A touring exhibit called “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah” is coming to Moody Gardens Saturday, March 8.

The Whydah (pronounced WID-ah) is the world’s first authenticated pirate ship, and was discovered just off the coast of Massachusetts near Cape Cod.

300 years ago, in 1717, a band of pirates led by Sam Bellamy confiscated the slave ship on its maiden voyage in the Bahamas, a vehicle crafted for speed and maneuverability.  Bound for England laden with jewels, gold, and Spanish coins they set sail following the trade winds north until they ran into a violent storm at sea and met a pirate’s end.

Chris Macort is an underwater archeologist and exploration expert who has been working in the Whydah project for 16 years.  Divers work in 15 feet of choppy water but artifacts are found covered in 20-30 feet of sand, making for a very difficult and labor-intensive task.

“We have found thousands and thousands and thousands of silver Pieces of 8 (Spanish coins), silver reals (also Spanish coins), gold and jewelry.  All kinds of weapons.  We found 60 cannons on a ship that was built to carry 24 cannons,” Macort tells KTRH News.  “What the pirates did when they captured the slave ship was they customized it and turned it into a war ship.

Macort explains that pirates generally were strongly opposed to slavery.  One third of the Whydah’s crew were freed slaves.

“They had an equal vote on the ship as part of the crew.  One of the things people don’t understand about pirates is that it wasn’t a real disorganized group.  It was very organized.  People had to sign contracts to get permission to board the ship.  Everyone had their own vote and all were looked upon as equals.”

One of the most fascinating finds was a piece of leg bone, socks and a shoe belonging to the youngest member of the crew, 9-year-old John King, who ran away from home and came aboard at the same time Sam Bellamy captured the Whydah.

The exhibit, which runs from March 8 to September 28, will introduce you to members of the crew, a far cry from our stereotypical image of a peg-legged drunkard with patch over his eye.  (Though it was a dangerous life that often cost life or limb, or the odd eyeball.)

The ship was discovered by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984.  The wreckage is still being actively excavated.

The exhibit includes comprehensive educational guides for teachers.

You can get more information at moodygardens.com