Artillery in Mexico: Akumal, Wreck of the Matanceros

Artillería preservada en México,

Artillery preserved in Mexico

Akumal, Wreck of the Matanceros

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El objetivo de este sitio web es localizar, identificar y documentar cada pieza histórica de artillería preservada en México. Muchos contribuyentes han ayudado en la búsqueda de estas armas para proporcionar y actualizar los datos encontrados en estas páginas web. Las fotos son tan acreditadas. Cualquier error encontrado aquí es por el autor, y cualquier adición, corrección o enmienda a esta lista de Armas y Artillería en México sería muy bienvenida y puede enviarse por correo electrónico al autor a

The aim of this website is to locate, identify and document every historical piece of artillery preserved in Mexico.  Many contributors have assisted in the hunt for these guns to provide and update the data found on these web pages.  Photos are as credited.  Any errors found here are by the author, and any additions, corrections or amendments to this list of Guns and Artillery in Mexico would be most welcome and may be e-mailed to the author at

Wreck of the Matanceros, Akumal

Located just south of Aventuras Akumal and Bahia Principe Resort is the locally famous wreck of the Matanceros. According to the archives in Spain this frigate class Spanish merchant ship was officially called Nuestra Señora de los Milagros (Our Lady of Miracles) and was sailing near the Caribbean coast of the Yucatan on February 22, 1741 when it crashed into the coral reefs just offshore. Although the details of her exact hull design are not known we do know that she was 73 feet in length, with a keel of 60 feet, a beam of 20 feet and a draft of about 10 feet, and like most merchant ships of her time she was armed. She carried 16 small iron cannons and four swivel guns. At least 7 of the cannons are now fronting Akumal’s main bay, with two in front of the Dive Shop and five mounted on concrete stands further north overlooking the bay.

(Author Photos)

During the autumn of 1740 Spain was at war with England and the Caribbean shipping lanes were infested with English privateers based in Jamaica. Despite the risk to his crew and cargo, Captain Juan Bacaro and a crew of 69 set sail from Cadiz on November 30, 1740 with a ship packed full of the kind of goods that would fetch enormous prices when sold in the colonial port of Vera Cruz, that is if she made it there. Her cargo consisted of both registered and un-registered items, a common practice during her time. The registered cargo included an uninteresting and bulky 100 tons of pig iron, and 25 tons of tempered steel wire. Along with the heavy metal was another 50 tons of saleable household goods consisting of knives, spoons scissors, needles, buttons, buckles, writing quills, paper and glassware, window glass, walnut and almond oil, lavender and hand tools. Also listed were 750 barrels, 400 casks, 204 cases, and 21,200 bottles of brandy and wine. At least part of the unregistered cargo was known to be bales of English cloth and clothing. Items which would have brought a fantastic price if El Matancero had reached her destination.

The most notable recovered artifacts from the wreck are its cannons (several of which point out to sea at the entrance to Akumal Bay) and a large quantity of necklace crucifixes of different sizes and styles. Also recovered over the years are thousands of glass beads (usually clear or blue), brass belt buckles, coins and some gems. The reason why the ship was wrecked has never been absolutely determined despite a sizable amount of archived records about the ship and her sinking. There is no record of severe regional storms at the time and nothing in the extensive British Admiralty records mentioning any attacks from Royal Navy ships. It is speculated that Captain Juan Bacaro decided to set a course to sail between the island of Cozumel and the mainland to avoid any British privateers or warships of the Royal Navy that might have been in the area. This would have been risky since it would have placed the ship at the mercy of the trade winds, with the entire Caribbean coast of the Yucatan and its treacherous reefs as a lee shore. The gamble would only payoff if he could make it to the tip of the Yucatan. Once there he would have an easy run west to his destination Vera Cruz, in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on the evidence we can only speculate. We may never be certain.

(Author Photos)

The wreck of any sailing ship in the Caribbean conjures up an image of bounty worth millions of dollars in gold, silver, and gems, from Peru to Isla Margarita. A shipwreck is virtually a snapshot of a moment, forever tied to its dynamic entity that was a ship, with crew and cargo all coming to an end in an instant. This is unlike most archaeological sites on land, which represent human activity spread over generations of time. The artifacts associated with any given wreck provide an invaluable picture of life at that place, at that time. The wreck of El Matancero is a prime example. (

(Author Photo)

North of the Dive shop.

