Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: Florida East Coast Recap

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.

trail of the pirates east coast mapSkull and crossbones mark the spots were treasure is found and pirates roamed. More Florida Jolly Rogers to come in the future.

The first edition of my Florida east coast road trip in search of pirates has come to an end for now, though I will be undoubtedly exploring more in the future. Obviously, no Trail of the Pirates would be complete without investigating the west coast of Florida and the Panhandle!

The journey is only just beginning. As much as I learned, I'm sure I only scratched the surface. I'll be updating this series as I roam more around Florida and beyond. It'll be a never ending quest for me as there is so much to explore when it comes to pirates and maritime history. Don't be surprised if I send dispatches from the Caribbean later this year.

To support my first-hand experience, I'm currently taking a Florida history course at Miami-Dade College with Dr. Paul George. But pirate mayhem is just around the corner, too: I'll be be attending the Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa next weekend, which I hear is quite a wild party.

Me & My Favorite Pirate
I definitely had pirate on the brain after a week of traveling. Yours truly with a special pirate friend in St. Augustine. And yes, had we been authentic, we wouldn't have been wearing the sunglasses or taking portraits with an iPhone.


Anybody who's willing to do a road trip can explore just like I did. Here's a recap of my Key West to St. Augustine itinerary. Follow each link for more information on each destination.

Mel Fisher Maritime Museum
Pirates in Paradise and Fort Taylor Pirate Invasion

Biscayne National Park and History Miami Museum
Florida Renaissance Festival - Pirate Weekend

Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge Museum

McLarty Treasure Museum and Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum

St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum
St. Augustine Pirate Gathering

Gasparilla Pirate Invasion


Dear Miamians, you really don't know beaches and ocean until you get out of damn Ocean Drive. If you've only ever lived in Miami-Dade, do yourself a favor, get out there and explore the rest of this beautiful state and no, I'm not talking theme parks.

I've made it easier for you on Google by creating a map of Trail of the Pirates. And as always, feel free to ask questions in my Trail of the Pirates thread at Miami Beach 411.

I'll leave you now with a little pirate humor. What if pirates had Twitter?


I wouldn't have been able to do this without the businesses, organizations and folks that supported my wanderlust but more importantly, my mission to teach the world about Florida and the Caribbean through travel writing.

Once again, thanks to the following for supporting this journey:

Annie's Costumes, Captain Hiram's Resort, Discover Martin County, Florida’s Historic Coast Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Florida Keys and Key West, Hilton St. Augustine, History Miami Museum, Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort and Marina, Hyatt Pier 66, Indian River Chamber of Commerce, Pirate Republic Seafood Grill and Bar, Visit Florida, and Westin Key West Resort.

And of course, thanks to all the people I interviewed for their time and enthusiasm.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: St. Augustine Pirate Gathering

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.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
Pirate devotees have fun but take historical accuracy seriously. In St. Augustine, they were a friendly, welcoming bunch. I felt right at home even though this was my first festival.

My pirate journey ended with an inspiring weekend getting to know some of the nice folks who attended the St. Augustine Pirate Gathering, many of whom were part of a larger pirate community from across the country. About 5,000 people participated in the festival that took place in November.

For some, it's a lifestyle and a chance to leave behind everyday routine for a little role play, bedecked in gorgeous costumes. But it's also a public forum of sorts to learn about maritime history and culture. After visiting pirate-related locations for almost a whole week, it was truly something special to see that history come alive with other pirate enthusiasts and devotees.

The festival, then in its fourth year, set up on a field by the old Spanish Quarter and featured an all-day program for school-aged kids, a pub crawl and evening bash for grownups, a parade, battle reenactments, sword play, canon firings, music, dancing, entertainers and vendors selling pirate wares. There was even a letters of marque ceremony, presided over by the St. Augustine Royal Family, which claims lineage back to Spanish nobility. (A letter of marque is the official document of government-sanctioned piracy. Many pirates were independent, but some were privateers working for a nation's boss.)

This particular festival prides itself in authenticity, so many visitors were sporting truly spectacular garb and accessories. I felt naked not carrying a weapon or my own tankard for drinks!

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
This strapping pirate posed for me at the Castillo de San Marcos. Back in the day, pirates would never have been welcome here, of course.

It's not uncommon to see people walk around St. Augustine's Spanish quarter in period costumes on a regular basis as there are many reenactment activities in town. But on this particular weekend, the cobblestoned streets were crawling with pirates, providing non-pirate visitors with an extra thrill. If you were in costume, chances are someone asked you to take a photograph. It happened to me several times; I never stepped out of my hotel room in regular clothes.

