NEAR CANAVERAL NATIONAL SEASHORE, Fla. -- A local team of archaeologists set out this summer to find the oldest French shipwreck in the new world. It was the fleet of Frenchman Jean Ribault who helped settle Fort Caroline in Jacksonville.
"We're out here search for those lost French ships," Chuck Meide said Saturday. He's leading the team from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP).
"Ribault was in Jacksonville at Fort Caroline. In 1565, his fleet wrecked as he was trying to resupply the fort," Meide explained.
Ribault and his four ships sailed south to take on the Spanish, but they got tangled up in a strong storm – possibly a hurricane -- and wrecked.
Meide noted, "That storm was a fateful storm."
Some of the sailors made it to shore, leaving artifacts behind.
Historian John de Bry of the Center for Historical Archaeology said French coins were found along with fasteners and nails. It was all in what's believed to be survivor camps at the Canaveral National Seashore.
And so, "it's a reference point. When ships wreck, survivors usually don't go very far," de Bry explained.
That's why Meide and the LAMP team are searching a five mile area, a half mile off the shore of the Canaveral National Seashore.
Divers are going to hundreds of targets already determined to be possible hot spots, picked up by sonar and a magnetometer.
"It's easily a 'needle in a haystack' kind of thing," Meide grinned.
If found, it would be the oldest French shipwreck discovery in the New World
"These ships played a real pivotal role in the origin of our nation," Meide said.
Because when they wrecked, the survivors were then slaughtered by the Pedro Mendendez and the Spanish. That resulted in the area never becoming French, but Spanish.
During the divers' two weeks in the water, they indeed found something.
Meide chuckled, "We found a shipwreck! That's the good news. The bad news is it appears to be a shrimp boat!"
He said at least they know their equipment is working.
So at the end of the expedition and its funding, the team returned home Monday.
The lost French fleet is still a mystery, but the crew hopes to still unravel it.
"It's a big ocean! It's not easy to find them," Meide hopes for another venture next year. "And gosh, you never know!"