Lifeguard Peter Leo researching vintage anchor, rescued near Ocean Reef Park

Last summer, Palm Beach County lifeguard Lt. Peter Leo heard about an anchor submerged near Ocean Reef Park in Riviera Beach where he works. He snorkeled out and saw a large ship’s anchor in about 20 feet of water. The anchor had both intact wooden stock and iron flukes and lay uncovered in the sand.

Years earlier, Leo discovered a Spanish aviso, or courier ship, off Jupiter’s beach. He worked with the state of Florida and archaeologists to explore and excavate finds from what has been identified as San Miguel Archangel, which sank around 1660.

Leo and his team of divers recovered gold bars and silver coins, along with artifacts of historic importance. Artifacts from that shipwreck are on display at the Loxahatchee Historical Society Museum in Jupiter and in the state museum in Tallahassee.

Two cannons and an anchor from the San Miguel shipwreck are preserved on the grounds of the museum. Two more cannons and another anchor from the San Miguel have been donated to Palm Beach County and will eventually be put on display at Jupiter Inlet Park.

While Leo’s latest find is likely from a more recent shipwreck — an iron-hulled 1890s-vintage sailing vessel — it is still an important piece of history.

“A snorkeler found the anchor in July 2009,” he said. “It was very exposed. He contacted Brian Portman, a diver who installs underwater moorings and does salvage work. Brian contacted me.”
Leo snorkeled out after work and examined the anchor. The next day, he traveled to the site by skiff and met Portman. They snorkeled the site, found the anchor exposed and tagged it.
Leo contacted state authorities and advised them of the find.

When Leo and Portman returned the next day, the anchor had been moved.
“Somebody tried to steal it,” Leo said. “A person in the condo opposite told us that he saw a boat on the site during the night. We decided we had to raise the anchor to protect it.” He took pictures of the anchor on the ocean floor.

Amid stormy weather, the divers attached lift bags to the anchor underwater, Leo said. “We could see lightning flashes underwater and heard thunder claps.”

They raised the anchor from the ocean floor. “It weighed 1,000 pounds,” Leo said. “We towed it slowly north, 3 feet beneath the surface with the lift bags attached. Got it through the Jupiter Inlet. We dropped it in front of the old Coast Guard dock at the Jupiter Lighthouse.”

Leo contacted the Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources and told chief archaeologist Dan McClanon they had an intact anchor.

“State archaeologist James Levy came down with a government flatbed truck,” he said. “I enlisted the help of Capt. Jack Pope, owner of a jack-up barge, the Polly L. The barge was used excavating the Jupiter wreck. Capt. Pope volunteered and brought the barge in. He used a crane to lift the anchor onto the state’s truck.”

The anchor is now in a state laboratory, where it is being conserved. When the wooden stock is preserved and the iron stabilized, Leo hopes it will be loaned to a local museum for display.
“Anchors were switched around on ships,” he said. “They were not always original equipment on board. This was clearly a large, iron-hulled sailing vessel that wrecked on shore.”
He is continuing his research to help the state identify the vessel that wrecked off Riviera Beach.

http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/lifeguard-peter-leo-researching-vintage-anchor-rescued-near-951643.html

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