A look inside the world of professional treasure hunters, focused on the search for a sunken pirate ship.
Journalist Kurson (Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See, 2007, etc.) tells the story of John Chatterton and John Mattera and their quest for the Golden Fleece, a pirate ship sunk off what is now the Dominican Republic in the 1680s. Joseph Bannister, the ship’s captain, was an English merchant captain who turned pirate. Chatterton and Mattera learned about the ship from Tracy Bowden, himself a legend among treasure hunters, who hired them to find the ship. Kurson focuses on the long, often frustrating search, interspersed by library research in New York and Spain. He gives brief biographies of the two men, tough, driven characters thriving in a world in which death is usually one mistake away. There’s a fair share of drama as they run into debt, argue with each other and with Bowden, and deal with threats to their mission, ranging from claim jumpers to international bans on treasure hunting. Their breakthrough came when they realized the key to the search was the character of the pirate himself. Along the way, readers get a capsule history of the “Golden Age of Piracy,” from about 1650 to 1720, when the likes of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Henry Morgan were active. Kurson has done an impressive amount of research, and he has a good sense of painting scenes, though readers might sometimes wonder where the line is between straight reporting and entertainment. The book tends to jump around too much, though given the long stretches in which the protagonists’ search for Bannister’s ship was stalled, it’s easy to understand why. In the end, Chatterton and Mattera come across as modern heroes, the kind of men the modern world often finds it hard to make a place for.
An enjoyable read, especially if you’ve got a thing for pirates.