Book Review: Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

Pirate Hunters is the fascinating true story of the search for the pirate ship the Golden Fleece, only the second pirate shipwreck ever found. When you’re done reading it, you’ll be packing your scuba gear and heading to the Dominican Republic to hunt for treasure.

I read Pirate Hunters as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. September’s challenge was to read a book with pirates in it in honor of talk like a pirate day. I’m really glad I picked this category because Pirate Hunters was so well-written and told such an interesting story.

Pirate Hunters takes us into the world of deep sea diving and the Golden Age of Piracy (1650-1720). Diving partners John Chatterton – who used to host a series on the History Channel called Deep Sea Detectives – and John Mattera are set to begin a search for a treasure ship after two years of planning. But they scrap their plans one afternoon after a well-seasoned treasure hunter tells of a pirate shipwreck near the Dominican Republic.


The treasure ship would have yielded much more wealth if they had found it, but Chatterton and Mattera couldn’t resist the allure of finding a rare pirate ship. It’s something most treasure hunters dream of.

Chatterton and Mattera are fascinating people and I’m glad the author dedicated a chapter to each of their life stories. Chatterton is a Vietnam vet and considered the best deep sea diver in the world. He gained fame when he found the wreck of a WWII German submarine off the coast of New Jersey. Mattera had ties to the Gambino crime family growing up, owned a successful private security firm (he’s not someone to mess with), and has a deep love and respect for history.

pirate hunters

The two set up operations, along with two other crew members, in a remote part of the Dominican Republic near where the Golden Fleece supposedly wrecked. Many months of fruitless searching followed. They used state of the art equipment that detected iron, but all they found were license plates and fish traps.

They eventually realized that to find the wreck, they had to turn to history and think like the pirate captain, Joseph Bannister. But researching the wreck was difficult because this was a lesser-known pirate ship and records about its 1686 sinking were rare.

By thinking like a cunning pirate, they finally found the Golden Fleece, but along the way they had to battle frustration, bandits, claim jumpers, a stubborn lease holder, and greatly depleted personal bank accounts (treasure hunting is expensive!).

This book has all the characteristics of hard-to-put-down fiction – larger than life main characters, suspense, obstacles to overcome, a tropical location, a brave and ruthless pirate captain and, of course, treasure! One way I measure the quality of nonfiction is by how many times I Google things about the topic as I’m reading the book. This one had me Googling away, plus now I want to watch old episodes of Deep Sea Detectives and read Richard Kurson’s book about the finding of the German submarine.

There must be some treasure hunter in me.

Read Pirate Hunters if you like history, pirates, shipwrecks, treasure hunting, or just a great story told by a very capable author.

Did you read a book with pirates in it this month? Tell us all about it!

**Reminder – October’s challenge is to read a paranormal or horror book.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship by Robert Kurson

  1. I too thoroughly enjoyed this book. I didn’t think it would be one I was too interested in but as it turned out, it was a fun, adventurous read. I guess that’s what happens when you read books outside your normal realm. I really could not get over the time and energy, as well as money, that was dedicated to this search. Certainly, I would never have the patience to stick with something like this for so long with no results. I really enjoyed the portion of the book when they were trying to think like a pirate and figure out where the ship should be based upon where Bannister would have placed the ship. It took me back to military days when you were trained to “think like the enemy would think.” Perhaps my only complaint of the book was how the finances worked for this expedition. I wasn’t clear on who was paying for what and more importantly, what was the cost of an extended search like this? Otherwise, a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered about the finances, too, but I wanted to know if the old lease holder with the bathtub full of old silver coins was funding any of the hunt, or was he just an obstructionist whose power came from the lease.


  2. Pingback: 2022 Thoughtful Reading Challenge | Book Thoughts from Bed

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