Well, as I am writing this Ridge and I are back in the good ole US of A. We have so much catching up to do on our adventures and hopefully with our unlimited data and fast internet speeds, we will be able to.
One thing I have been dying to write about is pirates. Thats right, Pirates of the West Indies. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the cruise throughout the Bahamas as much if it were not for its rich history. If you know me, you know that I am a history buff. My dad was a history teacher for a million years and growing up I wanted so badly to be Indiana Jones. The rich history in the Bahamas that I was particularly interested in was…piracy. You’ve seen the movies and shows, but did you know that a lot of those characters arrrr (sorry, had to) based on actual people. I think most know that Edward Teach or Thatch (depending on who you talk to) aka Blackbeard was a real person, but what about notable Black Sails characters such as: Charles Vane, Anne Bonny, Benjamin Hornigold, and Jack Rackham—all real. Captain Morgan, not only a delicious dark spiced rum (to some…bleh), but an actual pirate—some say, the most successful pirate turned privateer of the West Indies. Ridge and I began re-watching Black Sails almost immediately upon entering the Bahamas and its introduction song became one that we would hum daily. If you haven’t seen Black Sails yet, please check it out! Its an awesome show, with wonderful characters, great acting and it is very well written—its kind of like Game of Thrones but about pirates.
We have heard stories of people that have found treasure in the Bahamas, some first hand and some just stories. There are even websites and forums from treasure hunters and historians alike that tell you where treasure is likely buried and why the ship went down (hurricane, attack, navigational error)—its a bit shocking. Also shocking…how many wrecks there are scattered all over the Bahamas (from different eras), both planes and ships alike (a jeep at one location). I guess when you think about the depth of the water surrounding some islands and the coral heads everywhere you look it seems a bit less shocking, but looking at a chart and seeing it riddled with black marks advising of either submerged shipwrecks/planes, or shipwrecks/planes awash, it is a bit scary. From what I can tell online, people do find pirate treasure from some of those wrecks (people also find recent treasures such as jewelry dropped while diving but that is not as cool). We met two people on this most recent adventure of ours that had themselves or knew of someone that had found doubloons. Its hard not to become interested in it and to hunt for places where it might be as soon as you hear stories like that. I mean these people that found the treasure are just like you and me—they’re not treasure hunters or historians, just people at the right place at the right time. One doubloon was found on an old shipwreck that had been dived on thousands of times, but perhaps a large storm had come through and that doubloon made its way to the surface to be discovered. I read a story about a woman walking on a beach on the Atlantic side of an island in the Bahamas when she saw something glimmering in the sand—a gold necklace. She dug deeper to find more treasure, just inches from the surface. One couple we encountered mentioned a doubloon that they had themselves, but they quickly changed the subject and kind of acted as if it was never brought up. The reason for this is that to technically take treasure from Bahamian waters, you must report your find to the Government and obtain a permit and just as you would imagine…that is not easy. It has gotten worse for treasure hunters over the years after the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage which was set so that States could better protect their underwater heritage. In an article written in 2014, it noted that a lot of commercial salvage companies had their permits frozen in 2012 and were still (in 2014) waiting for them to be unfrozen. Additionally, I read in a forum filled with historians and full time treasure hunters that, Spain lays claim to any and all treasure found from their Spanish Treasure Galleons. In 2012, an American man began salvaging and looting a sunken Spanish Galleon (Rumor has it, at a very a well known dive site), however he had come across some treasure on the wreck, and began shipping that treasure overseas. He was promptly arrested for doing so without notifying the Bahamian Government of his find and also without proper permits. Other than his initial arrest, I cannot find an update as to the fate of this man, but the articles mention talks between the Bahamian Government and a very happy King of Spain regarding the find. So, naturally, if you are lucky enough to have found a doubloon, of course you want to tell people (BECAUSE HOW FREAKING COOL), but it might be best that you don’t post it on your instagram account #lookatthepiratetreasureifoundinthebahamas #piratedoubloon. Even though we read about treasure salvage laws, it still didn’t stop Ridge and I from exploring natural landmarks that would have stood out and been around during the time of the Golden Age of Piracy for some pirate treasure. The caves in the photos above were on Great Guana and we thought they would be an excellent spot to hide some treasure (spoiler alert…we found none).
Okay, so that’s enough about treasure, and now on to the actual pirates of the West Indies. From what I am reading, and what I have seen, Black Sails paints a pretty historically accurate description of some of their best characters. “Calico” Jack Rackham was in fact Charles Vane’s quartermaster for a time, but eventually took over control of his ship by a vote of the crew (the crew claimed Vane a coward—-very unlike the Black Sails character) and Rackham was voted the new Captain. Anne Bonny was actually a fiery, short tempered red head who dressed like a boy. It is said that at the ripe old age of 13 she stabbed servant girl with a table knife. After she married her first husband they moved to Nassau where she met Jack Rackham who then became her lover. She divorced her first husband and eventually went on to marry Jack, and have a child with him in Cuba. After the child was born they returned to a life of piracy and left the child behind. Although Jack Rackham was hung for his roles in piracy, Anne Bonny was jailed but claimed she was pregnant and was issued a stay of execution until the child (if she was in fact pregnant) was born. I have read mixed theories on what happened to Anne Bonny—some say there is no record of her getting executed or released and no one knows what happened to her, while other text says she did in fact have a baby and was granted a reprieve. After that, no one knows where she went. Whether she was eventually killed or escaped to return to a life of piracy is unknown. Charles Vane was known for his cruelty and evaded capture for some time, but was eventually caught and was hung in Port Royal, Jamaica. Captain Morgan’s spoils have allegedly never been found. Morgans Bluff in Andros is named after him and there is a cave referred to as Henry Morgan’s Cave where some believe the treasure to be hidden. Blackbeard, probably the most famous of all the aforementioned pirates was quite a character and although portrayed as a ruthless murdering machine in a lot of tales, there is no record of him having murdered any of his hostages, ever. He sailed with famous pirate turned privateer, Benjamin Hornigold for part of his pirating career. Blackbeard’s legacy came to an end off Ocracoke, North Carolina where a fight ensued with a ship from the Royal Navy. He was killed and beheaded and his head was placed on the bowsprit of the ship captained by Lt. Robert Maynard as proof of his death and so that a reward could be collected. They say that Blackbeard’s loot has also never been found. It could be anywhere, but some historians speculate that it could be near Ocracoke (Blackbeard’s favorite anchorage was there), or in the Chesapeake Bay. The Spanish Galleon the Urca De Lima (a big part of the story line in Black Sails) was apart of the 1715 treasure fleet and was damaged in a Hurricane off the coast of Fort Pierce, Florida. It was part of a treasure fleet of eight ships and most were grounded or sank during the storm, with over 1,000 lives lost. Those that did survive began a salvage operation while others made their way to St. Augustine to alert spanish authorities of the sinking. They were able to salvage most of the stores and then set fire to what was left of the ship to sink it so that pirates would not find it.
So, how much treasure is lurking in the waters of the West Indies, or even the world?Obviously no one knows, but to give you an idea, it is estimated that just one missing spanish galleon alone that was said to have sunk somewhere off the West End of Grand Bahama could have 8 billion dollars worth of treasure alone. A famous shipwreck hunter located in Key West that specializes in hunting Spanish vessels estimates the value of the wrecks all over the world to be 60 billion dollars. He was able to come to this estimate because Spain kept such good records of their ships and their cargo, and these calculations were made from studying Spain’s actual manifests. NOAA said as of 2012 it is estimated that there are one million ships sunk throughout the world and most of them are undiscovered. Kind of makes you want to go treasure hunting, eh?