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Superyacht Owner Carl Allen on the Thrills of Treasure Hunting

22 May 2020 • Written by Holly Overton

Serial yacht owner Carl Allen started life on the water sailing dinghies on the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. Today his fleet comprises a 50 metre Westport, Damen support vessel and a 16 metre Viking sportfish.

Speaking in our lockdown series At Home With BOAT, the CEO of Allen Exploration, Carl Allen, sits down with BOAT International editor Stewart Campbell to discuss the latest addition to his fleet and the thrill of searching for treasures lost at sea.

Allen bought his 50 metre Westport Gigi back in 2016. “I’ve always loved Westports. She’s gorgeous on the inside. She was a pretty easy sell to my wife.” But while Gigi ticked all the boxes as the perfect luxury yacht for cruising the Bahamas, Allen wasn't quite done. As a keen big-game fisherman, diver and explorer, he began searching for a support vessel that could match his thirst for discovery.

At the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, he discovered a Damen shadow boat for sale. “The minute I stepped on Axis I started having shivers and I knew this is what I was looking for.”

The 55 metre Damen support vessel would be the perfect travel companion to Gigi and he spent a year converting the vessel to suit. Spending most of his time on board in the Bahamas, the two work together perfectly. “We can get into places with both vessels that you just can’t imagine with a larger vessel."

Allen's 55 metre Damen support Vessel Axis

Lying side by side, he admits the two yachts are “oddballs” but they each serve a different purpose. Gigi is “fancy”, designed for relaxed cruising, while Axis is functional and dedicated entirely to carrying Allen’s arsenal of “tools”, including a Triton submersible, an amphibious Icon A5 plane and a full dive store. “I have 25 crew members between the two yachts. In order to work for me it’s mandatory that you are a certified diver.”

Axis’s carrying capacity came into particular importance when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in 2019. “When the hurricane hit we immediately dropped everything we were doing.” Over the course of eight weeks, both Axis and Gigi made trips between Freeport, Little Grand Cay and Walker’s Cay. “Between the two, we made 15 trips with over a million pounds of relief supplies.”

In the episode, Allen also talked about his love for treasure hunting. “It’s a big part of what I do." During a trip to Key West at the age of 20, Allen met Mel Fisher, a treasure hunter best known for finding the wreck of the 1622 Nuestra Señora de Atocha. With an estimated worth of $400m in treasure on board, the Atocha remains one of the greatest discoveries in history. The encounter with Fisher kickstarted his lifelong passion for hunting lost treasures.

“I’ve been told that there’s more gold and silver missing than exists, which is really exciting,” he said. “Gold and silver won’t be picked up on a metal detector, but iron will, and typically those old ships had tonnes of iron.”

So far, he’s uncovered gold, silver, cutlery, cannons and even a 17th-century enema kit - among many other finds. But Allen has his sights set on one ship in particular, which sank off of his Bahamian island of Walker’s Cay in 1656. “I’ve studied this particular ship my whole life. It collided with another ship and split in half.”

Allen's 50 metre Westport Gigi

“It took me a long time to get a permit. And we believe we have found the bow. One day we came across something and it’s been the most exciting thing in my life. And I couldn’t have done it without building the fleet."

What's so special about this particular sunken ship? It's believed to be carrying somewhere between five and ten billion dollars’ worth of gold and jewels in its cargo. What’s more, is there are hundreds more ships like it. “The Bahamas’ national debt is laying out there in their front lawn", said Allen. "That’s part of my plan here with the government, to really help them financially if we find something like that.”

Once the travel restrictions are lifted, Allen is hoping to head back to the Bahamas with Gigi and Axis to continue his explorations of the deep. “Only five percent of the world’s oceans have been explored and I’m going to work on that.”

For more At Home With BOAT interviews, click here.

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More about this yacht

Westport   49.93 m •  2010
Damen Yachting   55.3 m •  2016