Hector Bado was my Uruguayan friend, a treasure hunter and a man of the sea…
I was 48 when I first jumped into Uruguay’s silty Rio de la Plata a short distance off the warm, soft beaches of downtown Punta del Este. Hector Bado and Crayton Fenn (Crayton is Forrest’s nephew, Skippy’s son and a premiere adventurer in his own right) were right there next to me as I made my first dive onto the wreck of the Salvador. A Spanish troopship that went to the bottom in August of 1812 carrying supplies and combat seasoned troops to put down a heated revolution led by colonials against the unpopular Spanish government.
Visibility was about five feet that day and as we dived over the timbers of the wreck the entire ship was splayed out below us like a foggy engineer’s drawing. The Salvador looked like someone had come along and yanked out all the bolts that had held her monstrous frame together. The heavy wooden keel and ribs were stretched out on the seafloor like a giant’s open ribcage. Laying between the ribs were crates and canons, plates and glassware, copper sheeting and piles of silver coins.
The Salvador’s crew had tried to outrun the ravages of a terrible storm, a pampero, and in the pitch black of night had roared up unto a sandy shoal. Stuck fast, the giant wooden ship was beaten apart by satan’s furious sea. Sailors and passengers alike were literally fighting for their lives, pleading with all manner of saints to remove them from the deadly shoal where their ship was being blown apart and smashed in two.
Under the splayed ribs and broken timbers below me were human remains, the skeletons of hundreds of poor souls who at the moment of their demise in 1812 had no knowledge that beyond the terrifying sea that was murdering them, a mere hundred or so meters from the Salvador, was land and safety. By daybreak, 400 would not be alive to see the lovely white sand beach and swaying palms of what would in subsequent years become one of South America’s premiere beach resorts.
Nearly two hundred years later some of the skeletons below me still had on their linen shirts and leather, knee length boots. Some had their belts, swords, knives, pistols, coins in their pockets, scapulars and rosaries around their necks. It must have been a terrible night.
Over the next five years I would be working with Hector and Crayton to survey, salvage and catalog the wreck of the Salvador and to plumb the Uruguayan coast and discover hundreds more wrecks from the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th century, wrecks from England, Portugal, Spain and France. Many of these vessels thought to be carrying tons of gold, were pointed across the Atlantic to their motherlands before they vanished in a sailor’s graveyard that would become known as the “English Banks”.
Our small crew of divers, sailors, archeologists, navigators and salvors, Uruguayan, English and American at various times, lived together in Montevideo and Punta. We employed a million dollar research vessel built in Seattle and all the modern technology we could muster to sail the coast and chart its wrecks. We ate, drank and partied together. We shared in the wonder of our findings as stories of lost ships unwound beneath us. We laughed, worried and sometimes fought. Through it all, Hector was our Uruguayan host, guide, traveler, fearless diver, interpreter and homeboy.
Hector visited my small island in the States a few times over the past ten years. We ate, crabbed, drank and laughed together. Crayton and I took Hector up to the mountains in summer where we played like children in the slippery, soft snow. Hector had never seen snow. He took to it immediately.
Now he is gone. Cancer. I miss him.
Here, is to Hector Bado, primo buzo, and treasure hunter, who died last Sunday
By the way, cancer has also struck the family of one of our own searchers. Mike, or MichaelD has set up a GoFundMe site to help pay for his daughter-in-law’s medical care as she continues her battle against cancer. If you have a spare buck to help his family out, I know he will appreciate it.You can find out more here: