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.