The local legends turned out to be true.
1980s kids (and many others) will never forget The Goonies, an adventure-filled movie about a group of kids that go searching for the lost pirate treasure of One-eyed Willy near Astoria, Oregon. While this story is pure fiction, many have speculated over the years that the inspiration for this theme came from a real life shipwreck in the area. In this case it was actually Spanish galleon named the Santo Cristo de Burgos.
The shipwreck is legendary in the area around Astoria as the “Beeswax Wreck” since the ship was carrying loads of beeswax for candles when it sank in 1693. Spanish ships usually harvested resources from the New World to trade back in Europe. But, this was a ship carrying supplies to the New World, including quantities of Chinese porcelain brought from Manila and destined for Acapulco.
This trade route was more than 6,000 miles long and saw the exchange of New World silver for Asian goods over a period of nearly 250 years. Spices, exotic woods, and fabrics were among popular commodities brought from Asia to Mexico via Manila, one of Spain’s many colonial territories.
In 2020 a rock hunter was searching on the beach when he came across timbers that seemed like they could be from the infamous shipwreck. It took 2 years to arrange volunteers to look for more pieces of the ship, but in summer of 2022 efforts converged and many more pieces of the ship were found near Manzanita, Oregon.
According to the Maritime Archeological Society the wreck pre-dated American settlers in the area and Native American oral storytelling traditions included this shipwreck among their narratives. Shards of broken pottery were sharpened into projectile points by the local Nehalem tribe as well, and a few of the surviving crew were said to have settled among the Native Americans.
In the past large amounts of wax pieces washed up onto the shore, stamped with Spanish shipping marks. However, a single “jackpot” of other items and pieces of the wreck had never been discovered in modern times.
The most recent finds of the wooden pieces of the shipwreck had to be collected during a short window when the water was at low tide. It is believed by researchers that these pieces comprise the lower parts of the ship, known as the ribs, as well as some pieces that may have come from the upper decking.
It may not be pirate gold, but this find is the discovery of a lifetime and will be studied more closely in the coming months and years in an effort to publish a scientific paper on the historic shipwreck.