by John de Bry
This past summer I had gone down to Juno Beach, Florida, to go out on a boat owned by a company involved in the commercial salvage of historic shipwrecks. The purpose of my visit was to check out their operations and to make sure they were following the State of Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research’s (FBAR) guidelines and adhering to basic archaeological procedures, (which I am happy to report they were.) While on the boat one of the divers approached me and said “you probably don’t remember me because when you last saw me I was 9 or 10 years old, but my name is Jason Johnson and I am the grandson of Bob Johnson, one of the Real 8 Company’s original founders.” I was surprised and thrilled to re-connect with the young man after so many years. Standing on the deck we had a very pleasant conversation and he brought me up to date as to what he was doing for a living these days; among other things he told me he owns a jewelry shop, is a certified gemologist, and owned a pawnshop. He went on to tell me that one day a man came into his shop looking to sell a large silver wedge from the 1715 Fleet. Upon examining the silver wedge Jason was furious when he discovered that a nearly perfectly round piece-of-eight had been attached to one of the wedge’s sides and that the man had removed the coin and brushed that side to see if it was actually silver.
I looked at Jason in amazement and said “I am the one who found that wedge back in 1967. That was the first summer that I dove for the Real 8 Company. In fact I recalled that I had almost drowned bringing that wedge to the surface along with some silver coins and a couple of silver forks that I had found.” I knew that it had to be the wedge that I found because I remembered that it had a coin attached to it.
I proceeded to explain to Jason what had happened and why it was so vividly engraved in my mind. It was in the afternoon on a day where the wind had unexpectedly picked up and changed direction. The visibility was extremely limited, but in the area exposed by the prop wash deflectors I had come across quite a few silver coins, mostly pieces-of-eight, two silver wedges and three silver forks. Suddenly the current created by the prop wash deflectors ceased as did the humming noise from the engine of the boat, the Derelict, and the other diver was nowhere to be found. Cradling my finds I made it to the surface only to realize that an anchor cable had broken and now the Derelict was quite a long way from where I was; I did not have a buoyancy compensator (BC) and I was nearly out of air, but I was young and stupid enough to refuse to let go of my treasure and started swimming towards the boat, battling the rough ocean and swallowing some seawater in the process. Not about to let go of my finds I made it back to the Derelict, but barely. Jason Johnson was beaming, absolutely amazed at the coincidence, as much as I was myself.
A couple of weeks later I received a text message from Jason on my iPhone. It was a Saturday and he wanted to know if he could come by as he wanted to show me a few Real 8 mementos he had received from his late grandfather Bob Johnson. I replied that he was most welcome to do so as my wife and I had no special plans for the day. When Jason arrived he was carrying a shoe box under his arm and a bottle of fine Port in his other hand. We sat down on the couch in the living room, my wife, Nancy, brought some glasses, opened the bottle of Port, and Jason started pulling things out of the box. After showing us some pretty interesting items he reached inside the box once again and pulled out the silver wedge that I had found long ago and handed it to me. Holding it in my hand I recognized it immediately. There was a small depression on the top of the wedge which allowed one to put his or her thumb in to have a better grip. Turning it around to the side where the coin had been removed and roughly polished there was an engraved plaque with the following inscription:
“For John de Bry A True International Treasure. So Happy You Didn’t Drown. Sincerely, Jason Johnson 2013.”
I looked at Jason in disbelief. “For me?” I asked, “Yes” responded Jason. “The moment you told me the story I just knew you had to have it!” That was one of the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me and certainly a unique and cherished souvenir. Imagine, reunited after 46 years!
Jason Johnson (L) with the author John de Bry who was recently reunited with the silver wedge that he found in 1967.