Friday, October 23, 2009


My 11-year-old daughter Caroline, who is home-schooling this year for 6th grade, accompanied me on a two-week trip to Nova Scotia. We just got back Saturday evening.
We did some tent camping (colder than we had expected!), stayed with friends in D.C. and upstate New York and stayed in a few Canadian B&Bs. The fall leaves were just reaching their peak in New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

So what does this have to do with schooners?

In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia we visited the Fisherman’s Museum of the Atlantic where we went aboard the Theresa E. Connor, which fished the Grand Banks right up until 1963. Aboard a more modern side-trawler, we chatted with a docent who had fished those waters (under power) for more than forty years. And, of course, we saw the famous Bluenose II, which we could not board since she was undergoing maintenance. I’ve never seen bright work so meticulously cared for. From our hotel across the harbor, we had a terrific view of the museum and the Bluenose. (see photo).

On the way home we stopped in at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. I was surprised to see the Amistad docked there since she had been at The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race with us last year and I’d assumed she’d be there again this month.

This was the perfect year for us to visit museums: at 11, Caroline still qualifies as a child for admission purposes, while I (now 65!) have joined the ranks of the “seniors.”

Passing through the Hampton Roads area on Saturday, we swung by the Portsmouth waterfront to see the schooners just finishing the 20th annual GCBSR. Considering the weather they had, I can’t really say I’m sorry to have missed the race this year. I am sort of thinking of joining the race next year, however.

This coming week, I’ll be joining Philip Howard and David Senseney at the Third Annual Ocrafolk School (Gary Mitchell’s brainchild) where we’ll teach a combined course in the natural history, human history and nautical traditions of Ocracoke.


By popular demand, we’ve finally put a recording of my poem, “A Pirate’s Christmas” up on itunes, available for downloads. We’re working on cranking out a gift CD of it to be available for purchase on the website in time for Christmas. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 19, 2009



As you’ve no doubt noticed, this blog isn’t one of those “must have a new entry everyday” types that keeps you up to date on every event of my life: “Washed the dog today and gave him his heartworm treatment!” On the contrary, this blog only reports events of earth-shaking importance and today’s occasion is, of course, International Talk-Like-A-Pirate” Day.

In honor of this special day, I’m announcing the release of my single-track Christmas gift special CD called “A Pirate’s Christmas.” This piratical parody of the famous Clement Moore Christmas poem has been performed onstage at Deepwater Theatre in Ocracoke as well as on the Pirate Cruises aboard the Windfall for the past three years but has heretofore been unavailable for purchase or download. Finally, in response to popular demand, I’ve made a studio recording of it complete with fiddle pieces by David Tweedie at either end. This will be available for purchase as a Christmas card CD through the “merchandise” page of the Schooner Windfall website. It should also be available for downloads from iTunes by Thanksgiving.

I also produced a recording of “A Pirate’s Easter” (another Capt. Rob original) at the same time but it probably won’t be available until after we get the Christmas CD up and running. To all of you dedicated fans I just want to say thanks for holding my feet to the fire on this and thanks for your patience, which I hope will soon be rewarded.

And here’s my contribution to “ITLAP” Day:

How long have I been sailing?

Why I’ve been sailing since Moby Dick was a wee minnow!
I cut me teeth on salt horse and ship’s biscuit,
First learned to walk on a heaving deck
An’ I’ve poured enough salt water out of me sea boots to float a ship-o-the-line

I knows the ways of a ship from keel to truck, from taffrail to cranse iron
I’m known to every seaport crimp and dockside doxy from Liverpool to Singapore

I can sail any vessel afloat
And hold a course in a hurricane
With palm and needle I can hand stitch a sail
And spit to windward in half a gale

And, cross my heart and hope to die
The only blessed thing I CAN’T do….. is LIE!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The faculty and staff of the Ocrafolk School met yesterday morning for a planning session over a delicious breakfast at the Flying Melon. The folk school which started three years ago is the brainchild of Gary Mitchell who was inspired by the Campbell Folk School in the North Carolina Mountains.

