Lost French fleet of 1565 remains a mystery

Searching for the lost French fleet of 1565

By Matt Soergel - The St Augustine Record

On a sunny, breezy Saturday, this is an inviting place — the sea placid, the coastline green and still wild.

But from a diving boat a half-mile offshore, Chuck Meide can easily picture the desperate straits of the men of Jean Ribault’s doomed French fleet, fighting for their lives on perhaps this very spot, 449 years ago.

Their struggle as a hurricane drove their ships unmercifully toward the land. Their fear as the ships broke up, throwing the sailors into the stormy seas, clinging to any bit of wreckage they could find. Their relief at making it to the sand.

Their awful knowledge that they were stranded here, on the low coastline of a vast mysterious land, thousands of miles from home.

And their certainty that their enemy — men sworn to kill them — was still out there, still looking for them.

The French, who were trying to defend a colony in what is now Jacksonville, left signs of their presence at Canaveral: tools, jewelry and coins have been found at a survivors’ camp on the beach.

Where, though, are their four ships ?

After three weeks of searching the ocean floor, an expedition from the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum is no closer to finding out.

Meide, the principal investigator on the group, spent most of those weeks on the water, looking during the day and sleeping fitfully on the cramped vessel — “It’s no Carnival cruise,” he said — at night.

He was philosophical about it as the group wrapped up its search.

“It’s a big ocean,” he said.

Ribault’s fleet came to Florida in 1565 to support the struggling French colony at Fort Caroline. The Spanish, under Pedro Menendez de Aviles, arrived about the same time, with plans to wipe out the French.

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