It’s the birthday of Mel Fisher this week. Born August 21, 1922, Mel will always be remembered as one of the greatest treasure hunters that ever lived. This is quite an accomplishment for a lad who grew up in the hinterlands of America, far from the sound of the ocean murmuring on a sandy beach.
Raised in Indiana, Mel became a humble chicken farmer. He eventually made his way to California where, as the Beach Boys say, “All the girls get so tan.” Mel fell in love with the sea and opened up California’s first dive shop. But there was one beauty who stood out from the rest of those tanned beach girls, and that was Dolores Horton. Deo not only became Mel’s lifelong business partner and wife but was an accomplished diver in her own right. Eventually, Mel moved to the East Coast where more opportunities to dive wrecks abounded.
For Mel it was never really about the money. As a kid, he read Treasure Island and would be possessed his whole life by the dreams of diving and finding sunken treasure. Mel turned his eye to the Florida Keys where the Nuestra Senora de Atocha waited to reward that one persistent treasure hunter who didn’t know how to quit. The Atocha became Mel’s Holy Grail. It was a quest that called to him even in the darkest hour of his soul when he lost his son, Dirk, his daughter-in-law, Angel, and his dear friend, Rick Gage in a terrible accident on the site.
With the help of family, friends, and investors, he searched sixteen years before discovering the mother of all shipwrecks July 20, 1985. Mel Fisher’s dream was realized.
Then the vultures came. Other treasure hunters. The state of Florida. The United States government. Even the government of Spain. All laid claim to the booty Mel and his coterie of friends, family, and investors sacrificed so long and hard for. Beleagured by a hundred legal battles, Mel, like the heroic Odysseus, stood his ground. Eventually, the Supreme Court came down on Mel’s side, noting it was Mel Fisher and his team who labored for years and invested millions of dollars to retrieve the treasure. Nowhere to be found during that time was the state or federal governments.
For anyone who has heard the story of Mel Fisher, the lessons are clear:
… Every dream has a price and you must be prepared to pay it.
… When it seems darkest, don’t quit.
… When the storms blow, don’t run for cover. Run for your wet suit.
… Mel redefined the meaning of persistence, attested to by sixteen years of relentless searching.
… Mel was also the master of laser focus. He would not allow himself or his crew to be distracted by anything.
… And to ward off discouragement for himself and his team, he kept a sign over his desk, reminding everyone of the need for faith and hope. TODAY’S THE DAY! became his mantra. You see those words everywhere today, but it was Mel Fisher and his crew who lived by those words in the face of uncertainty.
You may not have dreams of discovering treasure at the bottom of the sea, but no doubt your dreams involve untold treasure just the same. When you awake tomorrow, chart your course, set your sails, and check your compass. Your dreams are like the North Star. Follow them and you’ll never get lost. And when you climb into bed at night and every bone in your body aches, you can drop off to sleep contented, knowing you’ve come closer to realizing your dream.
The Atocha site still yields treasure. To learn more about it or to dive the site yourself, go to http://www.melfisher.com/ . Or better yet, stop by Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum and Gift Shop at 1322 Hwy US 1 Sebastian, Florida. When you’re in Key West, check out the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum at 200 Greene St.