SPANISH TREASURE FLEETS
In the 1560s, to combat the constant danger of piracy in the Caribbean, the Spanish adopted a convoy system. A treasure fleet or flota would sail annually from Seville (and later from Cádiz) in Spain, carrying passengers, troops, and European manufactured goods to the Spanish colonies of the New World.
This cargo, though profitable, was really just a form of ballast for the fleet as its true purpose was to transport the year’s worth of silver to Europe.
The first stage in the journey was the transport of all that silver from the mines in Bolivia and New Spain in a mule convoy called the Silver Train to a major Spanish port, usually on the Isthmus of Panama or Veracruz in New Spain.
The flota would meet up with the Silver Train, offload its cargo of manufactured goods to waiting colonial merchants and then load its holds with the precious cargo of gold and silver, in bullion or coin form.
This made the returning Spanish treasure fleet a tempting target, although pirates were more likely to shadow the fleet to attack stragglers than to engage the well-armed main vessels. The classic route for the treasure fleet in the Caribbean was through the Lesser Antilles to the ports along the Spanish Main on the coast of Central America and New Spain, then northwards into the Yucatán Channel to catch the westerly winds back to Europe.
French pirate Jacques de Sores looting and burning Havana in 1555