Dream Boat

The True Story of the Auguste Piccard Submarine and the Search for Spanish Treasure


Auguste Piccard rigged to sail from British Columbia, through the Panama Canal, to Colombia, South America 1978. (photo by Liv Kennedy)

In December 1981 the Auguste Piccard cruised the Caribbean coast of Colombia, searching for Spanish silver and gold stolen from the Incas of Peru. The ninety-three foot submarine descended smoothly and silently, at home in its element deep below the surface. Mission coordinator Helmut Lanziner navigated as the submarine ‘flew’ above the sea bottom in a precise survey grid. Captain Swann piloted from the stern while oceanographer Mike Costin operated the side-scan sonar and magnetometer readouts, looking for an ancient shipwreck. For hours Helmut gave instructions, ‘up slope / down slope’ or ‘veer port / veer starboard,’ to keep the submarine cruising three feet above the coral and the mud. Suddenly, Costin called to Swann to turn the ship around. ‘We’ve got a sonar signature!’ Maybe they had discovered the San José, the richest Spanish treasure galleon ever, with four billion dollars in bullion. 

© G.B. Immega 2014-2018