By Bill Springer
What many people don’t know is, that in addition to all the work, investment and philanthropy Carl Allen and his family have dedicated to rebuilding Walker’s Cay, and helping surrounding islands in the Abacos, he’s been searching for the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas – a legendary Spanish ship that sank in a storm in the area in 1656.
In fact, he’s done more than just “search.” He and his AllenX team have found numerous artifacts from the Maravillas including gold and silver coins, jewellery, loose gemstones, weapons, pottery etc., that will be displayed in a museum he’s just opened in Freeport.
“I’ve been in love with diving and looking for stuff underwater my whole life,” he says on the deck of the AXIS after diving on the site he and his team found. “The area is loaded with wrecks because the Spanish fleets had to clear the Bahamas on their way back to Spain from South America. Lots of ships sank in the area back then because the water gets shallow quickly, navigation was not very precise, and there was no such thing as weather forecasts so powerful storms could drive ships on to the shoals. And some went down with their holds filled with gold, silver and jewels that were being brought back to the King of Spain.”
But he’s a romantic when he talks about the myth of the Maravillas that’s occupied his imagination since he was young. And he’s a total history buff when he starts talking about what life on board the ship must have been like in 1656. In fact, he can talk for hours—from memory—about all the historical documents that the archeologists he works with have found (and translated from 17th century Spanish) that paint a detailed picture of how the ship was built, who the crew and passengers were, as well as list the large number of priceless artifacts it was carrying when it sank.
It’s clear that Allen’s fascination goes way deeper than just “looking for stuff underwater” and his recovery work is helping a team of archeologists find and preserve historically significant artifacts that would eventually disappear forever. In fact, just acquiring the permit AllenX needed to work in Bahamian waters shows how committed he is. It was granted only after years of communication with the Bahamian government and other agencies, and calls for a large percentage of whatever he finds to go back to the people of the Bahamas and the artifacts to be displayed in the museum.
And since the myth of the Maravillas also refers to a life-sized, solid gold statue of the Madonna—complete with a crown made of jewels— that legend says was on board when the ship sank, Allen and his team might end up recovering and preserving artifacts from one of the most historically significant shipwrecks in the world.
“Finding and preserving these artifacts is way bigger than just Gigi and me.”
Allen and his team are working to preserve history.
“It’s definitely been a childhood dream to be doing what I’m doing now,” he adds. “But Gigi and I started with our love of the Bahamas. We’ve helped out after the hurricanes hit and during the pandemic too. Finding and preserving these artifacts is way bigger than just Gigi and me,” he says. “We’ve been building our operation for years. We’ve got the right people that are doing it the right way. And we’re doing some of the best archeological data recording that’s ever been done.”
They started finding coins and other artifacts almost immediately the first year. “The weather was good and we had lots of time on the site,” he says. “But it really wasn’t until the second year, when the weather was horrible, that I realised we were getting better. We found twice as many artifacts in half the time. That’s exciting.”
We only had two guys in the water that day. Andy who works on AXIS as one of the mates had just dropped down into the water when he saw something shimmer out of the corner of his eye. It was a little piece of gold sticking out of the sand that ended up being that amazing emerald broach when he pulled it out. He told me both he and his dive buddy Kenton were in a state shock when he found it.”
“Shortly after they brought the brooch up to the surface, they went back down on the same spot. That’s when they saw that four-pound gold chain that was just sparkling in the sun on the bottom. Can you imagine these two guys out there in the middle of the ocean finding those amazing artifacts so close together?” he says with a smile. “It really pumped everybody up in the whole organisation.”
What do you think it would be like if Allen and AllenX actually find the mythical “Golden Madonna?”
Stay tuned to find out!