Trail of the Pirates is a travel series exploring maritime history, culture and lore between Key West and St. Augustine on the east coast of Florida.
If you don't want to read this epic post, just watch this video.
A funny thing happens when you start investigating and writing a lot about a particular topic -- you get sucked in. And if that topic happens to be pirates, that's a good thing.
Nine years ago, Michelle Murillo was a reporter in Florida doing exactly what I did earlier this month. She was on assignment covering Pirates in Paradise in Key West and got hooked. Today, she's still a journalist but also a professional reenacter who goes by the pirate name of Diosa (Goddess), teaching folks about pirate history through plays, demonstrations and lectures at events around the country.
It has taken me a year to follow in her footsteps, traveling around Florida exploring pirate history and events. Since my first trip to Key West and my subsequent time in St. Augustine where I interviewed Murillo about her role as famous female pirate Mary Read, she has become a mentor of sorts.
I shadowed her during the Pirates in Paradise and Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion weekend and got an insider's view of the pirate community.
THE "AHA!" MOMENT
It all started when I was sailing aboard the schooner WOLF and Braze, a reenacter from Atlanta, let me pull the trigger on his blunderbuss. I had never fired a weapon of any kind before and here I was holding an antique gun with an authentic lock from 1724.
After the gun powder went BOOM! I yelled "Jesus! Oh God!"
And you know those things that you categorize as better than sex? Oh yeah. This was one of them.
Diosa, who had been singing sea shanties on the vessel, very calmly stated: "You've had your first gungasm. You are now just a few steps to becoming a true pirate."
"Is that like a 12 step program?" I replied.
And so we thought about it and discussed the matter in earnest for the next two days. What are the 12 steps to becoming a pirate? Most 12 step programs are about losing an addiction. This is about gaining one unabashedly, with no regrets, apologies or adverse health effects!
STEP 1 - SAILING
You have to hit the seas on a proper sailboat that is actually sailing (none of this outboard engine stuff). And if you're lucky like me, you get to do this on board the schooner WOLF, run by His Ugliness Finbar the Terrible, who is also the Admiral of the Conch Republic. And if you're really, really lucky you sail with pirates who sing sea shanties and fire guns and cannons.
Fire in the hole!
STEP 2 - FIRING A GUNPOWDER WEAPON
Speaking of weapons, nothing says pirate like firing a weapon and doing it on a sailboat is definitely icing on the cake. Braze was kind enough to assist my first "gungasm" as he explained the structure of a gun (lock, stock and barrel) all of this while the boat was in full sail and wind blowing through my hair.
Firing a weapon is serious business. There's actually gunpowder school and to be a reenacter in battle you need in-depth experience and training. Crews need permits. At the Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion, there were early morning weapons checks among pirates who wanted to participate in battle.
Braze's blunderbuss. A thing of beauty!
Braze and the lovely Liberté Sparrow.
Commodore Swab, based in Key Largo, takes reproduction guns and makes them reliable. Some of the parts on the guns are original.
STEP 3 - DRINK APPLE PIE INSTEAD OF GROG
Apple Pie versus grog.
Did you know rum and grog sucked back in the Golden Age of Piracy? Yeah, the polished, refined spirit we know today was still in its infancy, relatively speaking. Grog was nothing more than a seafarer's beverage -- rum mixed with water, moscovado sugar or molasses and some citrus -- the universal concoction that would later become a refreshing daiquiri.
(As an aside, check out this awesome interview with rum ambassador Ian Burrel on the subject.)
For pirates, the rum helped sanitize the stagnant and putrid water on ships, the sugar added sweetness and a bit of nutrition and the citrus aided in the prevention of scurvy.
If you want authentic grog, here's the recipe: 1 part sour (citrus), 2 part sweet, 3 part strong (the most God awful cheap-ass rum you can find) and 4 parts weak (water).
But modern pirates prefer the so-called Apple Pie, which is a secret blend of herbs, spices, apple juice and ehem, a strong 'water' of your choice. If you know a moonshiner, place your order now, wink wink. Every pirate family has its own specific recipe and if I reveal too much, they'll have to kill me.
Scarlett Jai was responsible for my first sip of Apple Pie. And that's the surgeon standing right behind her.
STEP 4 - PURCHASE A WEAPON
One of the things that I love about the pirate community is that even if you are a rookie, they welcome you and treat you like family. I got to participate in pirate events after hours that aren't open to the public. One such event was the dead man's chest auction, the proceeds of which benefit Friends of Fort Taylor. A raucous event led by rambunctious Cannibal Chrispy, the auction is a great place for pirates new and old to bid on donated items.
It was here I won a bid on a groovy necklace -- a skull and crossbones cross outfitted with a small, hidden dagger.
My first baby pirate weapon.
STEP 5 - PURCHASE GARB
Oh, the pirate garb! This is no ordinary retail costume shop stuff. It's serious quality, down to the stitching and buttons, which I have already discussed in previous stories on Trail of the Pirates.
Well, my first humble foray into this sartorial world was a lovely blue flouncy chemise, which I also won at auction for a modest $5. I can wear this item under whatever future bodice or corset I decide to buy. Someday I will no longer be a made-in-china polyester pirate and will hopefully wear real fabrics with authentic design.
Absolutely every professional pirate I have ever met sports the most incredible garb. I wish I could post photos of all of them but I'm just going to feature Caribbean Pearl here, a performer who wows me every time I see here with her tailored outfits. She had several costumes for each day.
Caribbean Pearl playing a character from Pirates of the Caribbean.
STEP 6 - PUB SING
Singing at Fort Taylor was special. Trust me, without camera flash it was dark in there.