The school draws on the talents of various local and regional artists and craftspeople, sharing their expertise with participants from all over the southeast. Although the "classroom" is basically all of Ocracoke, the Soundfront Inn is the focal point.

In the past two seasons, the school has offered courses in photography, pottery, basketry, jewelry making, water color, music and songwriting and cooking. Also, David Senseney, Philip Howard and I have collaborated on an "Ocracoke Sampler" course with David teaching the natural history and ecology of the area, Philip teaching the human history, and yours truly sharing what I know of the nautical lore and seafaring traditions of the Outer Banks.

It appears likely that our good friend Jim Goodwin will be joining us this year to teach his specialty, ships in bottles! Jim is one of only 150 ships-in-bottles modelers in the whole nation and some of his work will be featured in the motion picture "The Lovely Bones" which will be released this fall. He usually has several models for sale at The Village Craftsmen shop on Howard St., some of which feature the Schooner Windfall. Jim has given me the enviable task of assisting him in preparing the bottles to receive the ships (the have to be empty!). He's rather partial to the old-fashioned bottles used by Pyrat Rum of Anguila which works out nicely since he and I are both rather partial to the product itself.

For more information about the folk school, log onto

Friday, June 12, 2009



Last weekend we held the 10th annual Ocrafolk Festival.  The weather Saturday morning looked as if we might be driven indoors by rain but it cleared off beautifully and we had sunny (but not hot) conditions for the rest of the weekend and I can’t remember a better festival.



With the festival behind us and school adjourned for the summer, the 2009 season has officially begun.  This past week saw our first Ocrafolk Opry at Deepwater Theatre Wednesday night followed by the first “Rumgagger” performance by yours truly and Fiddler Dave.  We had pretty good turnouts for both performances. 



Last Tuesday we did a special pirate cruise for Donald Davis.  Donald is a world famous storyteller who makes his home here on the island when he’s not out globetrotting with his yarns.  Twice each summer he hosts a storytellers’ workshop on the island and he always brings his group out on the Windfall.  This time he came with a camera crew who were making a documentary about him for PBS so perhaps we’ll all be on TV sometime this fall.


Right before the festival, I got in a new shipment of our “Rumgagger” CDs so if you’d like to order one, just click on our “merchandise” key on the website.


This season we’re offering morning pirate cruises at 10 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

We’re also offering pirate cruises at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.  Every day, weather permitting, we offer 1.25-hr. sunset cruises.  As things get more lively during the summer, we may ad an additional 1-hr. sail.  For up-to-date information, please call us at (252) 928-SAIL.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


On April 17th we were finally able to accommodate some of the remaining spring break visitors with a pirate cruise and a sunset sail. People had been calling all week about going sailing but unfortunately most of the week was cold and windy. By Friday, however, it was ideal.

A lot of sailors would be hesitant to start a season on a Friday. Seafarers have always been a superstitious lot and one of their most time-honored traditions is never to begin a voyage, or launch a ship on a Friday. I believe it has something to do with the Crucifixion.

A few years back I was chatting with a friend who was a merchant marine captain. He told me he was flying to New York the next day to take charge of a container ship
Bound for Europe. He mentioned that the ship would be all loaded and ready to go by Friday morning but that they weren’t going to leave until just after midnight Saturday morning.

“Is the shipping company so superstitious that it’s willing to make such an expensive delay?” I asked him in amazement.

“The company isn’t,” he said, “but if we tried to leave on Friday half the crew would probably jump ship.”

According to an old British navy legend, the Lords of the Admiralty once became so disgusted with the sailors’ superstitions that they set out to debunk them. They commissioned a warship whose keel was laid on a Friday. They christened it “H.M.S. Friday,” launched it on a Friday and sent it to sea on a Friday under the command of a Captain Friday. It was never seen or heard from again!

Nobody much believes that. We had 24 passengers on our first pirate cruise of the season last Friday and it was a great time. Just the right amount of wind from just the right direction. It was great to see the old schooner stretch her legs again.

