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Wreckers

Wreckers

Wrecking involved the salvaging of goods from ships which were unfortunate enough to become lost on the Bahamian reefs. Since the islands of the Bahamas were owned by England any wrecks that occurred there were considered property of the crown and licensed wreckers were paid 60% of the value of the salvaged goods that they brought into Nassau.  For all practical purposes, wrecking was simply piracy under a different name.even more so for the unscrupulous wreckers who set lanterns on shore at night to lure unsuspecting captains onto the reefs. One of the most frequented Bahamas passages was the Northwest Providence Channel.  Ships could make fast time sailing northwest using the predominantly southern winds, but they had to take care that they didn’t drift too far east or they would end up amongst the reefs around Gran Baha. Occasionally the wind the through the passage shifted westerly and merchant vessels, unable to sail into the wind, were swept eastward into an area where the treacherous fringe reef on the south side of Gran Baha connected at the west end of the island, a place the locals had appropriately named Dead Man’s Reef.  A community of wreckers lived there, waiting.

The peacetime passages through the Bahamas were convenient for the Spanish to send merchants laden with silk and spices, brought in by their pacific fleet, from the Spanish Main back to Europe, but they took exception to the English policy towards salvaging.  To prevent loss of treasure, the Spanish began sending naval escort vessels to accompany particularly high value cargoes.  If one of these merchant ships should founder, the Spanish navy would be there to immediately salvage it while forcibly keeping the wreckers away.  With the potential for gain so high, smuggler captains with ships carrying at least ten cannon also obtained wrecker licenses from the authorities in Nassau and were prepared to engage these Spanish naval vessels if they should encounter them ‘illegally’ salvaging treasure ships in Bahamian waters.  To the British these captains were heroes.  To the Spanish they were pirates.

At the beginning of Rum & Wrecks we find Jack Read as one such captain.