HUTCHINSON ISLAND, Fla. — The ocean is a shrewd storyteller, whispering secrets of her past just often enough to hold everyone's interest. This month, she threw out a nugget to an unsuspecting Jensen Beach firefighter out for day with his family at Dollman Beach.
"We all had masks and we're checking out the rocks at the beach," 50-year-old Bennett Richardson said. "I saw what I believed to be part of an anchor sticking out of the sand. I was excited because this is the Treasure Coast and it's not called that for nothing."
The Treasure Coast moniker comes from the fleet of Spanish galleons that wrecked against rocks and reefs in a 1715 hurricane, spilling an estimated $900 million worth of gold bars, coins and jewels from Sebastian to Fort Pierce. Although treasure hunters have uncovered millions in sunken artifacts, they know millions more are still waiting to be found.
On Sunday, three weeks after Richardson spotted the crusty chunk of iron poking out of the sand, he returned to the St. Lucie County beach. This time he called Chris Perry, a fellow surfer and former professional photographer. He also enlisted the help of a couple strangers at the beach. While Perry took pictures, the three men pushed the seven-foot-long anchor up from the sand.
"You'd need about 20 people to get it out," Richardson said. "We all just gave up because it was too heavy."
Lucky for him, because he could have been arrested if he'd taken the anchor out of the water. State law allows only licensed salvagers to remove historic artifacts from the ocean.
Richardson doesn't want the anchor. He'd just like to see it at the entrance to Dollman Beach Park.
So would St. Lucie County Coastal Resources Supervisor Jim Oppenborn.
"We'd be very interested," Oppenborn said.
But after contacting the state Bureau of Historic Preservation, he learned that the county also has no right to the artifact.
"Leave it submerged for now," Oppenborn advised beachgoers.
The man who does have the right to the anchor doesn't want it either.
"It's not worth anything, and it's difficult to preserve," said Brent Brisben of Sebastian, a principal with the 1715 Fleet-Queen's Jewels, a corporation that has salvage rights along the Treasure Coast.
Brisben judged the anchor to be more than 200 years old, but not from the 1715 treasure fleet.
"There's a shipwreck every quarter mile along the Florida coast," he said. "Very few are treasure wrecks."