Growing up on Cape Cod, explorer Barry Clifford was fascinated by the romantic tale of "Black Sam" Bellamy. Sailing to Massachusetts to rendezvous with his mistress, the pirate encountered a nor'easter that sent him, most of his crew, and tons of gold, silver and jewels to the ocean's bottom.
The lore launched Clifford on a life of treasure-hunting — including the discovery in 1984 of the Whydah, Bellamy's treasure-laden three-master, which sank off of Wellfleet, Mass., on April 26, 1717.
"I was looking for treasure, and I found it," Clifford, 64, said. "More treasure than I could have ever imagined. The whole bottom was layered with it."
A sliver of Clifford's discovery is on display through April 4, 2010, at Nauticus, a marine science museum perched on the Norfolk waterfront.
"Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship," organized by National Geographic, includes thousands of gold and silver coins and hundreds of other displays in a 16,000-square-foot interactive exhibition.
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