gCaptain Book Review: Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

John Konrad
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June 14, 2015

by Robert Kurson

“A terrific read. I was pulled in from page one. Kurson brings us face to face with some of the most swashbuckling pirates ever to sail the Caribbean, even as he takes us underwater on a high-tech quest to discover the relics they left behind.”Daniel James Brown 

The odds of finding a bona fide pirate ship are quite rare, a fact Robert Kurson, author of the former bestseller Shadow Divers, points out in the first few pages of this adventure. “Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship” 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.

Chatterton and Mattera learned about the ship from Tracy Bowden, himself a legend among treasure hunters, who hired them to find the ship. Kurson depicts the men as 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. [1]

Kurson takes readers on a wild ride alongside these bigger-than-life pirate hunters as they navigate the red tape of maritime code, dead ends, and dwindling resources, as well as rival hunters keen on beating Chatterton and Mattera to the prize. Though this drama would be more than enough, Kurson also examines the many myths surrounding pirates in their golden age, some of which were true (they did keep parrots and used colorful language, but they welcomed men of diverse race and backgrounds and, much like today’s offshore industry, every man from the captain to the cook was treated equally.

The story itself is a bit thin, especially when compared to “Shadow Divers,” so Kurson deviates from the main plot often. The story of Mr. Mattera’s past is one digression worth knowing about: how he grew up amid the Gambino family in Staten Island, was treated like a son by a particularly well-placed patron, then took everything he’d learned and began studying at police academies and then took everything he’d learned there and went into private protection services.[2]

Kurson’s enthusiasm, combined with his copious research and an eye for detail, makes for one of the most mind-blowing pirate stories of recent memory, one that mariners and landlubbers alike will have a hard time putting down.

Fun and quick, Pirate Hunters is an informative read that will have you dreaming of what you could do with A treasure hunting ship of your own.

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