Talk Like a Pirate Day – Davy Jones Salvage

Today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. In honor of it, I’ve decided to break a fifty-year silence. This is no fairy tale or folly; I was there when it happened. So listen up!

In the hurricane that whipped up the coast in early October, the schooner Periwinkle had gotten caught threading the eye of the Needles, the narrow passage between the reefs called the Widows. When the tidal surge went out, she’d grounded; when it returned, she’d swamped and gone down. The Periwinkle was not the first to attempt threading the Needles, only the most recent to fail. Threading the eye of the Needles was a puzzle best left to the experienced, and the skipper of the Periwinkle had refused the advice that might have saved his boat: stay clear.

Insurance declared a total loss, and no one appeared interested in salvaging the boat. But she had been well-built by a famous Boothbay builder, and her fittings had been the finest money could provide.

My father-in-law, the Cap’n, had grown up in these waters and knew every tidal nook and cranny. He knew precisely where the Periwinkle went down and how deep she rested. He estimated which spring tide the hull should be awash at. To be there at the right time with pumps, one might get Periwinkle afloat and, on the tides, out through the needles. Once salvaged, the Cap’n’s boat-building friends could help him turn a profit off the hull and fittings.

The Cap’n could handle seamanship, and I could handle the brawn. Lyman, his brother, could bring his lobster boat to help, but where would he get the engineering skill needed to pull the stunt off? So that evening after dinner, I found myself calling New York and trying to persuade my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, to contribute his talents to the effort. But, let me say this: my father and the Cap’n did not see eye to eye on almost anything except that Bridge and Engine room would agree to disagree. But my father surprised me. He needed a vacation from my mother’s honey-do list. The opportunity to get out on the water for several days was bait enough to get him to agree, even if the bridge and engine room would have to cooperate.

On the night of the spring tide, we took Psyche, the Cap’ns ketch, and Lyman’s lobster boat and slipped unnoticed from the cove. We made the Widows just before dawn and prepared our equipment. To pull this off, the ketch and the lobster boat stood off in deeper water while we readied the gear. If we refloated Periwinkle, the ketch, under power, and the lobster boat would pull her free. 

As Periwinkle emerged from the tide, my father and I arranged the pumps, started the engines, and prayed that the hull had not been pierced.

Luck was with us, and the plan succeeded; by the turn of the tide, we were ready to maneuver Periwinkle through the eye of the Needles. 

Up to this point, everything had gone as planned. I was brewing a pot of coffee below, but I heard the Cap’n tell my father, “Nick, this could be trouble.” My father used a single two-syllable Spanish obscenity in reply. I left the coffee and ran on deck to see a wreck of an old trawler heaving towards us through the swell. A red-bearded giant wearing fisherman’s half-boots stood in the bow with belaying pins stuck in the tops. Behind him stood the foulest assortment of dreck-ridden seaman that graced the worst harborside stew we had ever seen. No, they were worse. I’d have been surprised if there was a single intact tooth in the bunch. But the big red-bearded lout had a mouth full that a shark would have been proud of.

As they came alongside, Red thundered, ” Jones salvage here. Thanks be, and Ye’ll be releasin’ the tow now. Appreciate your help and such, but ‘yer best be on about gettin’ home.”

My Dad and the Cap’n were taking in Red and his crew. There were assorted belaying pins and old cutlasses for weapons. This beat out our meager collection of rigging knives and a signal gun.

The big guy with the shark teeth had to be Davy Jones himself. As he saw the expressions on our faces, his grin grew even wider. “Now, hand her over, and there’ll be no trouble. We’ll even throw over a demi-john of “Kill Devil Rum” to ease the pain.” His crew spat tobacco juice and swilled something from open bottles. Having read up recently on the lore of Davy for a paper on sea lore, I hollered, “We demand a trial by the Prize Court of Neptunas Rex!” Silence ruled on the decks of boat boats. But Davy, looking even fiercer than before, laughed loudly and shouted back, “Agreed!” At about that point, Lyman, the Cap’n, and my father looked at me in horror. “Do you know what you’ve done, you ninny?” the Cap’n asked? “if we lose, our boats and possessions will go to Davy.” Before more could be said, Davy asked which venue I preferred for the trial. I responded that the closest Blue Anchor Tavern franchise would do. So we were off to Portland’s Old Port.

