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…

Art, where you find it

Daily writing prompt
What brings a tear of joy to your eye?

Ceramics and small amounts of paint seemed to be the language of some public art. A lot of publicly presented art is large. It makes tremors in its presentation. But yesterday, I found diminutive but impressive public art and pieces of what appear to be private art presented publicly. All these are in a two-block area in Shelbourne Falls, Massachusetts, but not all are easily found.

I’ve found that unexpected art and public art that you have to seek out brings me a lot of joy. It’s not like the huge equestrian statue that seems to slam you on the head; it’s much more subtle and human scale, sometimes in the least expected spaces.

Public Art

Daily writing prompt
How are you feeling right now?

I like wandering, and I love re-discovering old haunts and being surprised when I visit new places nearby that I’ve missed in my wandering. It keeps me feeling engaged, happy, and in tune with the world.

I’ve spent some time this last year touring around New England and viewing the public artwork installed on the streets, squares, and alleys. What I’ve seen ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.

 I’ve decided that public art offers an interesting gauge of how involved the community is in offering itself up to visitors and engaging residents. Art is a good way of gauging how versatile, diverse, and culturally enriched a community is.

So here are some of my picks:

Winter Habituals

Daily writing prompt
What daily habit do you do that improves your quality of life?

Over the years, I’ve had to adopt or even create new habits to get me over life situations that otherwise were real deal breakers. There’s a reason why I do certain things at certain times of the year, and while it might be boring to read an itemized list, I’ll cover a few briefly.

It won’t shatter anyone’s perception of me to learn that I get a nasty seasonal affect disorder around the end of January. Fall is OK, and through December, I keep occupied with holidays. But I’ve run out of steam in the middle of January. Although the days are slowly starting to get longer, it isn’t till February that I can see it. This is the time that habits come to my rescue. I spend time with pencil and paper planning new projects for the carving shop, reading seed catalogs, and planning the garden. As soon as the sap starts flowing, I prepare my tapping equipment for collecting maple sap for syrup.

I’ve developed these annual habits for coping with the New England winter. Born a city boy in New York City, they were not things I learned growing up. We had no garden there, and maple syrup came out of a glass bottle. We were steadfast urbanites. But when I moved to Coastal New England, I realized that some of the older folks I met did know a thing or two about getting through winter. I learned to cut, stack, and burn wood for heat, plan my garden, and to tap maples for sap.

Without these habits, I’d get tetchy, irritated, depressed, and probably go looking for a fracas. My wife, children, and pets understand that I am a creature of habit during the winter. In the morning, if you see me before coffee, you might wonder what woodland beast was loosed in the house. Without my winter habits, I’m just not sure anyone could live with me during the winter.


At the back of our lot, the shade from the bordering wildlife sanctuary is so deep that even Herculean efforts by the previous owners failed to grow a lawn there. After clearing the invasive bittersweet, we thereafter declared the area a shaded woodland glade and added native species that would thrive. We added winding trails for pets and children to explore, and I go on an inspection tour every day. I frequently find surprises in this area because while we try to manage it with a light hand, nature is actually in control.

This summer has been unusually wet, not damp, but wet. This has meant that among my morning surprises have been much more fungi than average years. If you are in a hurry, you might step on them or never notice, but one of the pleasures of the woodland garden is catching the small daily changes. The tiny red fungi on the log were there one day and gone the next.

Sphinx Moth

This Sphinx moth decided that a sip at the gooseneck loosestrife was just the refreshment needed for a hot New England afternoon. I had to follow this specimen around for a while till it stayed in one place long enough for me to get a photo.

One of the few creatures that can hover in place its wings move so fast that they are a blur. Their ability to hover is interesting, but the tongue can be inches long which adds interest to watching them.

The first time I saw one, I mistook it for a hummingbird and did a double-take when I realized it was a moth.


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.

Weather Report

Daily writing prompt
What do you listen to while you work?

Working to music is something I have never understood. When I lived on the coast, I used to have a small radio tuned to the marine weather forecast. The drone of how high the tides would be, wind direction, and precipitation formed a repetitive background in the shop. The climate was essential. For maximum effect, there needs to be some scratch in the broadcast. It needs some hiss, scratch, and background noise for sentimental reasons. Last winter, I decided to go for that feeling in the shop once again, but all the radio would pick up was the Central Massachussets and Southern New Hampshire Broadcast. I just can’t connect with what’s going on on Mount Monadnock. Call me insular, but I am a coastal boy trapped among the flatlanders. Right now, my soundtrack in the shop is the hungry Robin chicks housed in one of the apple trees, the sound of mowers, and steady whisp, whisp, whisp of gouges slicing through wood. On occasion, there will be a mallet thump.

But I’ll have to close the door against the chill when October comes. And I’ll miss that marine weather forecast. I am thinking of buying a better radio with short-wave bands to pick up some marine radio traffic. 

That might do the job.

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