for National Geographic News
The craftsmanship of 17th-century shipwrights could be a major factor in confirming that archaeologists have found the wreck of a ship that once belonged to the legendary Captain Kidd.
Researchers announced last week that they'd found a wreck off the coast of the Dominican Republic that they think is the Quedagh Merchant, which belonged to Captain William Kidd, a Scottish privateer who was convicted of piracy and hanged in London in 1699.
Charles Beeker, an archaeologist at Indiana University who made the discovery, said he's convinced the wreck is Kidd's ship. But he said it will take about two years of careful excavation to confirm the vessel's identity.
The wreck consists largely of a pile of cannons and anchors. But if excavators can find a few pieces of wood from the ship, that could go a long way toward identifying it, said Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd.
Zacks said that before his death, Kidd bragged to a British nobleman that the Quedagh Merchant, a Moorish ship he'd captured in the Indian Ocean, was held together with a kind of woodworking joinery called rabbeted seams.
That type of seam was an "old-fashioned method" that shipwrights used to join the boards of wooden sailing ships, said Marvin Spencer, who builds wooden sailboats in Plymouth, North Carolina.
A rabbeted seam would make a tighter seal and also help a sailing ship withstand the tremendous forces of sea and wind, Spencer said.
"The stresses on the ship would be incredible," Spencer said, especially if the ship was loaded with cargo.
Thanks to rabbeting, the seams would give instead of break apart, but they would not give enough to spring a leak, he said.
That rugged craftsmanship is what prompted Kidd to brag about the Quedagh Merchant.
Other telltale clues to the identity of the shipwreck would be fragments of wood that could be traced to Asia, where the Quedagh Merchant was built, Zacks said.
Pirate or Privateer?
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