EXCLUSIVE: Whydah Productions has acquired films rights to underwater explorer Barry Clifford’s story of how he and first mate John F. Kennedy Jr. discovered and salvaged the world’s first authenticated pirate ship, the Whydah Galley. The ship sank in 1717 during a violent storm off Cape Cod, MA, with $400 million in gold and silver on board.

Clifford first heard about the Whydah legend as a young boy, but it wasn’t until he was an adult, near broke and struggling to raise two kids on his own, that he and his diving buddy JFK. Jr. dedicated themselves to finding the ill-fated pirate ship. After years of searching and overcoming obstacles that included skepticism and shark-infested waters, in 1985 they uncovered the ship’s bell engraved with the words “The Whydah Gally 1716.”

The film will also include the story of the ship’s Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy, who was on his way to Cape Cod to reunite with his love Maria “Goodie” Hallett and to establish a democratic pirate kingdom when the ship went down. His body was never recovered.

Casey Sherman, the New York Times bestselling author of The Finest Hours, will produce with his partner Ted Collins along with Clifford under the Whydah Productions banner, which was named after the legendary pirate tale.