Shipwreck!I stood among enthusiastic city folk, a glass of Pinot Grigio from the open bar in hand, as the yearning notes of a lone concertina filled the downstairs of Discovery Times Square. Anxiously crunching on mini crab salad tacos, among other pass-through hors d’oeuvres, we awaited our privileged first look at the newest Discovery exhibit, SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure, showcasing the spectacular efforts of Odyssey, a world-renowned deep-sea excavation team. Before starting our journey inside, we were treated to an a cappella group performing time-honored drinking hymns in the vein of any pirate’s yo-ho-ho:

Rolling down, rolling down,

We’ll all get drunk until we drown.

And drown many did, as Odyssey continues to prove with each waterlogged exploration into the ocean’s depths. Since its inception, Odyssey has recovered thousands of artifacts spanning centuries and, upon completion of each underwater dig, has shared the remarkable details of sunken ships past for the educational benefit of the general public. 

“Our passion for exploration flows through our veins,” noted Greg Stemm, CEO of Odyssey, who also mentioned that the team had now reclaimed over $41 million in lost gold alone. But even setting aside the financial motivation, each project is an academic quest for buried treasure as well. 

Our tour of the exhibit began with a short film detailing Odyssey’s startling missions, including the discovery and excavation of the British steamship the SS Gairsoppa, sunk in 1941 during WWII, located over a mile deeper than the infamously sunken RMS Titanic at a depth of over 16,000 feet — over 3 miles down!

Buried TreasureDelving deeper into history with each step, we were greeted by the skeletons of pirates as we continued through the exhibit. As I perused through stories of tempestuous nights, nautical battles, and men overboard struggling to survive the unforgiving waters, the threat of high-seas piracy became clearer. Many pirates were former privateers, commissioned by their country’s monarch to defend the territory from seafaring enemies. However, faced with the constant temptation of treasure (gold, silver, spices, etc.) and crews threatening mutiny, several privateers went astray and adopted pirate personas in the process. Among the pirates discussed are the infamous Edward Teach, known as “Blackbeard,” Captain Kidd, Anne Bonny, Calico Jack, and Mary Read. An actual cannon from the 18th century and its accompanying cannon balls are on display.

We were drawn toward the back right corner of the exhibit by various interactive offerings. Most enticing for me was the Hurricane Simulator, a single-occupancy cylindrical booth offering the experience of nearly 80 mile-per-hour winds overhead. 

Exhilarated, I left the simulator to watch one woman try her robotic hand at collecting gold or silver coins with a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) at a nearby station. Most of Odyssey’s work involves the use of ROV’s to locate sunken ship sites and obtain the abounding treasures. Prior to any gold-digging however, Odyssey performs a thorough pre-disturbance survey as soon as any site is discovered. This work ensures that the process will be well-executed and not destroy any part of the artifacts involved. Odyssey creates a high-resolution photomosaic of the entire shipwreck site before attempting to bring anything to the surface.

Displayed nearby were remnants of the Civil War era steamship the SS Republic, sunk after a hurricane in October of 1865. Accompanying its rich history are dozens of items, including toiletries, commercial medicines, and dishes, each a veritable window into daily life during the mid-19th century. Especially noteworthy is the magnificent assembly of silver and gold coins recovered, valued at the time between $5 and $20, and now valued from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars per coin!

On view at Discovery Times Square, Odyssey has amassed a stunning collection of maritime articles, both tangible and written on the accompanying plaques of their groundbreaking finds. With its treasure trove of nautical history, SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure offers high-seas exhilaration without the sinking feeling.

Plan your own adventure at Discovery Times Square, 226 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036 or visit DiscoveryTSX.com