This was in the days before they cleaned up the Old Port and tarted it up with bistros, fancy bars, and such. It was rough, dirty, and dangerous. The Blue Anchor had a certain “reputation”. I had done a good bit of “fieldwork” there and knew the lay of the land. So I hollered across to Davy. “midnight till dawn, Kaile, hornpipe, and Greek line dances. Four bells of the morning watch winner will take all: belaying pins, cutlasses, the kill devil rum, your trawler, and whatever you wear. The curses from the other boat were fierce.

Davy knew the briny deep, but I knew the Saturday night Kaile, hornpipe, and line dance competition at the Blue Anchor. As we walked in all I had to do was mention “fresh fish” to Harry, the barkeep, and watch the flashing smile.

The Blue Anchor was built on the site of a famous massacre in Portland, and good report had it that the dead rose on the spring tide to dance with the living. Well, that night, we’d find out.

The crowd quickly discovered it was an early Halloween when Davy and his crowd filtered in. Cocked hats, worn and soiled velvet knee breeches, and slashed sleeve coats hadn’t been seen in these parts for centuries. As midnight approached, both teams lined up on opposite sides of the dance floor. About a dozen of my sometimes drinking buddies lined up with me, my father, and the Cap’n. Davy’s team had not laid off the kill devil rum and looked to be in bad shape to start. But they probably weren’t what we usually call living, so it didn’t matter.

At midnight precisely, the house band started playing wild, upbeat kaile music. The ancient building seemed to rock on its foundations with the dance steps, twirls, and eager movements. There was a palpable shift to hornpipe music at four bells of the Middle watch ( two AM). Dust began falling from the old rafters as twenty-four dancers sang and danced the hornpipe as energetically as possible. But soon, there seemed to be additional dancers in early 19th-century attire; Davy’s crew cried foul; we’d recruited spirits from the land to dance with us.

At the eighth bell of the middle, the pace again picked up as we whirled and stepped into Greek dances. It was now the beginning of the morning watch, and we only had a few hours to go. Cries of Opa! were coming from our team as they made complex steps that the drunken sailors of Davy’s band could not complete. Near the very end of the dance, Davy and his band wound up in a collapsed pile, with a fight breaking out as individual pirates struggled out of the pile.

Harry blew a bosun’s whistle at four bells of the watch and declared us winners. It came not a moment too soon for my Dad and the Cap’n, who promptly collapsed. Davy’s men disagreeably dragged themselves from the sizeable unsorted pile they had fallen into. The last call came, and after that parting glass, we all piled out to divide the spoils.

The take was enough to fund my next two years of tuition, repair the Cap’ns ketch, get Lyman a new lobster boat, and pay the considerable tab due to the Blue Anchor. In exchange for a promise not to revenge himself on us, we allowed Davy and the crew to depart in their skivys and take the trawler. We sold the clothes to a California movie props house. You probably have seen most of the stuff in Pirates of the Caribbean and other Pirate movies. 

The Periwinkle, you know the reason we went through all this happy huhah, was declared a total loss. We lost money on her salvage.

A day after our great escapade, the Blue Anchor shuddered and collapsed. We all thought it was due to the strain on its ancient structure caused by all that dancing. The new one they built in the tarted-up new Old Port is too sanitized for me. But on the back wall is a photo I am told was taken the night of the great Kaile, Hornpipe, and Greek dancing contest. It’s hard to tell who is who except for the antique clothing on some.

So today is National Talk Like A Pirate Day, and this is my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. ARRR!!!


Daily writing prompt
What are your favorite types of foods?

I struggle to remember when rice was not on the dinner table at our home. Its absence would have been exceptional; everyone seated for dinner and no rice? The only thing that would have made it worse was no olive oil to put on the rice. Like many kids, I hated what was served routinely. Then, when I grew up, left the family home, and found out what others routinely put on their table, I started appreciating the rice and beans, rice and chile, and just rice with olive oil. But I’m not discriminatory about other traditions. Growing up in New York City and with a Hungarian Grandmother, I got exposed to everything on offer: German, Chinese/Cuban, Italian, multiple Jewish traditions, and many others.

Foodways are complex and vary from family to family and place to place. My preference for food grew beyond my family’s when I came to coastal New England and learned to love a good fish chowder (or cod cheeks ), preferably served with fresh fries). Visiting my favorite chowder house can banish the blahs and alleviate mild depression – ahh, a good halibut stew cooked in cream and sherry. Or a baked finan haddie!

