Western Ledge Reef Shipwreck, Bermuda (c. 1600)

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This wreck was found by treasure hunters in 1964 in the Western Ledge Reef, Bermuda, and salvaged intermittently until 1988, when a team from East Carolina University identified the remains and obtained a license for its excavation. It was excavated from 1989 to 1990 and the timbers recovered in 1991. It has not been identified, though it was thought to be the Santa Lucia, wrecked in 1584.

Description of Site

The remains of the hull were disturbed in the mid-1970s by Teddy Tucker an Mendel Peterson and are said to have deteriorated since. As it was recorded by the ECU team it was composed by three parts, the largest corresponding to the lower portion of the hull 10.7 m long, a second being the after portion of the keel and the lower portion of the sternpost, and a third part a portion of the sternpost.

Keel, Keelson, Maststep and Posts

Keel preserved along 9.1 m, from the stem. There was no rabbet and the lower face was rounded. At its after end was notched to fit Y-frames and scarfed to a couce. Keelson preserved along 2.17 m, 20 cm sided and 17 cm molded, and showing an horizontal flat scarf at its after end. It was bolted to the keel through every 4th floor.

The maststep is an enlarged portion of the keel, 32 cm sided and cm molded. The mortise is 42 cm long, 17 cm wide and 14 cm deep. There were 3 buttresses on each side of the maststep. A small piece of timber is believed to be part of the stem post (no more information).

Sternpost preserved in two parts. The lower seems to be a couce, is 20 cm sided and rakes 65º. It bears a rabbet. The second part is attached to a gudgeon and is 13 x 13 cm in section. It is attached to a stern knee with iron bolts.


The (only) midship floor is fastened to two pairs of futtocks, fore and aft, determining the framing pattern – the futtocks joined to the faces of the floors that look to the extremities of the ship. It is placed exactly below the forward end of the mortise of the maststep.

Fourteen floors survived. It looks like the 6th floor abaft the master frame does not bear a dovetail joint, suggesting that only 5 frames before and abaft the master frame were pre-assembled. The dovetails had the mortises on the floors, wide sides down, 15 mm deep. Twenty two futtocks survived (no more information).


The garboards were preserved, 35 cm wide and 4 cm thick. The rest of the planking 3.5 cm thick and 26-37 cm wide. Fastened with iron spikes and treenails. Transom planking 4 cm thick, fastened at an angle of 27º to the sternpost.

Ceiling, Thick Stuff and Wales

Three strakes, 3 cm thick, with a space in between the second and third strake suggesting the existence of a footwale.


Floors/keel: not specified. Keel/keelson: 1 bolt every 4th floor. Floors/futtocks: 1 treenail and 2/3 iron spikes. Planking/frames: iron spikes and treenails.


No information.


No information.

Size and Scantlings

No information is given about the possible size of this vessel, although from the hull plan it seems that the midship frame (and the maststep) is 4.50 m abaft the forward most section of the keel, suggesting that this is a very small vessel with a keel of around 10 m and an overall length of around 15 m, for a beam of around 5 m.

Construction Feature Sided (cm) Molded (cm)
Keel Unknown Unknown
Keelson 20 17
Maststep 32 Unknown
Sternpost 20 Unknown
Floors Unknown Unknown
Futtocks Unknown Unknown
Room-and-space Unknown N/A
Planking 26-37 3.5-4
Ceiling Unknown 3


Of six samples recovered for analysis five were oak and on birch, although no information is given about which pieces the samples represented.


Watts, Gordon P., Jr "The Western Ledge Reef Wreck: a preliminary report on investigation of the remains of a 16th century shipwreck in Bermuda" IJNA (1993) 22.2 :103-124.

Watts, Gordon P., Jr "A preliminary description of the excavation, timber recording, hull contruction, and cultural material analysis of a 16th century vessel wrecked on Western Ledge Reef, Bermuda" Underwater Archaeological Proceedings from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, Tucson, Arizona, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Watts, Gordon & Broadwater, John "Final report on IMHA-3: A Sixteenth-Century Spanish Wreck off Bermuda" Underwater Archaeological Proceedings from the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1994, pp. 47-62.

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