By Anna-Marie Menhenott
FORT PIERCE -- Bob Bouchlas isn't giving up.
Approximately 35 years ago, while lobster diving off the coast of the Bahamas, Mr. Bouchlas, known around these parts as Capt. Bob, found evidence of the shipwreck of the Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas, a Spanish galleon that sank in the 17th century. Aboard the ship was more than $2 billion in gold and silver. But, more important to Capt. Bob, was the gold Madonna and child that went down with the Maravillas.
"That Madonna... It's such an important part of history and so important to the church," said Capt. Bob. "It's not about the riches. It's not about the fame. It's about returning something of such value to the proper owners."
Capt. Bob, who was raised as a sponge-diver, studied the wreck and decided to go public about his search for the Maravillas and for the Madonna.
The eight-foot long iron box that Capt. Bob had discovered while diving for lobsters couldn't be budged. He managed to break a piece off the artifact and brought it home for testing. He found it had indeed been built several hundred years ago, therefore proving to him it was part of the famed Maravillas.
Now, almost 40 years later, his commitment to recovering the historical and religious artifacts on board the sunken ship has not wavered.
With records he uncovered from the Spanish government, Capt. Bob discovered that salvage ships brought up the treasure that was aboard the Maravillas. However, those ships, too, met their demise in the waters between the Bahamas and Florida.
Capt. Bob believes that one of the ships' final resting places is in the waters of Juno beach and that is where he is centering his search.
Capt. Bob, an ordained minister, feels the Madonna is buried in sand off the Florida shoreline and is working to bring it back to Spain.
"The people of Spain deserve to have their Madonna back," Capt. Bob said. "It's not for fame or fortune, but for doing what's right."
Capt. Bob was able to take some of the artifacts he recovered from the shipwreck of the Maravillas and show them to officials in Spain to indicate his seriousness of finding the artifact.
For his efforts, the King of Spain awarded him a commendation and he was made a knight in the Byzantine Order of the Holy Sepulchre in Malta.
Captain Bouchlas, author of a 700-page, three-volume book on his adventure, is sure that his quest for the Madonna will produce the artifact.
Aside from not being able to acquire the necessary permits to salvage the site, Capt. Bob knows that several entities would claim ownership if the treasure were found.
"This is a battle. It seems that the importance of finding the religious artifact has been preempted by government red tape," Capt. Bob said. "I want to do what's right and I'm going to continue to fight until I can."
Capt. Bob spoke with the public on Feb. 8 regarding his quest to find the Madonna. His expedition is far from over. While sitting among deep sea treasures, telling stories of adventure and mystery, Capt. Bob is fixated on discovering the hidden treasures that are buried deep in the Atlantic.
For more information regarding Capt. Bob, his Treasure Museum and his adventures, visit him at Capt. Bob's Place located at 101 Seaway Drive in Fort Pierce.