If put on the spot for what my traditions are, I’ll have to admit that I am a bi-traditional Spanish and Yankee cuisine sort of guy. There is nothing inconsistent in the mixing of the two.

The truth is I have straightforward tastes; they just belong to multiple traditions.


Daily writing prompt
Describe your ideal week.

I’ve been barging about the shop, pulling out half-finished projects that don’t seem to interest me and looking wistfully at old photos of sea and sky. A bad symptom is that I’ve been spending time looking online for one particular boat I lost track of years ago. Here is the issue: I require occasional doses of salt in the air. I need the smell of tidal flats, a view of a rolling horizon, or the marine weather forecast cutting through the hubbub of the marine supply store where I am perusing foul weather gear. I miss the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the coast. All our trips have been inland this year, and the wettest terrain I’ve seen has been Lake Champlain. Wet but not salt.

I do not need perfect days at the beach. The sky can be cloudy and heavy with rain. Walking along the shore with the tide brushing my toes while an incoming squall threatens is just part of another perfect day seaside. After I dry off, I’ll head to the coffee shop and watch the rollers hit the breakwater.

It could be perfect to have an entire week along the coast. A month or longer – moving from town to town, harbor to harbor would be best. But I’ll have to settle for a weekend fix. There was a time when all of those smells, sounds, and sights formed a daily part of my life. I’d sit on a dock and gaze at the sea. I’d poke along the seawalls looking for any interesting thing the sea had decided to offer up.

It’s that time of year again. I have to get a fix. Too long away and I begin to feel like a disaffected imposter in my own life. My occasional withdrawal symptoms can be dealt with easily enough; get me to the coast – fast. I’ll be myself again by evening.

I fully understand what Melville was getting at:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world…


Daily writing prompt
Name the professional athletes you respect the most and why.

I try not to get too personal about sports stars or performers. Their performance is what I am interested in; You will not find fan magazines in my house. I’ll recognize that I like what someone does but not link the name to the number or role. When someone says, “What about Paul Whozee? Great, don’t you agree?” Then they’ll have to explain to me, slowly and in simple words, who they are talking about. After which, I am still left wondering why this is important.

It wasn’t always this way. Growing up, I followed baseball, football, and hockey. I also eagerly followed performers I found interesting. But somewhere along the way, a circuit snapped open, and I found other interests. I lost track of who played for the Bruins, which guitarist played in a band I liked, and who that cute actress was. I paid attention to what they did rather than who they were. As I watched other people build insane cults of personality, I realized my lack of interest in individuals wasn’t alarming. Yes, some people loomed so large in my interests that I had to pay attention to them as individuals: Jimmy Buffet or Dr. John. 

Mostly, though, I’d think, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that actor before.” Or, ” the Bruins lost, that’s too bad.” If you wanted to discuss personality, it would wind up with me nodding idiotically with a slight smile on my face. If you took me out to a sports bar, you’d want to wear a disguise so that no one knows that you’re with the guy who knows no one and nothing.

Now, woodcarving is different. I can identify the work of several of my favorite 19th-century shipscarvers. Just ask me about Benjamin Rush, Samuel McIntire, or Bellamy. I can tell you a bit about the details of McIntire’s tool kit or how the feathers on Rush’s eagled seemed to nestle together naturally. After we discuss that, I’ll tell you about the mysterious way Bellamy simply stopped carving years before he had to. Hey! I bet you don’t know where he got his wood from. 

There’s more, and I don’t have much to do today. Want another cup of coffee? I’ll give you a shop tour and show you the tools, gauges, and templates of the Bellamy eagles I particularly like. You’ll take a raincheck, you say? Sure, just call when you want. Hey? Want to see the library I have on marine carving? No? 

It’s too bad you have to be leaving so soon.


Daily writing prompt
What does your ideal home look like?

You might have guessed that I’d always want a house full of maritime stuff, wouldn’t you? But of course, I couldn’t afford it. So, by and large, I had to learn how to make it. 

Eventually, I started making it for other people, and things got out of hand as the maritime objects around the house ran the gamut from little carvings of boats to large eagles. At last, the preponderance of large stuff wound up as a gallery on the walls of the front porch. No,I was not lethargic in producing many goodies for the ” hopelessly addicted to boats crew” to ogle and demand for home office and boat. 

