The book I’m reviewing today- Expedition Whydah by Barry Clifford with Paul Perry, published by HarperCollins, New York in 1999. 311 pages, Nonfiction.
This is the true story of the world’s first successful hunt for a real, identifiable pirate ship and the man who followed his dream to find it.
The Whydah Galley (the Whydah) was an English slave ship on her second voyage; returning home after profitably selling her load of slaves on the Spanish Main via the Windward Passage. Sighted by Captain Black Sam Bellamy and his pirate “gang” on board a smaller but faster ship, they would have a merry sea chase for several days before the Whydah struck her colors and yielded to Sam Bellamy. The Whydah would be turned into Bellamy’s flagship, to make him one of the most successful pirate captains of the Golden Age of Piracy. Returning to find his lover on the East Coast of the United States, the Whydah and her crew + their consorts (several smaller ships) were overloaded with treasure and valuable possessions when they encountered a violent noreasterly just off the coast of Cape Cod. The Whydah, Captain Bellamy and nearly the rest of the crew were lost to the sea as the ship was pounded onto the shoreline by gigantic waves and unforgiving wind.
Young Barry Clifford became enamoured by legendary pirates and pirate ships that no one could find and were supposed to be just off the Cape Cod shore early in his life. Come forward to the 80’s and he would dedicate his adult life to finding said ship, but not without brutal hurtles that would have stopped most of us. From unforgiving state boards and panels to intricate dealings with investors, Barry Clifford dealt with more than just the sea and sand that would hide the ship and it’s treasure. Aided by a stalwart crew (that included JFK Jr.) and loads of perseverance, Barry Clifford did find what he was sure was the Whydah Galley but no one believed him or would acknowledge the truth of the ship. More concrete proof was needed, so years after finding the first pieces of the ship, Barry Clifford and his crew found what every sunken ship hunter yearns for…rock solid proof of the ships identity and pedigree…in finding the ship’s bell. Not every English ship carried a large easily identifiable ships bell (often used to identify individual ships since there would be no name visible as the wood rots away) and some pirates purposefully rid themselves of the bell as they renamed their ships, but the Whydah Galley did have such a bell, in perfect shape even after several hundred years at the bottom of the sea.
The book also takes you inside the personal and professional drama involved with running a large salvage and treasure hunting company; from the various hurtles to getting the right permissions and permits (involving federal court), to leveraging financing and dealing with various stages of investors and company owners to the different cities that would NOT allow a Whydah Musuem based on her slave ship pedigree.
Lastly, neither Barry Clifford or Paul Perry hold back in allowing the reader to get inside various personalities found in the book, perhaps purposefully mentioning some higher profile politicians and personalities by name in order to make sure folks know what happened with respect to the Whydah and her discovery. I had already read up on Barry Clifford a bit before I read this book, so it was fun to read the book and be able to think through what others say about him in print against the backdrop of reading his own writing. Many writers mention that Mr. Clifford is scopelocked on finding the next “Whydah” discovery and indeed, several of his announcements about high profile discoveries instantly found crazy media coverage, to be proven false or argued by experts later. The United Nations has even come out several times to “debunk” several of Mr. Clifford’s claims, but he continues to hunt for lost ships all over the world.
No matter what personalities are involved, this book is a great read and valuable look inside the world of underwater archeology and treasure hunting….available via this link on Amazon, Expedition Whydah by Barry Clifford and Paul Perry.
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