PEOPLE OF INTEREST
SAND AND SEA
ELLEN GILLETTE PHOTOS
The second youngest of 12 children, Jonah Martinez spent much of his childhood traveling at sea. He was especially influenced by the ancient Mexican
way of life, “how they worshipped what they saw every day. I like to look at the whole picture, know my place and appreciate real life.”
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Born into a routine life, Jonah Martinez was 10 when his
father sold his business in Illinois and commissioned
a sailboat to be built in Taiwan. But after a typhoon hit
the boatyard, his father had to improvise.
“Dad packed us up into a camper to go on tour,” he says.
While Martinez’s mother home-schooled him and his
brother, their education was enhanced by traveling throughout
Mexico and South America. After the sailboat arrived, it
was rigged and set up in Fort Pierce and the family finally
left for the islands.
“I was hardly back in this country until my junior year of
high school,” he says.
Martinez’s nontraditional childhood became the foundation
for a nontraditional life. The family sailed throughout
the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, along the west coast of
Florida and to the Keys.
“We’d dive and spearfish areas so full of fish and lobster,
you could place your order for dinner and then go get it,” he
At 14, he visited the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
in Key West, amazed by the shipwreck artifacts found
by the famous treasure hunter.
“As a kid, you’re fascinated with pirates and treasure,”
Martinez says, “but as you get older, you focus on car payments
and mortgages. I knew that day, that this was what I
wanted to do. I never outgrew it.”
The family later settled in Martin County, which was an adjustment
for Martinez. The lifestyle was so different — people
“going places and doing things that don’t mean anything in
the grand scheme of things,” he says.
On land, however, he discovered remote-control cars. He
gradually transitioned to doing custom work on real cars and
as a teenager, landed a job at an ornamental welding shop.
When Martinez was 17, his mother showed him a newspaper
ad: A treasure ship — the Endeavor — was hiring.
“It changed my life,” he says. And as the youngest crew
member, he pulled lots of ropes before finding his first silver
coin, which was a turning point for him.
Several seasons later, Martinez was offered a position on
one of Mel Fisher’s boats. For three years, he divided time
between treasure hunting and his own metalwork.
“It was great experience — I learned how to navigate, to
The TREASURE HUNTER