And while there was much revelry and a spirit of shenanigans, none of it was over the top crazy -- St. Augustine's bars close at 2 a.m. I'll never forget the experience of walking through those quiet streets at night with a special pirate friend I made over the weekend ... or another wonderful moment just sitting on the sea wall at the Castillo de San Marcos on a beautiful cool but sunny day, gazing out into the bay, watching the Lynx Privateer sail by. (The ship is a gorgeous reproduction of a War of 1812 naval schooner and was docked in St. Augustine during its tour.)

So while the festival itself was bustling with activity, it was also possible to enjoy the old quarter in a leisurely way.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
The Lynx Privateer sailing on the Matanzas River, as seen from the Castillo de San Marcos. That's Anastasia Island in the background.

The Pirate Gathering isn't just a good time; proceeds go to maritime education for kids. Read more about the cause in my interview with Captain Tom from the Crew of the Black Heart.

Enjoy the photos below.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
A couple of pirates relax on the seawall at The Castillo de San Marcos. Many non-pirate visitors were doing the same. The reenacters at the fort were firing canons that afternoon. (Not real canons, mind you.)

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
The Brigands played fun, catchy music. They describe themselves thusly: "The Brigands be a musical minded group, performing songs, Sea Shanties and tunes, lore and fact, from the Golden Age of Piracy, 1650-1750 and beyond."

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
Drinking sangria at the Taberna del Gallo is good for you. This was a popular spot for pirates over the weekend.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
Pirates gathered at the Taberna for music and song. Pictured here: Nasty Nate Cole on the concertina, member of Rusty Cutlass, a pirate band from Central Florida.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
This lovely lass was one of the gathering organizers.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
These nuns were part of a comedy troupe called Nun for the Road. Even a pirate deserves to go to heaven.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
The Buccaneer Bash featured elaborate table settings and pirates dressed to the nines.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
Pirates were savvy in recycling. Carry your own beverage container and don't pollute the environment with plastic cups or bottles!

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
More pirates at the Buccaneer Bash in their sartorial splendor.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
A photo opp ship. The couple running it hailed from South Florida.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
Vendors sold everything for your pirate needs.

Pirate Gathering St. Augustine 2010
This pirate wench, a resident of the Florida Keys, called herself Caribbean Pearl and wore elaborate costumes all weekend long. In case you're wondering what pirate needs are, look at everything that's hanging from her belt.


Bilgemonkey, who runs an excellent pirate website and acted as festival DJ, wrote a detailed recap of the event at After Action Report.

Pirate Fashions N Fotos
is a fun store in St. Augustine featuring a full photo studio with props. Take an individual or group portrait in your garb or theirs. Costumes, weapons and accessories are also available for purchase.

If you love pirates, the best weekend to visit St. Augustine is during the Pirate Gathering. But the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum is also open year-round and is a must. See my interview with Pat Croce, the museum's founder.


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Florida's Historic Coast and Hilton St. Augustine for supporting this part of the journey.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: Interview with Captain Tom

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.

maiden's pub crew of the black heart
The St. Augustine Pirate Gathering grew from grassroots parties and events that began in the early 1980's with the Maiden's Pub Association, also known as Crew of the Black Heart. They were involved in producing the 2010 Buccaneer Bash, an evening party for grown-ups at the festival featuring food, drinks, music and dancing. (The Ancient City Privateers is a different group that organized the overall event.)

I interviewed Captain Tom, one of the founders of the Maiden's Pub Association, to learn more about the festival and the local pirate community.

SATB: How did this all get started?

Captain Tom: Back around 1982, a group of friends celebrated a birthday in pirate costume in the Jacksonville area with beer drinking, contests and a treasure hunt. It was so much fun, we did it again every year and eventually formed the Maiden's Pub, which was a "ghost" pub that would appear where ever we happened to be in port.

SATB: The words crew, crewe or krewe are used frequently to identify pirate groups. What exactly is a crew?

Captain Tom: A crew is a group of people who band together socially to do pirate stuff. The name of the crew can be fictional or historical.

SATB: It seems like a lot of work must go into putting together these pirate events. Does it ever stop being fun?

Captain Tom: In our first charter, we agreed to "if it stops being fun, we stop doing it." I stepped down as president because it started feeling like work to me and I actually wanted to enjoy the events as a guest for a change. Bryan took the reigns and I'm very proud of him.

