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Part II, Manzanita 300-Yr-Old Spanish Galleon Find: Historic Surprises for Oregon Coast

Published 06/20/22 at 5:25 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Part II, Manzanita 300-Yr-Old Spanish Galleon Find: Historic Surprises for Oregon Coast

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(Manzanita, Oregon) – Part II of this dramatic find on the north Oregon coast. Part 1 delved into what the Spanish galleon Santo Cristo de Burgos was, how it was likely responsible for the gobs of beeswax discovered in the Manzanita area for over two centuries, and how recent misinformation on the discovery has propagated the falsehood the wreck had something to do with a famous movie. See Part I here. (Above: sea caves north of Manzanita. Somewhere around here timbers from the 300-year-old galleon were found)

The story picks up where archaeologist Scott Williams from the Maritime Archaeological Society had heard from an old friend, Nehalem Bay resident Craig Andes, that there were shipwreck timbers in a remote sea cave near Manzanita. This was just before the pandemic in 2020. Williams at first did not believe him, but when testing came back from a piece in the cave indicating it was the right kind of wood that galleons from Spain in the 1690s were made from, Williams and his colleagues were hooked.

Courtesy Scott Williams: one of the ship pieces measured in the cave

Andes had said the timbers looked squared – human-cut. And they had holes for the spikes that bind galleons together. In August of 2020, another member of the society joined Andes down below Neahkahnie Mountain and confirmed this to be the case. Carbon dating was done on samples and that came back conclusive for about 1693.

Researchers hoped to act fast, as they realized these timbers had only been uncovered in recent years. Andes had not seem them before in those caves, so some form of erosion was quickening here. There was a chance they'd wash away. Mapping of the spot was done, and Williams and crew talked extensively with the state archaeologist and Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). The race to get down there began.

Williams contacted an old associate, James Delgado from Search, Inc. The underwater archaeologist is known for his work on the Titanic and other wrecks.

By February and March of 2021, recovery planning was finally happening. Over that summer, state authorities had finally coordinated with the group and permits were in place. But the bad luck wasn't over.

“We'd missed all the tidal and weather conditions,” Williams said. “COVID was ramping up again, so we decided to wait. We sat on the story for a year.”

Photo Scott Williams: Another piece in the cave

Finally, this past Tuesday, Williams, Delgado and the various groups cleared the cave of all the galleon pieces. It also took the help of Nehalem Valley Fire and Rescue and the Clastop County High Angle Rescue Team, in case the treasure hunters got stuck.

In the end, this still does not prove 100 percent this is the same galleon, the Santo Cristo de Burgos.

“The wood dates are right, so if it's not this galleon it's some other unknown prehistoric wreck,” Williams said, with “prehistoric” referring to before the 19th century. “Given the size of them, it's possible it's from a Japanese junk, or it's possible it's another Spanish galleon.

Williams then releases a remarkable surprise: there are two other galleons known to have wrecked on the north Oregon coast.

“It's exciting that it's not an 18th century American or British ship,” he said. “It's definitely 17th century or early 18th. Given where it was found and the size of the pieces, I'm 90 percent sure this is the ship.”

The shipwreck itself probably had more than a few adventures, too.

The galleon stranded in shallow water, probably about 20 feet or so. When galleons run aground, the pieces scatter but the lower hull tends to sink into the sand, and cargo often stays intact. Yet galleons don't break into a million pieces, they usually break into sections because of their size. For a couple decades or so, Oregon coast storms battered it further, and then comes the question of the big tsunami in 1700. It's possible it moved the wreck out into the ocean or even further inland, and maybe scattered chunks in different spots. Which may explain why they found beams in a sea cave after 300 years.

Then there's the mysterious wreck sighting from 1890: there is written documentation of a lower hull, upside down, on the Nehalem Spit. Was this the same wreck?

“That's only one person,” Willisams said. “They clearly saw something: maybe the lower hull, part of the lower hull or part of the side of the ship.”

More of this vessel could well be on the spit, or somewhere in the area. Now, the groups are preparing to take sonar and metal detectors out into the near shore, but that will be extremely slow going. The next discovery could be years, even another decade or more away. See Pieces of Legendary Oregon Coast Spanish Galleon Wreck Retrieved Near Manzanita - Part 1 

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Photo Scott Williams: one of the timbers

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