Published December 20, 2016
Most families spend their summer vacations going to beach, the lake house or on a road trip.
The Schmitts of Sanford, Florida, however, like to spend their time together floating offshore and diving for buried treasures. And now their family time has led to a big payday.
Diving about 150 yards off the coast of Fort Pierce, on the Atlantic side of the state, the Schmitt family discovered 64 feet of gold chain, five gold coins and a gold ring that had been sitting in the briny depths off the Florida coast for around 300 years. Estimated to be valued around $300,000, the gold was part of a treasure trove carried on a fleet of Spanish ships that went down during a strong hurricane on July 30, 1715, claiming 11 ships and more than 1,000 lives.
Gold, silver and other riches were strewn across the sandy bottom off Florida's coast. While much of the goods were recovered in the years following the storm, treasure hunters and historians alike tend to think that millions of dollars worth of gold and silver still lay hidden just offshore.
"To be the first person to touch an artifact in 300 years is indescribable," Brent Brisben, co-founder of 1715 Fleet Queens Jewels LLC, the company that owns the rights to dive on the wreckage site, told the Orlando Sentinel. "They were there 150 years before the Civil War. It's truly remarkable to be able to bring that back."
For the Schmitt family, the gold haul is compensation for a lifetime of family dives – off boats called the Booty Questa and now the AARRR Booty – that dredged up invaluable finds like old beer cans and aging bottles.
"This is like the end of a dream," Rick Schmitt said.
The state of Florida will be the first to get their hands on the goods, with up to 20 percent of the rarest finds being displayed in museums. The rest of the booty will be divvied up between Brisben's company and the Schmitts.
While the find was a dream of a lifetime for the Schmitt family, to them the hunt is more than about what they find.
"The greatest treasure is time with the family," said Lisa Schmitt, Rick Schmitt's wife.