The 25th anniversary of shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher’s discovery of the sunken Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha is to be commemorated Thursday through July 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 about 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. The museum includes 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 at the Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St. at Key West’s Historic Seaport. The highlight is the presentation of the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award to shipwreck search and salvage expert Capt. Carl Fismer. Fismer worked with Fisher on the recovery of the 1622 Spanish galleon Santa Margarita, which sank with the Atocha.
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.
The July 16 highlight is to be a block party in the 200 block of Duval Street, featuring a concert headlined by Howard Livingston and the Mile Marker 24 Band. Tricycle races, carnival games, raffle prizes and other fun round out the activities.
On 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 crew that searched for the Atocha with Fisher. That’s planned for 7 to 9 p.m. July 18 at the second-level Sunset Deck of the Westin Key West Resort, 245 Front St.