The book I’m reviewing today: Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson, published by Random House, New York in 2015. 275 Pages, Nonfiction
Another book I had trouble putting down, as I’m always in awe of a non-fiction book that rivets me to the pages and engages my brain as well as my romantic longings for epic adventure. Robert Kurson delivers again….and I’m impressed. This is the book for those who are amateur treasure hunters, pirate story readers, scuba divers and explorers; cause this book takes a non-fiction look at a real life quest involving every one of these backgrounds.
Every once in awhile, you read or hear stories so far fetched so could only be reality and not made up by others, real life throws you that curve. I love this story because it gains credibility through the author…who also wrote the book on exploration (using nitrox and tank diving) at the edges of the deepest levels a man can go when telling the story of John Chatterton and Richie Kohlers epic quest to explore and bring to light a mystery U-Boat off the store of New Jersey….that experts all said wasn’t really there. But in this book, John Chatterton and his partner John Mattera are brought in by another treasure hunter to help solve the mystery of whether a real pirate ship named the Golden Horn really was sunk in less than 20 feet of water off the coast of an island in the Dominican Republic. Like the research done by Chatterton and Kohler during their exploration of the unknown U-Boat, finding a real sunken pirate ship after 200+ years under water became a year’s long research pursuit for Chatterton and Mattera as well. It’s hard enough to find any ship underwater that this hunt boiled down to getting into the Pirate Captain’s mind…and that’s the crux of how the Golden Fleece was really found…+ a crapload of pure hard work and smart diving.
But this hunt for a ship was different, and both men knew it. If found, it would be only the 2nd verifiable and factual pirate ship EVER found in history (Barry Clifford found the first one, the Whydah of the East Coast of the United States) and the Golden Fleece and her Captain did something that no other pirate in history ever did. The ship, her Captain and crew went up against the might of the vaunted British Royal Navy and won…driving them to sail away lest their warships get sunk by the likes of pirates. Captain Joseph Bannister was something out of Black Sails too…a hard driving Captain of a merchant ship who went on the account, caught but not put on trial as he hung around Port Royal…got bored and secretly colluded with his crew to steal back his ship and sail it out of Port Royal in the dead of night, escaping into the Carribbean as a pirate and free man. By all accounts, Joseph Bannister was not a tryant to his men, treated captured ships and crews with some civility and was fairly successful at hunting merchant ships. Maintenance was required and they decided to careen her on a small island off the coast of the Dominican Republic, where two British ships of the line (warships) caught them with the Golden Hind on the careen and unable to move. But Captain Bannister had planned on this attack and the small island was a veritable fortress, complete with cannon redoughts, sharpshooter platforms and trench lines. The Golden Hind and a smaller ship were sunk by the British but they could not crack the small island, so fearing for their own ships they sailed away to be shamed by the Governor of Jamaica. Official history by the British Navy says they caught up with Joseph Bannister and a small contingent of his men hiding on the mosquito coast of the Spanish main and found him dressed like a native roasting plantains. That same history says that Captain Bannister and the small contingent of men were hanged while still on the British Man of War within sight of Port Royal and the bodies were dumped into Gun Cay. No audience with the Royal Governor, no local trial and no getting sent back to England for a trial as a message to other pirates. Both Mattera and Chatterton find this version of written history very convenient; as do I. Most easily believed is that the British Royal Navy simply couldn’t find Joseph Bannister or his crew after they most likely disbanded (with no ship) after the battle at Samana. But the British simply couldn’t admit that two of their finest capital ships of the line had been defeated by a grounded pirate ship and her ragtag crew, so they wrote history the way the Royal Governor wanted the King and Crown to think had really happened. Captain Joseph Bannister and the Golden Hind disappeared in the fog of history, the Royal Governor of Jamaica kept his role in history, the vaunted British Navy got credit for sinking yet another pirate ship and life as they knew it rolled on. Until….. the Golden Fleece was found in less than 12 feet of water off a tiny island in the Dominican Republic and the extensive research done on Joseph Bannister and the Golden Fleece was put into words in the form of this outstanding book. A great read and available via this link from Amazon….Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson.
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