Until school lets out in mid-June, we'll only be sailing sunset trips. After the children return, we'll resume ye pyrat cruises. AAhhrr!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Windfall will formally begin the 2009 season on April 17 with a one-hour Pirate Cruise departing at 4 p.m. followed by a 1.25-hr. Sunset Sail departing at 6:30. The prices will remain at last year’s level: $20 for those 12 and over on the Pirate Cruise, $10 for kids under 12 and free for children under 4. The Sunset Sail is $25 for all ages. Next week, after the spring break is over, we’ll discontinue the Pirate Cruise and only offer the Sunset Sail until school lets out in June. For reservations, please call us at (252) 928-SAIL.


Like most folks, I kept a close eye on last week’s news from the Indian Ocean when the Maersk Alabama was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia and I was greatly relieved when the U.S. Navy finally managed to rescue the brave Capt. Richard Philips from his captors. All the piratical activities of that region over the past several months have done more to focus the world’s attention on pirates than anything since Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Unlike Capt. Jack Sparrow, however, or Robert Louis Stevenson’s loveable Long John Silver, these modern day pirates evoke little sympathy. We owe much of the success of our Pirate Cruises on the Windfall to the recent popularity of pirates brought about by Disney. I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope that current events off Somalia don’t sour the public to the pirate theme so as to cost us business. No doubt there are pirate cruise operators up and down the coast hoping the same thing.

But our Pirate Cruise here at Ocracoke has always been a little different from most. Sure, we like to swashbuckle and tell corny pirate jokes like all the rest, but sailing as we do in the home waters of the infamous Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard), we feel not only an opportunity but an obligation to send our passengers home with a taste of the true history of the freebooters who (however briefly) made this island their home. As Blackbeard’s famous biographer, Prof. Robert Lee, points out we should judge these pirates not by the standards of our own time but of theirs which offered poor sailors far less justice and less opportunity to better their lives.

Interestingly, the situation of the Somali pirates is in many ways similar. Just as there was no strong colonial government in North Carolina in 1718, there is little if any government in Somalia. Many of the Somali pirates started out as simple fishermen who found it necessary to take up arms to defend their waters from foreign intruders. One thing led to another until the heady taste of easy money won out. Does this excuse piracy? Certainly not! But it does, to some extent, explain it. Our navy was justified in using deadly force against the Somali pirates just as Lt. Maynard was justified in helping Blackbeard’s head and shoulders part ways. But as I always point out, one of Maynard’s brave Royal Navy volunteers was himself captured and executed two years later as one of the pirate crewmen of Bartholomew Roberts. Folks with limited opportunities tend to do the best they can with the hand they’re dealt.

It calls to mind some lines from a song by the Rankin Family:

“Only the very safe can talk about wrong and right.
Of those who are forced to choose, some will choose to fight.”

I guess most of us should be appreciative that we don’t face that choice.

Friday, March 20, 2009


The schooner Windfall competed in the 19th annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race on October 16-18th, 2008. The race, which benefits the non-profit Save the Bay Foundation, runs a course of 127 nautical miles from Annapolis, Maryland to Portsmouth, Virginia for the larger schooners and an eighty-mile course from Annapolis to Windmill Point for the smaller vessels.

The GCBSR was created by a challenge from the Norfolk Rebel to the Pride of Baltimore, and has grown over the past nineteen years making it the largest all-schooner sailing race in the world. A record number of fifty-six schooners competed this year, and Windfall was the only one from North Carolina.

Windfall finished third in her class, with an elapsed time of 15 hours and 18 minutes

We were lucky to have good winds on the way up to Baltimore and during the race down the bay. Windfall sailed faster than ever – during the race I saw her hit speeds I’d never seen before. We even finished ahead of several of the larger boats. I was proud of my vessel and proud of my crew.

Windfall beat nine other boats in her class, and finished the race before the 2nd place winner. The race committee uses a complicated handicapping system to determine winners, which put the Windfall slightly behind the second place boat in corrected time.

For more on the race, visit