SATB: The costumes I've seen are incredibly beautiful and elaborate. Are they expensive?

Captain Tom: A basic man's costume could easily run you about $1,000. You're looking at custom-made breeches, great coats, accessories and weapons. I have three outfits and six shirts. We save our finery for the Buccaneer Bash -- silk, feathers, leather boots and elaborate pistols. Women's costumes are even more expensive. Bodices are made with real bone, lace is hand-stitched and so on.

SATB: I couldn't help but admire the authenticity of the costumes. I mean, they're really more like "clothes" and not costumes. How detailed are they?

Captain Tom: The best costumes are accurate down to the stitching. Some seamstresses are "stitch nazis" who know exactly what kind of stitching and buttons would be historically accurate. But in some cases the information isn't being passed down to the newer generation of costume makers, which is a shame.

SATB: Maiden's Pub and The Pirate Gathering are much more than an excuse for revelry. How did you get into the non-profit arena?

Captain Tom: At first, we just wanted to be someone else for a day. But as we got older, we thought we would make this big and help kids learn what went on in maritime history -- everything good and bad. When we learned about the St. Augustine Lighthouse summer camp, we knew it was a perfect match. We now provide scholarships for kids to participate in educational experiences with the Lighthouse Maritime Archeological Program. This year, we gave out over 20 scholarships.

SATB: What other good works have local pirates done?

Captain Tom: The Pirate Gathering seeks to further history and education of the time period; it isn't just about pirates. And earlier last year, Peg Legs for Pirates helped raise money for victims of the Haitian earthquake who lost limbs.

SATB: There could be no better city to host a pirate festival than St. Augustine what with its historic Spanish quarter and fort. How do you feel about the new St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum?

Captain Tom: We love it. With the museum, it really shows there were pirates here in the past. It gives credibility to what we do.

SATB: Where do you see all this going?

We want to keep it up and hopefully expand. I'd love to see it grow so we can pay for any kid who wants to go to summer camp.


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Florida's Historic Coast and Hilton St. Augustine for supporting this part of the journey.

PHOTO CREDIT: Maiden's Pub Association

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: Who Is Mary Read?

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.

Earlier in this series, I interviewed Sandra Riley, a Miami author who wrote a novel based on the lives of two female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. While on the St. Augustine leg of the journey, I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Murillo, who portrays Mary Read in historical reenactments.

Murillo happened to be in town during the St. Augustine Pirate Gathering. I met with her on a groggy Sunday morning at the historic Taberna Del Gallo, founded in 1734, located on St. George's Street in the old quarter. At this point, I had been on Trail of the Pirates for six days and was so swept up by pirate events in St. Augustine, I didn't even know what day it was anymore!

During the weekend, a handful of "pirates" set up camp on the adjacent grounds of the Spanish Quarter Museum, where reenacters portray life in St. Augustine exactly as it would have been in the 18th century. Murillo was among the visiting pirates who eschewed a comfy hotel for a more authentic experience. The night prior to the interview, folks from the Pirate Gathering showed up at the Taberna to sing songs around a fire while musicians played on period instruments.

The Taberna serves delicious sangria and beer and is lit only by candles ... the perfect setting for pirate revelry!

Check out the video for Murillo's own thoughts on Mary Read's unusual and courageous life.

Based in Melbourne, Murillo is a reporter for the Florida News Network and got hooked on pirate history while covering an event. Visit I AM MARY READ website for more information on her appearances. Trail of the Pirates will stop by Key West later this year for Pirates in Paradise, where I'm looking forward to see Murillo perform her reenactment of Mary Read's trial.


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Florida's Historic Coast and Hilton St. Augustine for supporting this part of the journey.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Murillo

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trail of the Pirates: St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

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.

st. augustine pirate and treasure museum jolly roger flagAn original Jolly Roger flag on display at the museum.


After four days of learning as much as I could about pirates on the east coast of Florida, I finally arrived in St. Augustine, just in time to interview Pat Croce, founder of the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum. The museum used to be located in Key West but found a new home in the nation's oldest city, which is fitting, considering that St. Augustine was a strategic port and subject to pirate raids during its Spanish history.

Pat Croce is a modern-day renaissance man -- he's done everything from pioneering work in sports medicine, to serving as president of the Philadelphia 76ers and working as author and motivational speaker. But it's his passion for pirates, which he has cultivated since childhood, as well as his boundless and infectious enthusiasm on the subject, that inspired the museum. Over the years, he has collected authentic artifacts from all over the world, many of which are on display at the museum.

