For I am a Pirate King! And it is, it is a glorious thing to be a Pirate King!
The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert & Sullivan
After 25 years of laboring on the great, sweaty iron dreadnoughts of insurance and healthcare, I recently decided to jump ship. My plan was several months in the making and every step had to be meticulously detailed. Yet, even with maps, charts, compass and provisions, it would require a leap of faith to relinquish my role as first mate in a for profit navy to become an adventurer. Like most fair weather sailors, I was unnerved by sailing solo and tended to lose my emotional nerve when the economic seas got too rough or my ship drifted too far from the shore. Yet, the lure of new ports of call and the thrill of no longer being under the yoke of a distant monarchy compelled me to resign my station. I would leave my decks in good order to embark on a summer as a ronin privateer. For three months, I would be beholding to no master. I would wait until the Fall when the days shortened and the winds shifted to seek out a new fleet.
I made a log of everything I wanted to accomplish in ninety days. Upon further review, I realized I was being a bit delusional in thinking that in a mere three months I could explore the vast open ocean of my life’s unfulfilled ambitions. My first mate/chief petty officer gently suggested a course correction. It was clear she did not want me rooting around the galley every day disrupting the routines of the other sailors. She had enlisted with me for breakfast and dinner, not for lunch. “Why don’t you just spend the time fishing, hiking, writing, golfing and spending time with the troops.” She was on to something. Why could I not reinvent myself from ship’s captain to pirate king.
“NOW his future lay plain before him, and glowing with unimaginable splendor. …How gloriously he would go plowing the dancing seas, in his long, low, black-hulled racer, the Spirit of the Storm, with his grisly flag flying at the fore! And at the zenith of his fame, how he would suddenly appear at the old village and stalk into church, brown and weather-beaten, in his black velvet doublet and trunks, his great jack-boots, his crimson sash, his belt bristling with horse-pistols, his crime-rusted at his side, his slouch hat with waving plumes, his black flag unfurled, with the skull and crossbones on it, and hear with swelling ecstasy the whisperings, “It’s Tom Sawyer the Pirate!—the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main!” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
My first official week of being a pirate king was a blend of seasickness and excitement. I was still gaining my sea legs learning the first mate’s regimen of feeding the crew, cleaning the main sails and delighting in the endless archipelago of activities that a pirate king could explore. I watched as the shoreline disappeared and was amazed at how quickly the breach that I had left in my old ship’s lines had closed. I felt guilty for leaving my station but knew this was a rare opportunity to be in the company of adventurers. It was summer with long lingering twilights and warm sunny days. I had to adjust my senses from constant battle and hand to hand fighting to once again being in touch with the subtle indulgences of life – the distant slap of a fish as it rose in the afternoon shallows, the youthful ambition to explore a deserted island or the patience to rest quietly in a hammock buffeted by an early morning breeze. My time was limited. I knew September was out there, hunting me like an English Man of War. My first mate wisely suggested that I needed a star to steer by. She suggested a special “ Pirate King and Me“ trip that might forge a lifetime memory and conveniently get me out of the way.
Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothin’ to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late, Jimmy Buffet, A Pirate Looks at Forty
My youngest son was the first beneficiary of Operation Pirate King. I suggested that we drive up to the White Mountains in Northern New Hampshire to attempt to climb Mt. Washington. Over the course of four days, we would become Long John Silver and Captain Kidd, modern day buccaneers – – pillaging pop tarts, tossing back pints of Sprite grog, raiding room service, playing poker, and recklessly racing past our bedtime like hobos easily eluding a one legged rail yard policeman. The spontaneity of the adventure took us both by surprise as we suddenly graduated from maps and graphs to sailing up Highway 93 past signs alerting us to watch for moose, bear and deer. The Presidential Range loomed above us atop a great sea of pine trees. We anchored in the harbor of the Mountain View Grand, a 19th century hotel gilded with a rich history of generational reunions, presidential visits and simpler times. On our first full day, we attacked the “Tuck” trail, a 2200 foot vertical ascent to Tuckerman’s ravine, the most vertical route up Mt Washington. At the base camp, a 700 foot headwall climbed above the timber line to a serpentine spine of rock trail that gained another 1000 feet to the summit. To these two free-booting pirates, the gray gathering rain clouds and the fact that we had consumed our last Pop Tart an hour earlier proved too daunting. The tallest peak in New England would not hoist our flag today but we would be return to take the granite citadel.
Over the next three days, we competed as only plunderers can, fighting for bragging rights in fishing, swimming, billiards, gin rummy, poker, golf, and ping pong. The hotel staff negotiated a détente with us, giving us free reign in the restaurant and assigning us stature by allowing us the same table each evening where we inventoried our spoils and mapped out our plans to loot the following day for all that it was worth. Our expedition was quickly coming to an end. While bike riding on a trail in Franconia Notch State Park, we saw a large black dog running toward us, presumably off leash with no owner in sight. My fellow buccaneer excitedly turned to me, “Dad, I think that is a bear”. Lacking a spyglass and unencumbered by our matriarchal risk manager, we inched closer, watching the bear cub as he ambled towards us and then disappeared into the wild north woods. It was a classic moment — wild kindred spirits coursing past one another in a great ocean of forest and woods, hurdling toward some unknown fate. That last evening, we sat in the dark talking, in glorious violation of our bedtime curfew sharing tales of treasure, murder and betrayal. He asked me to once again tell him the story of black hearted pirates. When we got to the part about the blood thirsty Blackbeard, my son became very still. I presumed that he was contemplating a misshapen, seven foot, hulking sociopath who robbed, pillaged and killed his confederates for the slightest infraction. As with all scary summertime stories, the conclusion brought a long pregnant pause and the timeless question:
“Dad, where did Blackbeard live?”
“I think……right….. around……. HERE!”
“Sure” he laughed with the bravado of the unconvinced. He laid motionless, a still, frozen shadow on an adjacent bunk.
“Don’t worry pal. The pirate king won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
He relaxed. “ ‘Night dad. I had a fun day”…As my sailor slipped off into the land of nigh, I smiled. It was a wonderful thing to be a pirate king….