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Danelle “Aquamarine” Harmon
On Researching her Historical Romances
I sat with unbridled excitement in the thwart of the little boat as a young crewmember started the outboard. In moments, we were speeding north, following Cape Cod’s mighty outer arm toward Wellfleet. It was a fine, late spring morning in the late 1980s, and I had been invited by treasure hunter Barry Clifford to spend the day aboard his salvage ship Maritime Explorer in gratitude for some research on shipwrecks I had done for him. We were headed for the sunken wreck of the only pirate ship ever discovered, the fabled Whydah.
Commanded by the dark and dashing “free prince of the seas” — English pirate Captain Sam Bellamy — Whydah was laden with guns, crew, and a fabulous booty of silver and gold captured from some fifty prizes as she labored north in a brutal nor’easter late in the night of April 26, 1717. Legend says that Bellamy was returning to claim the beautiful Cape Cod maiden Maria Hallett, but their romantic reunion was not to be. Caught in the full fury of the storm, Whydah found herself driven too close to the Cape’s outer beaches and by the time her captain and crew heard the thunder of waves breaking against a lee shore out in the stormy darkness, it was too late. By morning, the proud pirate ship was a shattered wreck, her timbers, rigging and dead crew strewn the length of the beach and the bulk of her guns and treasure lost to the sea. Bellamy’s body was never identified, and a grief-stricken Maria Hallett faded into folklore, her lonely ghost said to forever haunt the lonely, windswept dunes of what is today Marconi Beach.
That tragic and terrifying night seemed far away as our little boat sped through calm seas sparkling in the morning sunlight. And there was Maritime Explorer, anchored directly over the sunken wreck and waiting to begin her day’s salvage work. I was greeted by historian Ken Kinkor, who had become a personal friend, introduced to the divers and crew, and treated to a day I’ll never forget. I watched the divers go through their safety checks before going overboard and down into the cold Atlantic, and was shown nautical charts and underwater monitors while several hundred feet away, bathers sunned themselves on the beach and the sky stretched blue and broad above us. The divers brought up a “piece-of eight” and other, smaller treasures, and after many hours that passed all too quickly, we were finally ready to go home, sun-burned, salt-weathered, and full of very special memories that would last a lifetime.
Not all research is quite that dramatic, though I can say that all of it has been interesting, memorable and fun. Gaelic lessons helped bring alive my Irish privateer Brendan Merrick of Captain Of My Heart, and a trip to Ireland inspired the heroine of Master Of My Dreams. My years living in Oxfordshire, England certainly enriched Wicked At Heart and the De Montforte Brothers series, and my time spent in 1775 as a “minuteman” re-enactor helped me to understand life in colonial Boston, the setting for at least two of my books; garbed in tricorn, waistcoat and breeches, I learned how to load, fire, take apart and clean my reproduction Brown Bess musket, the “standard issue” for the British soldier during Revolutionary times. My research has taken me on long weekends aboard “windjammer” schooners in Maine’s great Penobscot Bay and to the most private and sacred areas of Lord Nelson’s Victory, where I got to lay my hands with worshipful reverence on the spot where this man whom I so loved and admired, died. (Lord Nelson was a major character in my book, My Lady Pirate). In short, research has never been, for me, about a book, a library, and a notepad — it has been about living my books, and bringing those experiences to the written page.