shortly after beginning the voyage, the fleet was warned of enemies in the area, so the galleons decided to change course and take refuge in the port of Veracruz. They departed from this port and arrived in Havana on October 30 and, on January 1, 1656, they left for Spain. As usual, they headed for the Florida Channel to pass the Keys and use the currents of the Gulf Stream to their advantage to continue sailing towards Spain.
While sailing in convoy in the middle of a storm, she was accidentally hit and rammed by another ship of the fleet, leaving several gashes on the hull.
The admiral, Matías de Orellana, then decided to look for a shallow water point to make landfall, assess the damage and repair it immediately. However, the area they were in was full of sandbanks and dangerous shoals and coral reefs, which, at low tide, are not visible, as is the case of the so-called Little Bahama Bank, now a protected natural park located in the north of the Bahamas.
The galleon Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas tried several times to find shelter to make landfall, but on January 4, right in the middle of a storm, she hit bottom at Matarrilla Reef, in the western area of Little Bahamas Bank, about 70 kilometers from the coast. Part of the galleon’s stern broke off and it drifted away until it was no longer visible.
Of the crew and passengers, only about 45 people survived, out of the more than 600 souls on board. Among them was a sailor named Diego Portichuelo de Rivadeneira who, years later, abandoned life at sea and joined the religious order of the Augustinians, where he wrote a diary of his travels.
According to several records kept in the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, part of the galleon’s cargo, including silver and artillery pieces, was recovered the same year of the shipwreck. Some of the diving operations undertaken led to major lawsuits at the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) in Seville, such as that of Juan de Somodevilla Tejada, who had signed a loan contract, or asiento, and his partner Diego Zapata, governor of Cartagena de Indias, both accused of misappropriation of large sums of money; or that of José de Iriarte, who had to save his neck from the gallows by paying 10,000 pesos, due to his misappropriation of part of the cargo of the Maravillas.
The rest of the cargo was scattered among the reefs and sands at the bottom of the sea, forming mounds of materials that were later stirred by other Spanish, English and Dutch sailors and explorers during the 17th and 18th centuries.