Spoilers ahead for Episodes 1-3 of Outer Banks Season 1. As "pogues," John B, Kie, JJ, and Pope are at the bottom of the food chain on Outer Banks. They don't have any money, and in John B and JJ's case, no parental support or supervision. So when they learn that there may be a shipwreck off the coast of the island with $400 million in British gold, they throw all their energy into following the trail of bread crumbs that John B's father left behind for him. It's a wild story, especially considering that The Royal Merchant is actually real — kind of.
It all starts when John B discovers that his father inscribed a note on his compass before he went missing. This leads him and his three best friends on a wild goose chase across the island to finish what his dad started. Big John had been obsessed with finding The Royal Merchant — a ship which supposedly sank during a storm in 1829. In real life, there was a ship called The Merchant Royal, but instead of the 1800s in North Carolina, it sank in 1641 off the southern coast of England. According to the Telegraph, it's often referred to as "The El Dorado of the seas," since it's said to have carried £1 billion in gold and silver (about $1.5 billion). The Merchant Royal has never been found, but an anchor thought to be from the ship was discovered by a fishing boat off the Cornish coast in March 2019.
"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."
However, Milburn cautioned against anyone trying to dive down to look where the anchor was found, since it was discovered in a notoriously deep area (about 300 feet). "It's a serious dive," he said. "It takes a lot of the right equipment and most divers know that."
If someone eventually does find The Merchant Royal, per the UK's Treasure Act 1996, they'll have to inform their local coroner's office. So they may not necessarily get to keep the gold — especially if a museum wants the recovered ship.
But while The Merchant Royal may not have crashed off the Carolina coast, there are plenty of other shipwrecks lying at the bottom of the Outer Banks — nicknamed the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to its treacherous waters and tiny islands that make navigating so difficult. "Pirates, the American Civil War, and German U-boat assaults have added to the heavy toll nature has exacted," the National Parks Service site reads. In fact, according to the region's official website, there are about 3,000 shipwrecks in the Outer Banks, including The Huron, "The Triangle Wrecks" (the remnants of The Kyzickes and Carl Gerhard, which rest in a triangular shape), The Pocahontas, The Oriental, and "The Winks Wreck" — as well as, in the Outer Banks universe, The Royal Merchant.