The last time my sister, Jean, and I met pirates, we had just happened upon the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, taking place as we stepped into the battle scene a summer ago in the seaside village in North Carolina. We promised we would not let too much time go by before finding another similar event. The opportunity came along when the Independence Seaport Museum hosted its 2nd Annual Old City Seaport Festival, in a weekend-long celebration with music, crafts and Tall Ships, with a smattering of pirates. On the first evening, the festival began with the Parade of Boats as they came to port just below the Ben Franklin Bridge.
On the next evening, the AJ Meerwald, Gazela Primiero Pride of Baltimore II, Mystic Whaler Kalmar Nyckel, Virginia and Hindu were destined to clash in a pirate battle. We signed up to be aboard the Kalmar Nyckel. Built by the Dutch, the original ship dated back to around 1625. This flagship of Governor Minuit brought settlers to the New World, establishing the colony of New Sweden on the banks of the Christina River in 1638. An informative and lovely guidebook on the ship’s history is available on the web. The ship was rebuilt in Wilmington, Delaware, and commissioned in 1998. The Kalmar Nyckel is an example of a full-rigged type of pinnance, which is a kind of boat, generally modest in size, that was used either as a merchant vessel or small warship. Pirates prized these ships because they had maneuverability through rugged coastlines and good speed to outrun any vessel that might be in pursuit.
There is a degree of authenticity to a pirate battle. Mostly what we learn about pirates is from movies and television, while authentic history has been sorely neglected. My first introduction to pirates came through Treasure Island, a novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson, which popularized many of the associations with pirates, such as treasure maps, parrots, and the familiar ballad,
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest— Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest— Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
A quick search into a few authoritative sources reveals the extent that colonial villages were affected by the onslaught and fear of attack from both foreign pirates, truly a multi-national representation including the French, Spanish, Dutch and English, as well as the local variety, with the first raid recorded in Lewes, Delaware, back in 1672. Seems that Blackbeard also frequented the Delaware, as he supposedly stopped into the many taverns along the waterway.
Jean had this idea that since we were going to be onboard during a pirate battle, we should dress the part. We cobbled together costumes from outfits in our closets (wardrobes should always include a few whimsical pieces when transformations are called for), and we were ll set to go with Jean’s orange and black-stripped socks and my hat, replete with feathers. Did we look like real pirates? . . . oh, not a chance, but maybe we could have fit in with Pirates of the Caribbean crew.
We took the train into center city and headed down toward Penn’s Landing. We shook our heads as we passed the closed and shuttered Constitution Center, thanks to those idiots in Congress, the scourges of the seven seas, who shut down the government. By chance, we happened to run into my son, John, who was participating in a demonstration against Monsanto, taking place just across from the Constitution Center. Activists had designated October 12 as International Day of Protest against the company because of questions around food safety. Fellow WordPress blogger, Jeff Nguyen, has written an excellent post on Agent Orange and Monsanto.
After bidding John adieu, we continued walking to the Seaport Museum. The wind whipped around the buildings as we approached the Delaware River, were we could see white caps on the churning waters. I thought back to a sail on the Amistad, which had to be postponed because of high winds and wondered if the battle would take place. We walked along the pier where vendors were selling everything from jewelry to “wench wear.” Several organizations had also set up information booths, and we spoke with members of the Steamship Historical Society of America.
Shiver Me Timbers! Striped Socks Spikes a Spirited Sentiment!
A green tug boat had been tied to the pier, and visitors were encouraged to tour the tug. Once powered by steam, the boat now runs on diesel fuel. We checked out the kitchen, boiler room, living quarters and bridge, and rang the brass bell. We were welcomed us onboard, with one of the crew distracted by Jean’s footwear, declaring, “I’m turned on by those socks! I’m old, I’m not dead!”
High Winds Scuttle the Voyage of the Kalmar Nyckel
The tall ships lined against the pier, but we were most excited to see the colorful Kalmar Nyckel. Parts of the boat had just been freshly painted, and we admired the detail work.
On either side of the ship, a carving of a dog rested on the railing, one eye open to the sea and closed to the inside.
The winds were blowing wildly by this time, so we were not surprised when the crew told us there was little chance the ship would be part of the pirate battle as they could not negotiate the vessel away from the dock. Our plans were not cancelled, however, as the smaller boats were still scheduled to sail. The crew reassigned us to the Mystic Whaler, a late 19th century coastal cargo schooner, for our pirate adventure.
A Bit of Shantying
Geoff Kaufman welcomed us onboard with songs of the sea. Accompanied by his concertina, an instrument made in England in the 1920s, Geoff offered a song for every activity on the schooner. He played songs that encouraged the crew to work in rhythm, and sang ballads for returning to port after the voyage. Geoff also sang old favorites, like “What to do with a Drunken Sailor,” with passengers joining in the song fest. Geoff’s music added to the rollicking motion of the ship. I wish I could have captured more music, but even my wind filter on the camera could not remove the sound the pounding gusts.
Ahoy, Me Hearties–the Battle Begins!
We buttoned our coats and secured our scarves as the schooner weighed anchor, sailing from the dock to face our opponents in battle. With the thunderous blasts of the cannon, the engagement was underway. The smaller schooners whipped through the water, cutting in front and back of the larger vessels. With Jolly Rogers fluttering, insults were hurled across the water. “You scurvy scallyways! Arrgh! We’ll have ye walking the plank! Someone on the A. J. Meerwald had the audacity to call us, “Dirty dogs!” Passengers joined the crew in hoisting the sails with a heave ho to Geoff’s rhythmic sea shanty. The battleship New Jersey and the Olympia, war ships from other eras, contributed their big guns to the melee.
Windblown, but throughly enraptured by the experience, we disembarked from the Mystic Whaler to the strains of “Leave Her.” We returned to our landlubber status, looking for a tavern to splice the main brace.
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