Awash In Pirates

Arrr, matey, those salty sea scoundrels are everywhere - from a Johnny Depp movie and reality TV to bands and even a wedding

May 20, 2007|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,Sun Reporter

"Killin's, burnin's, lootin's, but larceny above all else."

-- Capt. Ned Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard (Blackbeard the Pirate, 1952)

TAKE AWAY THE MURDERIN', the thievin' and the keelhaulin', and you might call Capt. Fletcher T. Moone a modern-day Ned Teach. It was 21 years ago this summer that Moone -- by day, a Kensington finance specialist named Brad Howard -- gathered a passel o' mates, formed a maritime music combo called the Pyrates Royale, and started playin' private parties all around the Chesapeake.

"Back then, it was sort of an esoteric interest," he says.

All that has changed. Four years ago, the Disney Co. "turned a theme-park ride into a movie," in Howard's words, putting out the first in its Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, starring Johnny Depp as the bug-eyed but wily Capt. Jack Sparrow. The film made $653 million worldwide and started a sensation. Now, it seems, pirates be everywhere.

On May 25, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third in the Disney series, opens in theaters nationwide. Pirate wannabes are hitting pirate festivals coast to coast. Kmart and Target can't keep pirate swag on their shelves. And on May 31, CBS launches a new reality TV series, Pirate Master, on which 16 contestants are to spend 33 days trolling for $500,000 in buried treasure in the Caribbean.

As for Howard, his alter ego's swagger is as grand as ever. The Pyrates Royale, the area's "go-to" pirate band, will record their fifth CD this summer. Captain Moone even oversaw a pirate-themed wedding last weekend (his fifth), readin' "Arrrr-ticles of Matrimony" to a Maryland couple aboard a clipper ship on the Chesapeake's high seas. "It were a fine time indeed," he says with a merry snarl. "Pretty as paint."

He's hardly shocked that the rest of the world has caught up with him. Deep down, he says, "even the most mild-mannered person wants to sing out, to be heard, to make a stand and be seen. What does Jack Sparrow [Depp's character] sing? 'A pirate's life for me?' It's fittin' and proper, I say, har-har, a healthy thing indeed."

A merry life, and a short one, shall be my motto.

-- Capt. Bartholomew Roberts (1682-1722)

Don't let John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur fool you. Twelve years back, he and a matey, Alan "Cap'n Slappy" Summers, had just finished a racquetball game in their native Oregon when for no good reason either can remember, they both started talkin' like pyrates.

"It started with what we like to call The Five A's," says Baur. "Aye, aye-aye, avast, ahoy, and arrgh. We'll save the definitions for later. But arrgh! It went from there."

The two invented International Talk Like a Pirate Day, settin' aside Sept. 19, also for no especially good reason, as "the one day a year you can talk like a pirate and not be totally insane." It was a private joke among friends till 2002, when they decided, on a sudden "whim piratical," to contact syndicated humorist Dave Barry and share their creation.

Barry mentioned them in a column, journalists started calling from ports as far afield as Ireland and Australia, and the pair became piratical celebrities. Just last month, they served as grand marshals of the first-ever "PyrateCon," a convention of 600 pirate fantasists, historians and merchants from around the world that descended on New Orleans. "It was the first pirate invasion of the French Quarter since the War of 1812," says organizer Rudy Arceo, director of the International Pirate Society.

To Baur and Summers, "Talk Like a Pirate Day" is swashbucklin' slapstick, a chance to liberate their linguistic ids. Their popular Web site,, suggests useful phrases (try "avast, ye scurvy scum!" to hail a foe, "avast, ye salty sea-dog!" for a respected elder), provides a pirate-speak video (instead of "what a lovely morning!" try "the day, 'tis ripe for bloodshed; be ye afeard?"), and lists actual Talk Like a Pirate Day festivities from North Carolina to New Zealand.

The humor has roots in a long tradition of pirate films, from Douglas Fairbanks' silent The Black Swan (1925) all the way through Depp's Dead Man's Chest (2006), most of which educate about the real lives of pirates while failing to take themselves altogether seriously. Take Blackbeard, at least as portrayed with eye-rollin' glee by actor Robert Newton, a pirate-fan favorite, in the 1952 camp classic.

While pilfering treasure, the larcenous brute finds his own crew trying to steal the booty from him. "Throw 'em in the hold and let 'em suffercate, the thievin' scum!" he cries without a trace of irony.

But like gold doubloons beneath the water, serious themes underlie the comedy. When their "day" burst on the scene, Baur says, he learned there were "nests o' pirates" all over the place. "It's just that we all thought we were the only ones. Turns out we weren't," he says.

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