This one was in a separate location north of the five looking West.

(Author Photos)

What appears to be a bronze SBML with dolphins in a memorial site to the rear of the five overlooking the bay.

(Lisa Beeman Photo)

One of the four larger SBMLs in the water at Akumal.

Nuestra Señora de los Milagros (Our Lady of the Miracles), nicknamed Matanceros because it was built in Matanzas, Cuba, was making its way from Spain to Mexico when it crashed into the coral reefs off of the Akumal coast. At this period of time Spain was at war with England, largely over trading opportunities in the Caribbean, and its waters were full of English privateers. Nonetheless Captain Juan Bacaro and his crew of 69 men set sail from Cadiz, Spain on November 30, 1740 with a ship packed full of goods to sell in the colonial city of Veracruz, Mexico, its intended port of call. The ship – 73 feet long with 16 cannons and four swivel guns – contained nearly 300 tons of merchandise, including metals, household items like cutlery and glassware, jewellery and 21,200 bottles of wine and brandy; goods that would return a small fortune when sold on arrival.

Once in the Caribbean, it is believed that Captain Bacaro decided to sail between the island of Cozumel and the mainland to avoid any privateers or British Royal Navy warships that might have been in the area. The ship would then make its way up the Mexican Caribbean coast to the tip of the Yucatan peninsula before sailing west towards Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico. Things did not go as planned though. The Matanceros came unstuck trying to navigate through the large coral reefs that inhabit this area as breakers smashed into the ship running it aground.

A series of shipwrecks led to Akumal’s ascent. It began when a Spanish galleon ran aground on the coral reef, and its members were subsequently taken prisoner by the Maya. Once Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés got wind of the news, he commissioned a search party out of Cozumel. But of the 17 men shipwrecked, only two had survived, and one, Gonzalo Guerrero, would later assimilate with the Maya, marrying a Mayan woman and fathering the first mestizos (persons of mixed heritage).

When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés arrived in Cozumel, he heard about the shipwreck and two survivors in Akumal. He sent emissaries to look for them. The search party located the two, and Gerónimo de Águilar returned to Cortés’ camp. Later, the rescued sailor would become the first translator and guide in the conquest of Mexico

On 22 February 1741, during a terrible storm a small Spanish merchant ship called El Matancero ran aground on the coral reef at Akumal and sank. In 1959, a group of ex-WWII Mexican frogmen led by Pablo Bush Romero came to Akumal to salvage El Matancero, which lay in shallow water at the southern end of Bahía Príncipe. They formed CEDAM (Club de Exploración y Deporte Acuáticos de México) to serve their country by turning over to the Federal Government whatever could be salvaged from the wrecks buried along the Mexican coast. IRomero would go on to purchase much of Akumal’s land and today is credited as the founder of the town.

Akumal Playa was originally settled by Maya families as a fishing and trading settlement. The name Akumal comes from the Mayan, meaning “place of the turtle”, for hundreds of turtles return to these beaches every year to lay their eggs.

In 1511, Gonzalo Guerrero sailed with fifteen others including Gerónimo de Águilar in a caravel from Panama heading for Santo Domingo, when they were shipwrecked.  The crew managed to board lifeboats and drifted for two weeks along the Yucatán Peninsula until strong currents brought them ashore at what is now Akumal in the state of Quintana Roo.

Upon reaching land, Guerrero and the crew were captured by the local Mayas. The Mayas sacrificed some of the crew almost immediately, and put the rest into cages. The Spanish managed to escape, but other Maya lords captured and enslaved them. By 1519, the year Hernán Cortés began his conquest of Mexico, only two men from the original shipwreck remained alive – Guerrero  and Gerónimo de Aguilar. By this time, Gonzalo Guerrero had married Nachan Can’s daughter princess Zazil Há and fathered the first mestizo children in the region. He became famous in the Maya world as a war leader for Nachan Can, Lord of Chactemal (which included parts of Mexico and Belize).  It was Guerrero’s training of the Maya in Spanish war tactics which led to the successful attack against Córdoba’s expedition.

When the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés arrived in Cozumel, he heard about the shipwreck and two survivors in Akumal. He sent emissaries to look for them. The search party located the two, and Gerónimo de Águilar returned to Cortés’ camp. Later, the rescued sailor would become the first translator and guide in the conquest of Mexico.

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