Barry Clifford

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Barry Clifford
Underwater Explorer Barry Clifford.jpg
Underwater Explorer Barry Clifford
Born 1945 (age 69–70)
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S.

Barry Clifford is an underwater archaeological explorer best known for discovering the remains of the wrecked ship Whydah. The Whydah was the first fully verified pirate shipwreck ever discovered – as such, artifacts from the wreck provide unique insights into the material culture of early 18th century piracy.

Clifford has kept The Whydah Collection intact. A selection of artifacts are displayed at the Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. In 2007, more artifacts from The Whydah began a major nation-wide traveling museum exhibition called "Real Pirates", under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, Arts & Exhibitions International and Historic Shipwrecks, Inc. The Whydah Project has been the subject of several book and television documentaries on the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC One, A&E and others.


Early life[edit]

Born in 1945 on Cape Cod, Barry Clifford has been involved in underwater exploration for most of his adult life. He graduated from Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine before earning a Bachelor’s degree in History and Sociology from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and received graduate training at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

Early career[edit]

Between 1974 and 1984, Clifford organized, directed and conducted underwater construction, oil-spill control, contract sea-rescue and salvage operations, including the salvage/rescue of the M/V Islander ferry in 1980.[1]

During the 70's and 80's, he also used historical research, remote-sensing techniques, and underwater surveys to locate numerous shipwrecks off Cape Cod and the Islands, as well as in New York's East River, the Indian Ocean, and the Caribbean.

In 1989, Clifford’s team located an un-dredged site within Boston’s Inner Harbor with several shipwrecks, and other submerged cultural material, associated with the Boston Tea Party and the Evacuation of Boston during the American Revolution. In the winter of 1990-1991, underwater surveys for historical shipwreck sites were conducted in 130+ ft. depths in Boston’s Outer Harbor.

Between 1991 and 1994, expeditions were mounted to Panama and Belize that resulted in discovery of a number of shipwrecks-—including the possible wreck site of the Satisfaction, a shipwreck commanded by the buccaneer Henry Morgan during his invasion of Panama in 1669.

From 1993-1996, under the auspices of BBC and The Discovery Channel, Clifford directed underwater survey and ROV examinations—in conjunction with Bentech, British Gas, the British Royal Navy and HRH Prince Andrew—for the Blessing of Burnt Island, which sank in 1663, along with the royal silver of King Charles I in Scotland’s Firth of Forth. Clifford then initiated survey operations off Virginia, resulting in the discovery of a wreck identified as the Spanish treasure galleon La Galga.

In 1998 and 1999 Barry Clifford led two expeditions, under Discovery Channel/BBC-One auspices, to the Isla Aves off Venezuela, where he discovered nine shipwrecks, wrecked in a 1678 catastrophe that shattered French naval power in the Caribbean.

Later career[edit]

In 1999 and 2000, Barry Clifford and his Project Team completed three major expeditions to Île Sainte-Marie off Madagascar, as a Discovery Channel Quest initiative and tentatively identified the pirate ship Adventure Galley (flagship of William Kidd) and another pirate ship which could be the Fiery Dragon (commanded by the pirate Christopher Condent, also known as William Condon). At the time two other shipwrecks were believed to be in the same area.

After discovering and decoding cryptic rock carvings, he then used ground-penetrating radar to locate and chart an apparent tunnel-complex, similar to the Oak Island Money Pit, which may have been constructed by late 17th-century pirates.

In an ongoing project, Mr. Clifford is currently working to identify suspected in-situ remains of the Santa María—flagship of Christopher Columbus in his first travel to the Indies, wrecked near modern Cap Haitien on Christmas Day in 1492. His work as a Discovery "Quest" Scholar to locate this site was the subject of a May 2004 Discovery Channel documentary Quest for Columbus. Also ongoing off the Haitian coast is an archaeological survey project that has tentatively identified four shipwrecks associated with Henry Morgan, including Morgan’s flagship The Oxford. In 2010 Mr. Clifford returned to lead an expedition to identify the other shipwrecks at Île Sainte-Marie. The expedition is featured in the History Channel documentary Pirate Island.

On 13 May 2014, it was reported by The Independent that a team led by Clifford believes that they have found the wreck of the Santa Maria,[2] flagship of Christopher Columbus. The greatest proof of its authenticity was a 15th century cannon on the wreck site, which is directly out from the beach upon which archaeologists had discovered the site of Columbus' fort, precisely as Columbus wrote in his diary. In the following October UNESCO's expert team published their final report, concluding that the wreck could not be Columbus's vessel. Fastenings used in the hull, and possible copper sheathing dated it to the 17th or even 18th century.[3][4] In May 2015, Clifford found a buried treasure worth millions of dollars.


Clifford has authored articles and books on his explorations; including The Pirate Prince, (Prentice Hall/Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993), Expedition Whydah (Harper Collins, New York, 1999), The Lost Fleet (Harper Collins, New York, 2000), Return to Treasure Island (Harper Collins, New York, 2003), They Lived to Tell The Tale (The Explorers’ Club 2007) Real Pirates: The Untold Story…(The National Geographic Society, 2007), and a 2007 National Geographic children's book of the same name.

His work has been the subject of television documentaries and features as well; including Black Bellamy’s Treasure (PBS), Search for Pirate Gold (Nova). Sea-Raiders (Turner Broadcasting), The Hunt For Amazing Treasures (NBC), Lost Treasure of King Charles I (Discovery Channel), Sea Tales (A&E), Pirates of The Whydah (National Geographic), The Lost Fleet (Discovery Channel/BBC-One), Quest For Captain Kidd (Discovery Channel), Quest for Columbus (Discovery Channel), and The Pirate Code (National Geographic). In 2008 the National Geographic Channel aired a 2-hour documentary,[5] about the ongoing excavation of the wreck of the Whydah Gally, featuring in-depth interviews with Clifford. It was subsequently released on DVD.

A 2002–03 action-adventure television series entitled "Adventure Inc." produced by Gale Anne Hurd was "inspired by the real life exploits of explorer Barry Clifford." Clifford is credited as a consultant for that show.

He is a Fellow of the Explorers Club, a 2005 recipient of The Rolex-Lowell Thomas Award for underwater archaeology, and an Honorary Member of the Boston Marine Society. In 2006, he was named "Explorer-in-Residence" by the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

A photographer, mountaineer, and jungle explorer, Clifford is also the head of The Center For Historic Shipwreck Preservation, Inc. a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the exploration and preservation of history under the sea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barry Clifford v. M/V Islander and Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority, 882 F.2d 12 (1st Circuit D.C.A. 1989).
  2. ^ David Keys (May 13, 2014). "Exclusive: Found after 500 years, the wreck of Christopher Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria". The Independent. Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Shipwreck is not Santa Maria, UNESCO experts say". Paris: UNESCO. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "Haiti shipwreck is not Columbus’s Santa Maria, says Unesco". The Guardian (London). AFP, Paris. 6 October 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Pirate Treasure Hunters (video)". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 24 October 2012. 

External links[edit]