In search of the Second of the Three Pearl Ships


Little is known of the ship that sank on the venture of the three pearl ships of 1616 in the Sea of Cortez, archival data devotes most of the records and data to that of Juan de Iturbe and his ghost ship of the desert. In reality there were in fact three ships, all three were built in 1612 in Acapulco Mexico and all three traveled together. the mystique of the “desert ship” has for over three centuries overshadowed the other two. For published archival data we know that the Flagship of the Pearl Ships made its way back with its mortally wounded captain Alvarez de Cordone, Cordone who arranged the ill fated trade with the locals that led to the attack by locals on he and the other two ships. What we do not know and in basis mere conjecture was the fate of the second ship commanded by Pedro de Rosales. Of the three captains, de Iturbe was the most noted and both Cordone and Rosales in some ways faded into the pages of oblivion, as later to redeem himself Iturbe went on to remove the English settlement at “Drake’s Bay”. 


However the conjecture of the events of the sinking of the Pedro de Rosales craft is an unknown as to where it went down exactly and as well the fate of the cargo. In some reports there is a statement that Rosales’ cargo was removed and placed aboard the ship commanded by Iturbe and yet other reports state that its cargo went down with the ship.


Regardless, the fate of the ship we do know that during the attack panic came into play and that as well the second ship struck a shallow water obstruction and sank, this being some 397 years, or four centuries. We know that the ship was like that of both Cordone’s and Iturbe’s and was one of the three caravel type craft that left the port of Acapulco and sailed north by north east. It had a crew contingent of 16 and as well 25 of the 75 divers on the expedition. We also know from published reports that the “cargo” that was removed from the ship was that of the pearls, we do not know however if the second cargo, contraband cargo was removed as well. In studies of the manner and means in which captains operated along the coasts of our country, and as well along its routes, we have learned that “supplemental” taking on of cargo was not unlikely, nor unusual. This practice of the day (circa 1600-1650) was as customary as was setting sail and running with the winds.


Based on satellite data, archival data in the repository of Seville, other sources it is believed that Rosales who entered into the agree of defrauding the local tribes along the shore, may have had more than just a complacent viewpoint in the taking on board illicit cargo. As well the supplemental income practices of the day.


in examining different areas of where both he and Iturbe would have traveled, the published reports of the sinking little is to be doubted that like Iturbe and Cordone, Rosales was just as equally in the thick of another seafaring practise, that of smuggling. Based on reports there is substantial data to support a shallow water sinking (depth <50′) and as well it may be possible to identify areas of debris fields and as well possibly find significant artifactual materials to identify positively the position of the second of the three “Pearl Ships” and its location within the “Sea of Cortez”.



in search of the Second of the Pearl Ships of the Expedition of 1616 , led by Alverez de Cordone.

The mystique of the “Pearl Ships of 1616” led by Alvarez de Cordone, and co-captains Pedro de Rosales and Juan de Iturbe. The ships licensed by King Phillip the 3d and built in 1612 in Acapulco, Mexico. Little did anyone conceive that the fate of three captains, and three ships would end in 1616, four years after their being built, nor of the mystery that would surround two of the three ships some 397 years later.


A lost Caravel lost in the sands of time

The year was 1612, proudly three small ships were being keeled, three years later a turn of events will mark them in history. Little is known of the changes or modifications of what is referred to as the “Latin Caravel” similar in design to two of the three ships that Columbus sailed across the Atlantic to discover the New World in 1492, but changes in the course of the years did evolve. Much is written in curious sentences of the “Lost Pearl Boat of the Mojave” but in actuality little is really known of the architecture involved. Three ships left Acapulco, in hopes of discovering pearl rich beds of the Gulf of California, now known as the Sea of Cortez. What is known is that the ill fated voyage in 1615 was to say the least a tragedy of errors and negligence. Discovering a tribe of natives on its voyage the small group of boats entered into trade clothing for pearls. Cordone who began the trading decided that the instead of the fine clothing promised he would instead give the natives, bundles of old clothes and rags. Once the deception was detected , the local chief sent his warriors on the attack. Cordone was mortally wounded, his ship returned to Acapulco with its wounded skipper and the skipper of a sister ship, Rosales whose boat struck a reef and began to take on water abandoned, but not before its cargo of pearls had been moved to the boat skippered by Juan de Iturbe. There the story of the “Ghost ship of the Mojave” was put in motion. 

As we all know nature, and circumstance can often lead to disaster, Iturbe was about to find out exactly how those events would forever seal the fate of his boat. Iturbe proceeded to sail North, entering the flooded Colorado river basin he proceeded to sail further inland. At that point in time as well a tidal inudation of the Gulf of California contributed to the error of assumption. Iturbe thinking he was still in the Gulf, proceeded to search for the beds of pearls. The as fast as the flooding occured it began its retreat. Iturbe soon realized that the basin was emptying and made his attempt at escape back to open water,though a shallow draught its water under keel was just not there, and Iturbe’s fate and that of his ship was sealed. Finding his craft stranded in the sands, he evacuated his crew with provisions all they could carry and trekked across the desert and mountains of Cailfornia some 366 miles distance to San Luis Obispo  to the Spanish Mission there. In 1616  he was given another ship but that of his former command was lost.

In the area now known as the Mojave Desert, in legend and myth the ill fated boat and its location remains a mystery today and as well in the archives in both Spain and the reports filed by Iturbe the lost in the area somewhere above the 34th latitude remains. For eight months I have researched the “Great Bird of the Mojave” as it has been handed down by Native Americans, the sporadic news reports over 396 years, all state to date the location of the “Pearl Ship” remains a mystery. The craft from some reports was 30 meters in length, 8 meters at the beam and had an estimated weight of 50 tonnes. Studying satellite and archival records, my research begins next week to explore three sites of the possible location of Juan de Iturbe’s ill fated pearl boat.