It’s not Dorothy’s yellow brick road, but it’s Barry Clifford’s. He calls the underwater road that runs along Cape Cod’s seafloor the ‘yellow brick road’ because it’s really, truly sprinkled with gold dust.
Clifford believes that road leads to undiscovered treasure from the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah, the only authenticated pirate ship wreck in U.S. waters. “We think we’re very, very close,” he told the Associated Press.
The Whydah sank in a vicious storm in 1717, plunging down 14 feet into the Atlantic Ocean with 50 ships on board. It was allegedly captured by the pirate Black Sam Bellamy and made part of his fleet. Clifford discovered the wreck site in 1984 and has removed 200,000 artifacts, including gold ornaments, sword handles, and even a boy’s leg, according to the AP.
But it took nearly three decades to learn that more treasure may lie in the Whydah. In April, colonial era documents were found revealing that the Whydah attacked two vessels in the weeks before it sank. Those documents, reviewed by the AP, said that the ship’s haul on those raids included 400,000 coins.
Clifford’s last trip of the season, on September 1, uncovered evidence that he was close to finding those coins. The ‘yellow brick road’ refers to a “gold and artifact-strewn path extending between two significant sites at the Whydah wreck that are about 700 feet apart.”
The coins and other treasures emptied from the stern as the ship broke apart and drifted to its resting place 300 years ago, Clifford said.
His diving team of seven pulled up concretions, which are rocky masses that form when metals like gold chemically reacts to seawater. They were found as the crew worked in “black water,” where there is zero visibility.
“You’re going by your feel, your touch, your hands, and the ping of a metal detector,” said diver John Matel, according to MercuryNews.com. “When that things goes off, it’s a great feeling.”
An X-ray showed that there are coins in some of the finds. Clifford thinks that thousands of coins are down there, but must wait until next summer to try to find them. Bad weather and boat problems will make another trip before June 2014 difficult. So far, he has taken 21 trips to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Massachusetts just this summer at a cost of $200,000.
I’ll wake up in the middle of the night this winter and go, ‘Oh my God, I know what that means,’ when I’m reviewing something from the Whydah,” he told the AP. “And then I can hardly wait to get back there in the spring.”