"This is amazing," Moore says. "We might get 20 days a year like this." We splash over the side and once on the bottom are greeted by a massive anchor fluke jutting defiantly out of the sand. Moore swims toward a large pile of ballast stones, parts of cannon, and two huge anchors covered with green anemones. Stopping to fan a patch of sand, he reveals a small section of dark wooden hull. I reach out to steady myself in the current and grasp a perfectly shaped cascabel, the big iron ball at the back of a cannon. It was impossible not to imagine Blackbeard doing the same as he aimed the big gun on a fleeing prize.
Thousands of artifacts have been recovered from the wreck site, including a roughly cast Spanish bronze bell, a pewter charger big enough to serve a suckling pig, an English blunderbuss barrel, even a French urethral syringe for the treatment of syphilis. Some critics, not convinced this is Blackbeard's ship, say such things were common on merchant vessels of the day. But it's the guns, says shipwreck project director Mark Wilde-Ramsing, along with a few crude hand grenades, that tip the scales toward pirates.
"We've found 24 cannon, and there may be more buried on the site," says Wilde-Ramsing—far more than carried by typical military or merchant ships known to ply these waters. The remaining cannon were probably small, easily removable rail guns. Several of the cannon have been recovered and restored, a hodgepodge of sizes and makes from Europe. Many were still loaded with typical pirate shot: bolts, nails, bar-shot, and spikes—ammo designed to shred sails or rigging, or rake the decks of ships before boarding. Pirates, after all, wanted to capture a rich prize, not to sink it. Such homemade grape-shot, along with a recovered lead touchhole cover that kept the gunpowder dry and crude hand grenades, are virtually identical to those found on Whydah Galley, a pirate ship discovered off Cape Cod in 1984. They've even found pieces of square "case" bottles that Blackbeard was said to have filled with powder to make early Molotov cocktails.
After capturing several prizes in the Caribbean, Blackbeard sailed north in the spring of 1718 in command of a pirate flotilla of four vessels with more than 60 guns and as many as 400 brethren of the coast. When he reached Charleston, South Carolina, one of the wealthiest towns in the Colonies at the time, he sprang his boldest plan yet—a blockade of the entire city. Within a week, he seized and plundered nine vessels attempting to enter or leave the port, taking 1,500 pounds sterling and numerous hostages, including a member of the governor's ruling council. Oddly enough, with the town at his mercy, Blackbeard's sole demand was a chest of medicines—items in great demand among pirates. The governor fretted and fumed for days, but eventually caved in.