KEY WEST, Florida Keys— The 25th anniversary of shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher’s discovery of the sunken Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha is to be commemorated Thursday through Sunday, July 15-18, during Mel Fisher Days on the island the late salvor called home.
Fisher and his crew uncovered a $400 million cache of Atocha treasure and artifacts July 20, 1985, after a 16-year search. The galleon sank approximately 35 miles southwest of Key West during a 1622 hurricane.
Fisher’s son Kim Fisher and grandson Sean Fisher lead the continuing search for Atocha artifacts and treasures remaining on the ocean floor. Each year, Fisher family members and friends present the festival.
Mel Fisher Days activities benefit the not-for-profit Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, operators of a 200 Greene St. museum where objects from the Atocha and other shipwrecks are conserved, studied and displayed. Museum visitors can view items including gold and silver bars and coins, cannons and smaller weapons, rare navigational instruments, ornate jewelry and even a 77.7-carat emerald.
Festival events are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St. in Key West’s Historic Seaport.
The evening’s highlight is the presentation of the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award to internationally recognized shipwreck search and salvage expert Captain Carl Fismer. Fismer worked with Fisher on the recovery of the 1622 Spanish galleon Santa Margarita, which sank with the Atocha in Key West waters.
Other attractions at the Schooner Wharf kickoff include the “Miss Atocha” bikini contest, with contestants encouraged to make and wear their own treasure-themed bikinis. The competitor who raises the most money for the museum wins an authentic silver coin from the Atocha site, valued at $1,800. Second- and third-place entrants receive rough emeralds.
Friday’s festival highlight is to be an exuberant block party in the 200 block of Key West’s Duval Street, featuring a concert headlined by “tropical rock” stars Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band.
Among the block party’s other scheduled attractions are a dunk tank where attendees can “submerge” Key West notables including Sean Fisher. Tricycle races, carnival games, raffle prizes and family fun round out the evening’s activities.
Saturday, July 17, those possessing Mel Fisher’s optimistic spirit can try their luck at a Midnight Gambler Poker Tournament set for 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. aboard Sunset Watersports’ Party Cat catamaran.
The festival culminates in a reunion of the “golden crew” that searched for the Atocha with Fisher. The reunion is scheduled 7-9 p.m. Sunday, July 18, at the second-level Sunset Deck of the Westin Key West Resort, 245 Front St.
During the reunion, just two days before the 25th anniversary of the historic Atocha find, divers and other members of the “golden crew” are to share tales of their experiences seeking the fabled shipwreck.
In addition, longtime Fisher associate Pat Clyne plans to debut his book, “The Atocha Odyssey,” featuring personal insights and more than 100 photographs that chronicle the epic adventure.
For more information, visit www.melfisher.com or call Sharon Wiley at 305-296-6534.
For lodging information in Key West, contact the Key West Chamber of Commerce at 800-LAST-KEY (800-527-8539) or visit the Keys website at www.fla-keys.com.