From the Dec. 10, 1982 Gazette:

Barry Clifford leaned back in his chair and smiled; the delicious, self-satisfied smile of a fellow who figures he’s found a fortune in buried treasure.

“It’s the experts who’ve allowed me to do this,” he said. “The experts.”

He never believed them. He trusted his instincts and he mixed them with his dreams to keep going, to keep digging. He just knew the treasure was down there and he wasn’t going to let anybody tell him otherwise.

For 265 years the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah has rested beneath the bottom sands off the Cape Cod coastline. Last week, Mr. Clifford, 37, a Vineyard diver, salvager, underwater archaeologist and dreamer, laid claim to the treasure. The skeptics line up with the curious to have a look. How could it be? She went down way back in 1717? Certainly she was picked clean? Probably within hours of the calamity. By the mooncussers, they who made a practice of luring ships to rocky shores to feast on the battered spoils.

Mr. Clifford’s smile is a knowing smile. He’s not saying yet how he knows he’s found the right ship. He’s not saying why he feels confident that at least part of the $500 million treasure is waiting.

He’ll let everyone know in due time.

He started as anyone can - with the legend of a pirate ship, perhaps the most famous in the world, and its captain Sam Black Bellamy.

Sam Bellamy, as the story goes, came out of West County England. A handsome man, he was restless, in search of adventure and riches. He determined to leave home and salvage treasure from a Spanish galleon wrecked in the West Indies.

Crossing the Atlantic, he stopped on the shores of Cape Cod to enlist men for his salvage crew. He found no takers. What he did find was a girl who captured his heart. A Cape Cod girl from Eastham.

Maria Hallet was barely in her teens, but she had taken hold of his heart and he promised to return for her when he found fame and fortune.

After he sailed away, Maria fell into disfavor with the people of her town. She was headstrong and independent. They called her a witch. They said she had made a deal with the devil in exchange for Sam Bellamy’s soul.

Reaching the West Indies, Sam set out to find the treasure of the sunken Spanish vessel. No luck. He grew restless. Money was his dream. He took to pirating.

The Whydah, a London galley ship, had just delivered a shipment of slaves to Jamaica and was returning to London loaded with ivory, gold dust and indigo. Below her decks were 20,000 pounds in doubloons, pieces of eight, gold dust, bars of silver and gold.

Pirate Black Bellamy and his crew chased her down, took her over and headed north, making other captures on the way, loading down the ship with more and more riches.

Their last capture was of a ship with a cargo of wine, between Georges Bank and Nantucket Shoals. They savored the taste.

And then the storm hit. Out of the northeast. With great fury.

There were those who would say that luck had turned against them because of the witch Maria. There were those who would blame it on the drink.

But it was the storm that tossed the great ship against a sandbar and it was the raging that swallowed all but two of the crew of 150. April 26, 1717 the Whydah went down.

Word reached Boston quickly and Gov. Samuel Shute quickly dispatched his man to lay claim to Black Bellamy’s loot in the name of the King.

Capt. Cyprian Southack posted notices for the governor on the church doors, instructing the local citizenry that all salvage of the Whydah was the property of the crown and must be handed over with dispatch. He said he held the power to search homes, should the citizenry be so unwise as to ignore his order.

The order was ignored.

The next autumn, as at least one story would have it, a tall stranger appeared in Eastham. His black hair was streaked with white and his forehead bore a deep wound. He was distant, distracted. But he lived well and seemed to have no shortage of money.

When this mysterious man died a gold belt was found on his body.

A week later, Maria Hallet was found dead, a knife in her hand, her throat slit.

Now, 265 years later, Barry Clifford, who owns a scuba shop in Vineyard Haven and a tidy little home surrounded by a neat stone wall in West Tisbury, says he will provide the world with the final chapter in the story of the Whydah and its captain Sam Black Ballamy.

In spring, when the water warms and the divers and boats and equipment are made ready, Mr. Clifford will go down 20 feet below the surface of waves, five feet below the sands, to the Whydah and her bars of gold.

And yet questions remain.

A wreck so famous, so close to shore. Why haven’t others pursued this vast fortune, this sunken treasure, with his determination? Mr. Clifford said too many believed those who said the effort would come to nothing.

He says he just believed.

He says he’ll make believers of us all.

Compiled by Hilary Wall