“Shipwreck! Captain Kidd”
Tuesday, 9 p.m.
National Geographic Channel
“Shipwreck! Captain Kidd” tells two fascinating stories in less than an hour. One traces Capt. William Kidd’s transformation from hired privateer for the king of England to rogue pirate. The second follows an Indiana University marine archaeology team’s efforts to excavate what they believe is the “Quedagh Merchant,” a ship Kidd captured in 1698 that’s been submerged in the waters near the Dominican Republic for more than 300 years.
There’s plenty of intrigue in each. But if neither grabs you, surely the video of the crystal blue waters around Catalina Island will. Whether your area of interest is history, reclamation or destination, you’ll find this briskly paced hour to be as entertaining as it is informative.
We all know the lore: Kidd was the notorious pirate who robbed from the rich to give to himself in the late 1600s. The lesser-known part of his story is told here. In 1695, he traveled from New York to London, where King William III commissioned him as a privateer — a legally licensed nautical mercenary who only attacked ships of certain nations.
In January 1698, Kidd and his men spied the “Quedagh Merchant,” a large cargo vessel flying a French flag. They boarded the ship, believing it was French. Turned out, it was a multinational venture, and one of those nations was England. Kidd believed he was within his rights to seize the cargo — silk, treasure, opium and more — but the king didn’t want to be accused of palling around with terrorists. He declared Kidd a rogue pirate, and Kidd spent his few remaining years trying to avoid capture and clear his name.
He left the “Quedagh Merchant” behind. It’s believed that in June 1699, the men he entrusted with the ship looted it, set it ablaze and left it to sink. Two years later, Kidd was arrested and hanged.
And that would be the end of the story, except that in summer 2007, a local resident of the Dominican Republic spotted the outlines of cannons shrouded in coral.
That’s when Charles Beeker and his team from IU came in. They investigated the site and, in short order, realized they almost certainly had Kidd’s ship.
“I’ve been on literally thousands of shipwrecks,” Beeker says in the show, “and I can’t think of any other wreck I’ve been on that gave me that same thrill of seeing a site that, really, was untouched.”
What we see next is the painstaking excavation of the cannons and charred wood remains of the ship to prove that this is, indeed, the “Quedagh Merchant.” If you thought, as I did, that it would be a simple lifting of the remains from the water, think again. Then there’s the matter of removing 300 years of coral from the cannon, a process that will take two years. Yes, years.
Right now, Beeker says, “It looks like the “Quedagh Merchant” has been found.” But the investigation is ongoing, and surely there’ll be more to this story.
“Shipwreck!” is part of Expedition Week, seven nights of shows that look at subjects as varied as the moon, Alexander the Great’s lost tomb and lost cities of the Amazon. If they’re all as good as the Kidd special, you’ll want to be watching the National Geographic channel every night at 9 next week, beginning Sunday.