The museum was still under construction when I interviewed Croce. As busy as he was, he took a few minutes to speak with me. I think it was this conversation that really "hooked" me on pirate history. There's a real personal passion behind this museum; it's no ordinary attraction.


As fate would have it, I would return to St. Augustine in January during which time I had an opportunity to tour the museum fully completed and open to the public.

Located across the street from the fort (the Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695), the museum brings pirate history to life with beautiful displays, theatrical lighting, sounds and even smells. It's an interesting, more high-tech complement to St. Augustine's historic Spanish quarter, which is already a rich destination for authentic living history experiences.

Give yourself at least two leisurely hours to see and read everything -- interactive displays feature touch screens and video, making it easy to learn quite a bit of "serious" history in a fun way. Kids will love this, but so will grown ups. And while it has some magic touches by Disney Imagineers, it's not Disney in a kitschy way.

st. augustine pirate and treasure museum chest One of two original chests on display at the museum.

I especially enjoyed the replica of Port Royal, a prosperous yet decadent city in Jamaica that earned a reputation as the Caribbean's wickedest. Port Royal was also an infamous pirate stronghold and was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1692.

The Rogue's Tavern features paintings of many famous pirates, some of whom had dealings in Florida, including Andrew Ranson, who escaped execution in 1684 and helped build the fort across the street and Louis Aury, a French corsair who controlled Amelia Island just north of St. Augustine in 1817.

Particularly fascinating are photos from an archeological dig that prove English privateer Sir Francis Drake burned St. Augustine down to the ground in 1586. But Drake would not be the only unwelcome Englishman. In 1668, another privateer, Robert Searles, sacked the town, murdered residents and ransomed hostages. Those he considered not of pure Spanish blood were selected to be sold as slaves in the Caribbean. It was this raid that prompted Spain to build the fort that would eventually protect its interests in Florida.

This museum was definitely one of the highlights of my pirate journey. Not only was I standing on ground zero of past pirate attacks, but I could really connect the dots -- the Caribbean, the Spanish Main, riches and treasures, pirates, politics and war -- all of it deeply part of Florida and the amazing city of St. Augustine.


History Miami museum did an exhibit about the Jamaican City of Port Royal in 2007. Read more about it at Miami Beach 411.

If you recall my Treasure Coast segment, Henry Jennings, who raided the sunken Spanish 1715 fleet, hailed from Port Royal. And speaking of the Treasure Coast, some jewels and artifacts on display at St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum are on loan from The Florida Division of Historical Resources. Chances are, some of those were probably salvaged from watery depths by Florida treasure hunter Mel Fisher.

How well do you know your pirate history? Follow the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum on Twitter and Facebook for weekly contests.


Special thanks to Annie's Costumes, Visit Florida, Florida's Historic Coast and Hilton St. Augustine for supporting this part of the journey.

PHOTO CREDIT: St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Little Time Off

Sex and the Beach has been inactive for about three weeks. It was my intention to finish writing the St. Augustine segment of Trail of the Pirates over the holidays and in a grand stroke of irony, I had to fly up to the Ancient City at the last minute. My folks were traveling here and were hospitalized for an emergency health situation. I really thought I was going to lose both my parents. It was scary.

To make the long story short, I'm still in St. Augustine. Folks are back in Miami being tended to by my siblings while I take a couple of days off -- it has been a harrowing experience with little sleep for almost a week. I've got to drive back on Thursday. Oh joy.

Anyway, while I recover here, I'm doing some business networking, possibly some guest lecturing at the college and collecting more material for the pirate series.

Regular posting should resume next week, but it all depends on how much care my parents need.

Hope everyone had a blessed and happy holiday. If the new year starts off so crappy, it can only get better, right?

On a side note, I'd just like to add how wonderful people in general, friends, business contacts and hospital staff have been in St. Augustine. Once you're out of Miami, those random smiles, courtesies from strangers and all that "small town" friendliness really stands out. It's starting to grow on me. Life is so different here.

And a heaping serving of gratitude goes out to those of you who have sent well wishes, thoughts and prayers. All the love I've gotten from my personal friends
and social media acquaintances has been consistent and rock solid. Of course my siblings and I have stuck together, but having this "extended family" communicating via social networks has been a beautiful gift of support. I am truly blessed.