BOSTON (AP) — Fog was swallowing his ship's bow, the winds were picking up and undersea explorer Barry Clifford figured he needed to leave within an hour to beat the weather back to port.
It was time enough, he decided, for a final dive of the season over the wreck of the treasure-laden pirate ship, Whydah, off Cape Cod.
That Sept. 1 dive at a spot Clifford had never explored before uncovered proof that a staggering amount of undiscovered riches — as many as 400,000 coins — might be found there.
Instead of packing up for the year, Clifford is planning another trip to the Whydah, the only authenticated pirate ship wreck in U.S. waters.
"I can hardly wait," he said.
The Whydah was built as a slave ship in 1716 and captured in February 1717 by pirate captain "Black Sam" Bellamy. Just two months later, it sank in a ferocious storm a quarter mile off Wellfleet, Mass., killing Bellamy and all but two of the 145 other men on board and taking down the plunder from 50 vessels Bellamy raided.
Clifford located the Whydah site in 1984 and has since documented 200,000 artifacts, including gold, guns and even the leg of a young boy who took up with the crew. He only recently got indications there may be far more coins than the roughly 12,000 he's already documented.
Just before his death in April, the Whydah project's late historian, Ken Kinkor, uncovered a Colonial-era document indicating that in the weeks before the Whydah sank, Bellamy raided two vessels bound for Jamaica. "It is said that in those vessels were 400,000 pieces of 8/8," it read.
The 8/8 indicates one ounce, the weight of the largest coin made at that time, Clifford said.
"Now we know there's an additional 400,000 coins out there somewhere," he said.
The final dive may have provided a big hint at where. Diver Rocco Paccione said he had low expectations when Clifford excavated a pit about 35 feet below the surface and sent him down. But his metal detector immediately came alive with positive, or hot, readings.