August 25, 1750
The Spanish fleet under escort of the man-of-war, La Galga, is passing northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida. It has been an uneventful week at sea since the seven ships cleared Havana, Cuba, the week before,destined for Spain with treasure and valuable New World goods. The Gulf Stream was now propelling them along the coast as was planned but the ships were facing some contrary northerly winds. It was early morning but the sky began to darken and the wind gusts increased. The ships shortened sails and tightened their rigging in anticipation of the approaching storm. It wasn’t just a storm – it was a hurricane coming at them from the east. As the center of the storm moved across their path, the winds that enveloped the fleet turned west and then south settling in at southeast. The struggling ships were locked in the northeast quadrant of the cyclone and were being pushed even faster up the coast of Florida. Many had been in hurricanes before and prayed that the storm would move quickly on before any serious damage occurred. The fleet was now off its intended course. Masts and rigging snapped as the massive waves hammered the wooden hulls, testing the ships and there men.
On the following day, they were now off of the coast of Georgia still held prisoner by the hurricane and the synchronous Gulf Stream. The ship captains consulted their charts and saw three points of land jutting out from the coast: Cape Fear, Cape Lookout, and Cape Hatteras along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. They were unsure of their position but they realized that the southeast winds were driving them ever close to land.
The fleet was now separated. La Galga was farthest to the northeast with the Nuestra Señora de Mercedes inshore of her. Nuestra Señora de los Godos was being pummeled to the south of La Galga. She was nearing the center of the storm. Cannons, anchors,and even dead pigs and cows were thrown overboard to lighten the ship which had nine feet of water in her hold and rising. Every available man, including the captain and the chaplain, took turns at the pumps. South and inshore of her was the galleon, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Captain Juan Manuel Bonilla. On his south west horizon were El Salvador and the Nuestra Señora de Soledad. The Portuguese register ship, San Pedro, was east still being driven northward.
Saturday, August 29, 1750
The fleet was now in the worst of it. All of the ships’ holds were flooding with water— every available man worked the pumps. As the hurricane moved a bit eastward the winds shifted again. Captain Bonilla sighted Los Godos in shore of him and they signaled each other to turn south to avoid the shoals of Cape Lookout and the easterly winds. Bonilla ordered his mainmast cut down to slow his momentum towards the coast. No sooner was that done, a following sea slammed his stern breaking his rudder. He was out of control and being driven towards the coast. In shore of him were El Salvador and the Soledad. That night, they were driven onto Cape Lookout. The Soledad came to rest just south of Drum Inlet and beached rolling over on her side. Her owner, Don Joseph Respaldiza and all of the crew made it safely to shore. The El Salvador met a worst fate as she drove violently onto Cape Lookout south of the Soledad spilling men and cargo into the sea. Only three men and one boy survived.
The following evening, the Guadalupe anchored three miles from the coast at latitude 35 degrees. They were fifteen miles south of Ocracoke inlet, North Carolina. Bonilla’s crew and his treasure were safe — for the moment.
La Galga, the Mercedes, Los Godos, and the San Pedro, having cleared the capes of the Outer Banks, were swept northward, their fates uncertain.