Archaeologists race tides to salvage Blackbeard's ship

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The shipwreck believed to be the remains of Blackbeard's flagship was almost destroyed two months ago by Hurricane Ophelia. Now, archaeologists are scrambling to launch a major salvage effort before the wreck's secrets are lost to the sea.

History records Blackbeard's flagship, the 40-gun Queen Anne's Revenge, ran aground near Beaufort Inlet in 1718. Archaeologists believe a treasure of information about the notorious pirate lies in a jumble of cannon and timber on the ocean floor there.

But the sea still holds the secret of whether the wreckage was really the Queen Anne's Revenge and the site might be destroyed before the truth is known.

"We've only done 5 percent of the wreck, which means the rest is sitting out there in potentially great hazard from storms," said Phil Masters, the underwater salvage expert who found the wreckage nine years ago.

The ship sank in about 24 feet of water and was buried under 15 feet of sand for almost 300 years, archaeologists said. But through the years, the ship also sank in the sand and now sits on bedrock, and storm after storm has gradually stripped away the protective sands.

Only 3 feet of sand now cover the wreckage, and the next violent storm to hit Bogue Banks could destroy the site, archaeologists said.

"We're seeing material we haven't seen before because now it's uncovered," said David Moore, of the North Carolina Maritime Museum. "But we also must ask, ‘What are we missing? What has the storm taken away that we didn't even know was there?'"

Hundreds of artifacts recovered so far point to Blackbeard, such as a 2,500-pound cannon that was recovered in May. Archaeologists at East Carolina University found valuable clues through X-rays.

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