“Fifteen men on The Dead Man’s Chest — Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, “Treasure Island”
When the Old Sea Dog sings that, 15 sounds like a lot.
So how about 15,000?
That’s not much more than the minimum number of “pirates” the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., aims to attract today.
The goal is to break the Guinness World Record of 14,231 pirates in one place — a mark set two months ago in Hastings, England.
Charleston’s David “Capt. Overboard” Gobel is among those rough and ready mateys heaving to under the Jolly Roger in Newport News.
Presumably, though, these 21st century pirates will not be plotting plunder.
After all, Gobel is a retired Charleston County sheriff’s deputy now pulling part-time security duty at the Charleston County Courthouse.
In his spare time, however, he’s a member of Devilmen of Cape Feare, based in Topsail, N.C. That “living history” band of mock marauders will be encamped in tents by the Mariners’ Museum this weekend. But they won’t bring their 25-foot ship, the Florie, and its four cannons with them.
Gobel told me Thursday before heading north: “We have sailed it, we have oared it.”
And the Devilmen won’t wear store-bought costumes.
Gobel: “We are not what we call ‘polyester pirates.’ Everything is hand-stitched.”
Dress to impress
Gobel’s authentic garb includes “several different waistcoats and shirts, and slops (linen breeches).”
He tops off his buccaneer ensemble with a choice of two hats — one wool, one straw.
Gobel, a Revolutionary War re-enactor for more than two decades, joined the nautical raiders’ ranks about eight years ago. He said playing a late 16th/early 17th century pirate isn’t nearly as “regimented” as playing a late 18th century soldier.
That figures. Gobel’s Revolutionary role is a British Redcoat. In both re-enacting cases, though, he’s a history teacher of sorts.
Gobel said he enjoys entertaining children at pirate festivals: “I have a treasure chest filled with gold and jewels. Kids love it when I open it. Their eyes get as big as saucers.”
He also does his pirate thing with the Charles Towne Few, a local crew camping this weekend at Blackbeard’s Cove Family Fun Park in Mount Pleasant.
But few folks who lived here in 1718 thought it was fun when Edward Teach, aka the real Blackbeard, blockaded Charles Towne and held hostages until getting the medical supplies he demanded.
Later that year, the authorities hanged notorious pirate Stede Bonnet in White Point Garden.
Keep Bonnet’s fate in mind when you long to flee your mundane modern routine to become a swashbuckling renegade on the bounding main.
Fortunately, as Gobel and his fellow re-enactors prove, you don’t have to be an outlaw to be a pretend pirate. He repeatedly used the word “fun” to describe their outings.
Strangely enough, though, he didn’t once say “Arrgh” — despite our chat’s timing on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
And Gobel did say of privateer gathering: “It’s a lot of fun — and loose and bawdy.”
Gobel: “You’ve got wenches running around.”
He quickly added: “Don’t put that in the paper.”
Oops. Too late.
Adventures in mind
Meanwhile, for those of us born much too late to join the real Blackbeard’s crew, at least it’s not too late to play pirate — or even to merely dream of being one.
You don’t have to hand-stitch a slop to sail your imagination across the briny deep to another time and place where invigorating exploits, intrigues and riches flow as ever-changing currents.
Nor do you have to cruise beyond Charleston Harbor to be taken hostage by “Treasure Island,” which isn’t just for youngsters.
More from that classic:
Squire John Trelawney writes to Dr. David Livesey in ardent anticipation of their looming voyage:
“Seaward, ho! Hang the treasure! It’s the glory of the sea that has turned my head.”
Sure, you can’t be a real pirate without risking real trouble — and your life.
Yet you can safely let “the glory of the sea” — or at least the glory of our local creeks and rivers — “turn your head” toward boating.
And if you don’t have your own boat, find — or make — a friend who does.
“Prepare to be boarded.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.