Ahoy down there! Are you the Pinta?
Have two treasure hunters discovered the wreck of one of the three ships Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World?
Though it sounds like a spinoff to the hit movie ''Raiders of the Lost Ark,'' two Floridians insist that they have found the Pinta.
''I am 100 percent convinced it is the Pinta,'' says Olin Frick who, along with fellow treasure hunter John Gasque, discovered the wreck by ''pure luck'' while sailing near West Caicos Island.
''We had no idea it was the Pinta originally,'' he adds. ''It was a combination of factors over a period of three years that lead us to that conclusion.''
For Mr. Frick, who has been in the underwater exploration business for 25 years, the verification comes from research that places the Pinta in sight of the ''seven islands of Barbuca'' in 1500. He says there is no other spot in the Caribbean where seven islands are visible as described in the documents.
Frick also points to the cannon and cannon balls discovered at the wreck site that he says were manufactured in the period 1400-1500. In addition, he says, the ballast used in the ship was rocks from southern Spain and the anchors were of a type Columbus fitted his ships with.
Despite Frick's investment in the project, the Turks and Caicos Islands government has revoked his permit to explore the wreck and turned over recovery operations to the respected Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INS) at Texas A&M University.
INS executive director Kenneth Callaway admits that the find is important, but he contends there is no evidence to suggest that it is the Pinta.
''It is an extremely important vessel because of the time period involved, probably the first half of the 16th century,'' he says. However, he adds, ''the probability that it is the Pinta is low.''
Project director Don Keith, who returned from the sight earlier this week, is likewise circumspect in pinning an identity on the vessel. ''Instead of employing a crystal ball, we intend to explain it through hard work - and that might take years.''
Though positive indentification may be impossible, the Institute will use whatever is found at the wreck site to piece together a profile of the ship.