Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson ****

The brief period around the end of the seventeenth century was the golden age for pirates. This was a time of change: England was challenging Spain's supremacy. The Spanish empire was in decline and the British empire was yet to rise. Into this power vacuum, came pirates. Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson is ostensibly about the search for one of the greatest: Joseph Bannister captaining the Golden Fleece.

The author, perhaps following the tradition of Herman Melville, punctuates the treasure hunting narrative various digressions. This includes the lives of treasure hunters from early American explorers, to the pirates, to the pioneers of modern treasure hunter and the current stars. There is also plenty of discussion of the tools of the trade such as diving techniques, magnetometers, and researching old Spanish archives.

In this extensively researched volume, there are many gems. For example, the primary search technology locates magnetic materials (gun barrels, cannon balls, etc) along with contemporary trash, but the real goal is to find a large mound of rocks. These rocks, the ships ballast, survive after the wooden hull is gone and seem to be the best indication of a ship wreck.

This book is a combination of history, hagiography, and treasure hunt. If you are interested in pirates, divers, or treasure, this is the book for you.

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