It’s no secret that Carl Allen and his wife Gigi own a fleet of yachts that includes the AXIS, his hard-working Yacht Support 5009; the Gigi, their comfortable Westport 164; the Frigate, his brand-new Viking 80 sportfish; and a host of other water and aircraft. And the word has been out for a while that he and his family purchased a neglected but once legendary fishing destination—Walker’s Cay in the northern Bahamas—in 2018.
Meanwhile, any of the 70-or-so teams lucky enough to compete in Allen’s third annual Walker’s Cay Blue Marlin Invitational in May have already docked in the state-of-the-art marina that’s been open on the island since 2021. And now that the rebuilt marina can accommodate superyachts up to 200 feet long, it’s common knowledge that Allen keeps his fleet there too.
But what many people don’t know is that in addition to all the work, investment and philanthropy Allen and his family have dedicated to rebuilding Walker’s Cay and helping surrounding islands in the Abacos, he’s been searching for artifacts from the Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas, a legendary Spanish ship that sank in a storm in the area in 1656.
In fact, he’s done more than just “search.” He and his AllenX team have found numerous artifacts from the Maravillas including gold and silver coins, jewelry, loose gemstones, weapons, pottery, etc., that are displayed in a museum he’s built in Freeport.
“I’ve been going to the Bahamas since I was 12 years old, ”Allen says over drinks onboard the Gigi on a steamy day in Fort Lauderdale. “We came across the Gulf Stream on an old trawler and I still remember how the colors of the Bahama banks hit me like a wave. I’ve been hooked ever since.
“I’ve been in love with diving and looking for stuff underwater since I was a kid too,” he continues. “Lots of ships sank in the area back then because the water gets shallow quickly, navigation was not very precise, and there was no such thing as weather forecasts, so powerful storms could drive ships onto the shoals. And some went down with their holds filled with gold, silver and jewels that were being brought back to the king of Spain.”
As you might guess of a passionate underwater explorer, Allen is a wonderful combination of realist, romantic and history buff. He’s a realist when he talks about how hard, frustrating and expensive recovering artifacts (using AXIS and other boats) strewn across countless miles of open ocean can be. “It’s like searching for a needle…in a desert…underwater,” he says.
But he’s a romantic when he turns to the myth of the Maravillas that has occupied his imagination since he was young. And he’s a total history buff when he talks about what life onboard the ship must have been like in 1656. He can speak for hours—from memory—about all the historical documents that the archeologists he works with have found (and translated from 17th-century Spanish) that paint a detailed picture of how the ship was built, who the crew and passengers were and what priceless artifacts it was carrying when it sank.
It’s clear that Allen’s fascination goes way deeper than just “looking for stuff underwater.” His recovery work is helping a team of archeologists find and preserve historically significant artifacts that would otherwise eventually disappear forever. In fact, just acquiring the permit AllenX needed to work in Bahamian waters shows how committed he is. It was granted only after years of communication with the Bahamian government and other agencies, and calls for a large percentage of whatever he finds to go back to the people of the Bahamas and the artifacts to be displayed in the museum he’s opened in Freeport.
And since myth of the Maravillas also refers to a life-sized, solid gold statue of the Madonna—complete with a crown of jewels that legend says was onboard when the ship sank—Allen and his team might end up recovering and preserving artifacts from one of the most historically significant shipwrecks in the world.
“It’s definitely been a childhood dream to be doing what I’m doing now,” he adds. “But Gigi and I started with our love of the Bahamas. We’ve helped out after the hurricanes hit and during the pandemic too. Finding and preserving these artifacts is way bigger than just Gigi and me,” he says. “We’ve been building our operation for years. We’ve got the right people that are doing it the right way. And we’re doing some of the best archeological data recording that’s ever been done.”
They started finding coins and other artifacts almost immediately the first year. “The weather was good and we had lots of time on the site,” he says. “But it really wasn’t until the second year, when the weather was horrible, that I realized we were getting better. We found twice as many artifacts in half the time. That’s exciting.”
And Allen’s team is finding truly priceless items that will be displayed in the museum. “Last year we found some amazing stuff including a brooch that features a flawless 20-karat emerald embedded in gold and surrounded by 12 two-karat emeralds around a Knights of Santiago cross,” he says.
“So what’s it feel like to be the diver who actually finds an artifact like that brooch on the wreck site?” I ask.
“You know, Bill,” he says, “I’ve been a diver my whole life. And I’ve found half a dozen coins, a couple emeralds, pottery, and things like that. But I never find the big stuff. Or at least I haven’t yet. Gigi loves to dive and has found some things too. The beauty is AllenX is always a team effort.
“But I can tell you what it was like when two members of the team found that emerald brooch and a massive, solid gold chain on the same day,” he says.
“We only had two guys in the water that day. Andy, who works on AXIS as one of the mates, had just dropped down into the water when he saw something shimmer out of the corner of his eye. It was a little piece of gold sticking out of the sand that ended up being that amazing emerald brooch when he pulled it out. He told me both he and his dive buddy Kenton were in a state of shock when he found it.
“Shortly after they brought the brooch up to the surface, they went back down on the same spot. That’s when they saw a four-pound solid-gold chain that was just sparkling in the sun on the bottom. Can you imagine these two guys out there in the middle of the ocean finding those amazing artifacts so close together?” he says with a smile. “It really pumped everybody up in the whole organization.”
What do you think it would be like if Allen and AllenX actually find the mythical “Golden Madonna”?