Heart of Louisiana: El Nuevo Constante

Heart of Louisiana: El Nuevo Constante
Updated: Sep. 19, 2017 at 7:49 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - 250 years ago, the Spanish ship El Nuevo Constante was headed from Mexico to Havana. As it passed the coast of Southwest Louisiana, the ship ran into rough seas.

"They got caught in what was probably a hurricane," said Chip McGimsey. "The crew intentionally grounded her on the coast of Louisiana because she was springing so many leaks that they knew she was not going to stay above water any longer."

The crew and all passengers survived, and set up camp a short distance inland in the marshes of southern Cameron Parish. They salvaged hate they could. But for the next two centuries, the ship disappeared from sight, its hull was buried in the muddy bottom of the Gulf.

"It was rediscovered in 1979 by a shrimper working out of Texas," Mcgimsey said.

The shrimp trawler's nets snagged and pulled up some of these copper discs.

"But each of these ingots weighs 90 to 100 pounds, and there were I think about 2,500 of these onboard the El Constante when she sailed.

They also found smaller pieces of gold

"This is a cast of what one of the gold ingots looked like," Mcgimsey said.

Since the wreckage lay in state waters, the shrimpers had to share their find with Louisiana.

Allen Saltus, an archeologist and diver, was part of the salvage operation. Although the wreck was only 30 feet deep, divers worked in near blackout conditions in the muddy water, feeling their way along a grid of ropes.

"Along the line to tell where we were we used a series of strings with beads, one round bead was 10 feet, two beads was 20 feet," Saltus said.

One of the items recovered, this wooden pump that would have been used in a futile attempt to keep the ship afloat.

"A thick piece of lead that formed the bottom and then for the pump itself, the tube, they had basically a hollow log," Mcgimsey said.

This was no treasure ship. Its cargo included woods used to make red and blue dyes, fist-sized pieces of silver and numerous ceramics.

Divers recovered three cannons. Two of them are housed at the Republic of West Florida museum in the town of Jackson. There is no permanent exhibit of artifacts from the El Nuevo Constante. But there is a suitcase of artifacts that Louisiana teachers can borrow and use in their classrooms.

"These timbers here that have been wrapped and squared off are part of the ship's timber," Mcgimsey said.

This sonar image shows the ship's hull as it appeared on the sea bottom in 1979. The remains are still there, buried in deep mud. But a lasting clue to the ship's presence, a lake and bayou both named Constance, names given ages ago, that came from the shipwrecked El Nuevo Constante.

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