My wife, in despair, demanded that I pack away some of it because they are terrible dust collectors and were all over the place. So many old pieces from my early days got packed away: anything that didn’t go to shows anymore or anything that I no longer wanted to have shown. You know, the early stuff that embarrasses you. And that’s how this little whatchamacallit wound up packed away.

Over the years, I made many of these as whimsical sales items, and my technique improved. But this was the first one, and it was a little rough. So when things needed packing away, it was first to go. But somehow, it spilled out of a box yesterday during a reorganization. I looked at it, decided I still liked it and may make more. It somehow does not fit the decor of the house as we like it, but it’s whimsical and fun.

The Shelburne Museum

Daily writing prompt
Tell us about the last thing you got excited about.

Sometimes, it’s just the little things that get you the most excited. It’s like a surprisingly wonderful French Toast at the Gray Jay restaurant in Burlington, Vermont ( OK, a shameless commercial for a place I like!). Or a wonderful morning at a museum.

It was the museum that made the day. Just outside of Burlington is the Shelburne Museum, and visiting there was a decade-long goal. But routes, jobs, and travels just never matched up. Finally, my sons arranged a “guys’ weekend out” for my birthday, and Shelburne was on the agenda. At the top of my agenda was the Ticonderoga, a completely landlocked Lake Champlain steamship restored to impeccable glory. I looked into the staterooms, the officer’s quarters, and an incredibly familiar Fo’casle ( forecastle to you lubbers). The pipe racks ( beds to you flatlanders) were almost identical to those I slept on in the Navy. At the beginning of a deployment, you might wet down the canvas bottom to conform to your body. Under the mattress, you could carefully press a uniform into regulation creases, including underwear. More memories came into play at the next stop as we inspected the boiler. At age ten, my dad, a marine engineer, had me assist in re-tubing the old steam plant that heated our apartment building. It was close enough in design that my dad’s advice on shoveling coal onto an established coal fire returned, and I could almost see the scintilla of hot coals in the old firebox. 

Woodcarving is one of my things, so we next visited the galleries with the carvings. The Shelburne had many items I was completely unfamiliar with or had only seen in photos. Downloading a photo from the internet is vastly different than seeing the original. As a carver, I’m probably as interested in the details of construction and carving as I am in the total work itself. For that, there is nothing like an actual viewing.

The Shelburne has thousands of interesting pieces in its collection; I’ve only mentioned the few I was most excited by. I admit to being a museum freak, have memberships in several museums, and will hunt out interesting places on my travels. But this was truly someplace special.

Sailor’s Hornpipe

The other night I fell into musing as my wife watched Pirates of the Caribbean. My mind slipped back to a time years ago and in a place far away:
They did not belong. They stuck out like sore thumbs, aviators; Brown Shoe Navy types, while everyone else was Black Shoe Navy, Merchant Marine, fishermen, or seaman of odd stripes. The Blue Anchor Tavern is a sailor’s bar. We looked at Tuey, the bartender, who shrugged, looked over at “Thing,” the bouncer, and noticed that Thing was counting crisp new bills. Such low standards, they looked like ones. 

Don’t get me wrong; all Blue Anchor franchises serve the general public, but not the genteel general public. The genteel make trouble; they Don’t know that, like Liberty Hall, you can “spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard.” they think we are just unsanitary. They react badly to the midnight Kaile dancing, the dirty song karaoke competitions, or the wet t-shirt competitions for who has the biggest beer belly. This lot of aviators, left in the middle of the axe throwing competition – mumbly peg with small axes. Their team started losing. Really.

In any case, at four AM came the last call; the last tourist was ushered out, relieved of most of their worldly wealth by Thing and Tuey. Silence spread thorough out the gathered congregation. It was time for the morning hymn before we all stumbled to our duty stations, bunks, watches, cots, styes, and homes. Wives, husbands, family, and superior officers would sullenly ask where the hell we had been, smell our breath, and curse, “That Damned Blue Anchor!” Our knowing wink would be all that would betray us.

Years later, and sober for years, my wife looked up from the movie she was watching and innocently asked me what the ditty I was humming was. The Sailor’s Hornpipe, I replied. And I sang her a bit of the Morning Hymn:

She said that she didn’t get it. I sighed and said, “Well, I guess it’s just one of those things; you would have to be there to understand it.

The Black Spot

Daily writing prompt
How do you plan your goals?

Plans are known to fall apart because some unplanned items cludge the entire work. I had a friend who took this to heart and decided to live a disorderly life, just like a pirate! After this declaration, I just had to step in. 

