‘Outer Banks’: The Truth About the Royal Merchant Ship

Outer Banks fans dislike aspects of the show that incorrectly portray life in North Carolina. Despite everything the fictional series gets wrong about the Outer Banks, there’s one major plot element that’s rooted in history. Learn more about the real Royal Merchant ship and the treasure that sank with it.

'Outer Banks'
Madison Bailey, Rudy Pankow, Chase Stokes, and Jonathan Daviss | Netflix

North Carolina is vastly different in reality 

The Netflix series gets criticized for getting things factually wrong about the Outer Banks. Local surfer Brent Nultemeier told Esquire how people from the Outer Banks don’t use Kook or Pogue to describe social classes. In the fictional series, those terms describe where characters are from. On occasion, they’re used as an insult.

Ironically, Nultemeier says there’s a lot less boating in the Outer Banks, too. “That’s not necessarily how it goes around here,” Nultemeier said, referencing how characters use boats to get around. “I’m sure there are some communities where you can hop on your boat and get from place to place, [but] you don’t normally travel around in your boat all the time. Boats aren’t cheap.”

‘Outer Banks’ fans are still mad about this geographical mistake 

Outer Banks is a fictional series, but that didn’t stop Outer Banks natives from criticizing a scene that implies you can take a ferry from the Outer Banks to Chapel Hill. “I don’t want people to think that we don’t know Chapel Hill isn’t near the coast,” Jonas Pate told the News Observer. “Maybe I’m overthinking this, but we bleed North Carolina, and we want it to reflect well on our state,” the showrunner added. 

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Pate says the original script had a critical scene that showed John B (Chase Stokes) and Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline) taking an Uber after leaving the ferry. Unfortunately, that scene was cut from the final edit of the series. Viewers haven’t let Pate live that mistake down! 

The Royal Merchant was based on a historic ship named The Merchant Royal. 

In the fictional story of Outer Banks, John B and his Pogue pals are on the hunt for $400 million in gold that sank with the storied Royal Merchant ship. After John B’s dad’s mysterious disappearance, finding the gold becomes his mission. He encourages his friends to help him find the treasure, which is supposedly someone off the coast of the island.

The Telegraph reported the real Merchant Royal ship sank in 1641 off the southern coast of England. In Outer Banks, the ship sank in the 1800s off the coast of North Carolina. The original Merchant Royal, also known as “The El Dorado of the seas,” towed $1.5 billion in silver and gold. No one has yet to find The Merchant Royal. However, in March 2019 an anchor was found that is presumably from The Merchant Royal.

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“It’s an admiralty patterned long shank anchor, the right type for The Merchant Royal,” Mark Milburn, co-founder of Cornwall Maritime Archaeology, told the Daily Mail. “From what I see in the pictures, it is the same design as ones used in the 17th century.” While a historical find like this is compelling evidence, Milburn cautions any diver who wants to search for more. “It’s a serious dive,” he said. “It takes a lot of the right equipment, and most divers know that.”

Despite the creative liberties Pate and his co-creators took with Outer Banks, the series is still a captivating watch.