Captain Crudbeard of the Dark Rose crew explained to me that there were four kinds of pirates: musical, walk arounds (people who walk around the festivals performing), cutlery (sword fighters and such) and boom-boom (small arms and cannons).
But I gotta tell ya, all pirates love to sing. One of the most amazing experiences I've ever had was hanging out at the improvised tavern right after a pig roast dinner. In the cavernous cannon holds of the fort, sound bounces beautifully off the domed brick ceiling. With only candle light to illuminate the surroundings, we were transported back in time in communal singing of traditional sea shanties and pirate tunes. If you've ever participated in a yoga kirtan, this was similar, except our mantras were songs of yore.
I'm terrible with lyrics though. I only caught the refrains and learning the lyrics will be part of my continuing pirate education. The contagious melodies still linger in my ears.
STEP 7 - CORPORAL PUNISHMENT (STOCKS AND SHACKLES)
Getting shackled. I hear some non-pirate folks do this at fetish clubs in Davie.
Pirates were not particularly popular, especially where governments were concerned (unless they hired them as privateers, Sir Francis Drake being the most famous). During my time at the Pyrate Invasion, I had the good fortune of being rescued from the stocks, where I would have otherwise been humiliated by townsfolk had I remained in that most uncomfortable position for any lengthy amount of time. I also got shackled by an officer, who, being British, was rather polite.
STEP 8 - GET LACED INTO A BODICE
After some huffing and puffing and rigorous "inspection," the Viceroy approved of my first bodice or "stay" as this one would be technically called.
OK, this step really won't apply to guys, but this was probably the most challenging. Just Jeff, a leather artisan who works in an authentic 18th century style, bound me in leather stays while explaining the origin of "loose women" and other clothing-related terms from colonial America.
The stays were very tight and at first I had trouble breathing. It actually precipitated a bit of an anxiety reaction as I'm uncomfortable when I can't breathe freely. However, the leather conformed to my plump center rather quickly and within minutes I was fine. Suddenly I had a deeper waistline and an hourglass figure! It felt like a very snug orthopedic girdle and back in the day, that would have been my sole undergarment.
The whole bodice, corset, underbust and stay thing really confused me at first. Come on, I'm a miracle bra kinda girl.
On the previous day, I had spent almost an hour discussing bodices, corsets, underbusts and stays with a few female pirates. Bodices were more working class women who performed manual labor and needed back support. Corsets were for the fancier society ladies who could afford such finery and were concerned with their figure.
For the nether regions, you wore pantaloons and underskirts and if you had to use the bathroom there was either nothing covering the naughty bits or some flap of fabric you could open and close easily. What an incredible pain in the ass it must have been to dress up and dress down before modern brassieres and panties.
Of course, we had to ask the Viceroy, one of the most intriguing characters at the Pyrate Invasion, if he approved of my stays. I have never seen my girls jiggle so much. (See the salacious video here.)
STEP 9 - FIRE A CANNON
Notice there are three babes here.
I didn't get to do this, but my pirate friends promised me they'll help make it happen. There is a great deal of education, maneuvers and protocol for cannon firing. Safety is of the first order. But speaking of cannons, check out the Viceroy's hot one. He's a real cannon maker based in Key Largo. The work is simply stunning.
Ornate and gorgeous detail here.
Pirates love their cannons! And when you fire one for the first time, your cannon loss of virginity is celebrated by a rather interesting swabbing ritual.
STEP 10 - SWORD FIGHT
Thanks to Drake of the Fort Lauderdale based crew, I got a lesson in basic sword fighting. This is a truly addictive aspect for me as I used to dance and love movement. It also doesn't help that my brother is a sensei and expert in weapons. I have one of his samurai swords lying around the house.
If I really want to become a sword fighting pirate, I'm going to have to take some regular lessons instead of going to tweetups and social media events at night. See what I mean? Clothes. Weapons. Songs. It can start to consume your life.
STEP 11 - PILLAGE AND ATTACK A MEMBER OF ROYALTY
What's better than firing a blunderbuss? Flogging the Viceroy!
I am one lucky bastard. Over the weekend, I had a chance to steal the Viceroy's cane and the flog him in return. According to Diosa, this is a rare treat for any pirate. I was truly blessed.
STEP 12 - SLEEP WITH A PIRATE
Alas, this is yet another step I have yet to do, like Step 9, firing a cannon. Although I am sure there would have been many volunteers, all the pirates I met were true gentlemen, even when flirty.
Actually, it's surprising how many of these pirates are married or attached couples. I was warned, however, to not fall in love with any pirate captains.
MY PIRATE FUTURE
One great big pirate family.
So am I following in Diosa's footsteps? I think it's obvious I might I have crossed over to the dark side! In fact, I've been invited to be a participant at the Fort Taylor invasion next year in addition to my role as a journalist.
And so thus concludes the 12 Step Become A Pirate Program. I'll let you know when I've completed steps 9 and 12. Well, I might be demure about step 12. Good pirates don't kiss and tell.
Trail of the Pirates is an on-going documentary series on Sex and the Beach and has benefited from businesses and organizations that see value in this fun way to educate readers on Caribbean and Florida history.
This segment of Trail of the Pirates was generously supported by GM Southeast (Chevy), Pat Croce and staff from The St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, Admiral Finbar of the schooner WOLF as well as the fine folks who run Pirates in Paradise and The Fort Taylor Pyrate Invasion. Special props go to Michelle Murillo, my friend and mentor in all things pirates. She reenacts the the trial of Mary Read -- the subject of an interview from last year.