A Pirate’s life was not anarchic, I explained. There was lots of planning involved; You had to know where and when the goods would be, how to offload them to convenient, safe storage until they could be sold, and you needed a good “fence” to sell them for you. After that, you needed a safe place to get down and boogie – like Port Royal ( before it sunk). Where you went had to be an inspired, and unwholesome equivalent of an 18th century Disneyland, friendly towards scallawags, reprobates, criminals, and neerdowells.

In short, a lot of planning went into being a successful pirate. But I maintained there remained good reasons why strict plans did not work, including word getting out to 18th-century law enforcement that you planned to be right off Cape Hatterous on the 30th of July.
My friend looked a bit murderous, upset, and peeved at this point. “How the hell do you know so much about this?” “Well,” I explained, “there was the ancestor who sailed with Henry Morgan to sack Panama.” I thought further, ” Then Captain Grey, another ancestor, hung for piracy. But they were not pirates! They were Privateers, Gentlemen of Fortune! Holders of certificates of marque and reprisal from the Crown. Not Pirates!!!” He sneered, “Pirates!”

The evening did not end well, and I am sorry that Brad is no longer a friend. I overstepped the boundaries of being a good host when I pulled my ancestor’s cutlass, threatened to maroon him, and gave him the black spot. 

Arrr, good mates be hard to find.”


Daily writing prompt
What traditions have you not kept that your parents had?

Yes and No. Yes, I accepted the family tradition, and no, I did not maintain it. My mother’s and father’s lineage are full of people who made a living from the sea, fishermen, merchant seamen, and the odd privateer or two. I went to sea while in the Navy and sailed extensively in sailboats, but I eagerly settled into the shore establishment.

Frankly, I discovered that extended periods at sea were uninteresting to me, and the allure of the shoreside was too much of an attraction. Do you think sailors see the world? Think again. More likely, they see the harbor, the bars, and lots of maintenance work on board that needs to be achieved in port. So I studied to be a maritime anthropologist and became a marine carver – producing quarter boards, transoms, eagles, and all the lovely doodads that make a vessel appropriately attired – a fine instrument for sailing the far reaches of Neptunas Rex’s domains.
Why did I head down this path? Because I could not, with impunity, abandon my family tradition entirely. My grandfather Carreras couldn’t either. A bad heart kept him ashore, so he carved and modeled ships and boats.

I was once poised to accept a lovely position in the middle of the country, far from salt water. The institution seeking to hire me sent me real estate listings weekly, showing how inexpensive and beautiful homes were in that area. It was a clever ploy that almost worked. But in the back of my mind was a portion of me that calculated how many hours drive I’d be from a substantial body of water. Too many were the result, and we stayed within a single hours drive of salt spray, the smell of coastal flats at low tide, and the sounds of waves against the breakwater. 
Traditions survive, fade, or transform as circumstances and desires unfold. You do what you can.


Daily writing prompt
What are your future travel plans?

Let’s not be theatrical. We aren’t going to Tahiti, Madagascar, or Desolation Island soon. Prince Edward Island, on the other hand, would be pleasant, and I’d love to drop into Halifax. I’d be uncommonly pleased, as a matter of fact, to noodle around any of the Down East coastal towns, make myself a nuisance on the waterfronts, and become a curiosity at the diner where the fisherman eat -eschewing the tourist trap around the corner. OK, I wouldn’t mind Tahiti, but then again, I’d become the wharf rat. Making a nuisance of myself asking the fishermen what was in the nets that day, visiting the local franchisee Blue Anchor Tavern for a catch of the day lunch, and as they informed me of their coast, I’d tell them of mine.

It’s true. I am an obdurate and unrepentant lover of all things coastal. You ask why I am not reading travel magazine articles on western National Parks or exotic locations on Bali with phenomenal food. I guess it’s because I fell in love with cruising coastal Maine while young or going to sea on a March morning and waking the next in the middle of a north-sweeping Gulf Stream. Noodling around coastal islands with wise locals in the fog and being told exactly where each island lay based on a lifetime of pilotage can’t be found in a tourist trap. Nor can timing your passage up a coastal river just so, to get your masts under a low bridge. 

So, given the opportunity to cut my loving wife free from her job for a while, I’d head out for a frolicking detour along the coast of New England and the Canadian Maritimes. Hey? Have you ever heaved a lead line? Did you know there really is such a thing as mark twain on it? You should try it sometime.

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