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Book review | ‘Pirate Hunters’ thrills with true, swashbuckling story

“Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship,” by Robert Kurson.
“Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship,” by Robert Kurson. Courtesy image

The hole you dug as a kid would never reach China.

That didn’t matter to you, though; China wasn’t your goal – treasure was. Alas, your map was incorrect, and you never found riches, but that never stopped you from looking. So now read the new book “Pirate Hunters” by Robert Kurson, and dip your digits near doubloons instead.

As experienced divers and successful treasure hunters, John Chatterton and John Mattera never let loose of a good story. Stories sometimes yield truth, and they weren’t about to dismiss the legend of Joseph Bannister.

Hailed as a leader, Bannister was known and respected as a trustworthy seaman who knew how to safely transport cargo, England to Jamaica. He’d worked his way up, cabin to Captain, and by 1680, he was well-paid, his future secure.

But in June of 1684, something happened that can only be guessed.

On-course from London to the Caribbean with a full load, Bannister’s ship disappeared. British vessels tried unsuccessfully to find him until they realized, to their shock, that Bannister had stolen his ship, its cargo and most of its crew – and he’d gladly do the same to others. Yes, Bannister had become a real-life pirate, and he knew enough about shipping corridors to confound merchants and authorities alike.

Outraged and embarrassed, the Brits vowed to capture him, but the pirate continued to taunt. They caught him once and jailed him, but he escaped aboard his ship, snuck past fortified British cannons and continued his marauding ways, inflaming the British even more. Bannister managed to elude authorities until late in 1687 …

Chatterton and Mattera read everything they could about Bannister and were aware of reports claiming that his ship was sunk in 24 feet of water, just off the coast of Santo Domingo. Finding it was an irresistible goal, but searching was expensive, though the man who owned the diving rights in the area where The Golden Fleece supposedly sunk had offered them 20 percent of the ship, found and recovered.

First, though, they had to find the essence of a pirate, and quickly. Everyone, including the Dominican government, wanted a piece of this action.

As I was sitting in a modern airport, reading about a 17th-century buccaneer, it occurred to me that I had an interesting juxtaposition going. It also occurred to me that I’d chosen a stellar book to take on my trip.

With high-seas history, a sense of intrigue and the tales of two divers who possessed dogged determination, “Pirate Hunters” will speak to the part of you that craves a seize-life adventure and a little bit of danger. Bannister’s swashbuckling story is better than anything you’ll find in the movies because it’s true, and author Robert Kurson seduces his readers with an edge-of-your-seat telling. Just be prepared for an ending you’ll never predict. Arrrgh!

Who hasn’t dreamed of finding buried loot or undersea riches? You know you have, which is why you’ll love this phenomenal book. For you, and the child inside who never stopped looking, “Pirate Hunters” is treasure enough.

At a glance

Title | “Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship”

Author | Robert Kurson

Publisher | Random House

Length | 304 pages

Cost | $28

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