By Wayne Ayers - Tampa Bay newspaper
Jim Leatherwood is convinced there is an as-yet-undiscovered shipwreck just off our shores. The treasure hunter from Largo backs his claim with dozens of ship-related artifacts, discovered while beach combing with a metal detector.
His finds include large keel pins, used in building wooden ships. They connect the wood and keep the ship together. He shows a heavy pin that is bent, evidence it has been under stress. “That tells you it has been in a wreck,” said Leatherwood.
Weighty spikes, bolts and wedges were all part of a ship’s outfitting, and further indications of a nearby shipwreck, according to Leatherwood. A brass nail would have tacked down the metal sheeting on a boat, while a pulley was connected to the rigging.
A piece of chain showed a string cheese pattern, indicating a long-ago blacksmith had worked it.
Dainty rings of ancient vintage, likely part of the ship’s cargo, carry distinct markings. A cat’s head, two “sea monster” dragons facing each other. One ring appears to have been made from a teaspoon.
A piece of shell/coral conglomerate contains the remnant of a dinner plate, with a design still discernible. Several nails in the cluster suggest that the plate was in a nailed box.
Another conglomerate piece is embedded with a fragment of wood, nearly petrified from age, which was part of a ship. These are very rare finds, Leatherwood said, which his metal detector picked up because of the iron nails present.
Leatherwood held up a piece of coal. There is no natural coal in the ocean, he said, so its presence would mean a steamship had been nearby. “(The coal) would be the first thing that would turn me on to a site,” he said.
Numerous clues, such as the blacksmithing marks and nail head style, suggest that many of the items he has found date from the 1800s.
Leatherwood said he has probably walked a thousand miles along the local beaches, from Pass-A-Grille to Clearwater, in his treasure hunts. But his shipwreck discoveries have all been concentrated in one area – Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores. And they have mostly turned up during and after storms.