The Things We Do For Booty
My pirate name is Alabaster Clappens. I was born the second child of two economics majors and was allowed to eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast most days, which is a symbol for the normal and at times even serene childhood I experienced. I left home at the age of eighteen to go to college, and spent years wandering, adrift: What to do? Where to go? Who to be?
Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely sources.
Objectively speaking, the greatest pirate of all time was Black Sam Bellamy. Born in rural England in 1689, young Sam had it rough. We don’t know much about his youth, but we do know that he left home at the age of thirteen to work as a ship’s boy. It’s assumed that his parents were poor starving tenant farmers, and that wee Sam may have been coerced or even kidnapped into the sailing lifestyle. Britain was in dire need of more sailors at the outset of the Spanish War of Succession, and they were willing to do all sorts of morally reprehensible things in order to ensure that the Spanish didn’t gain too much power, which I imagine they argued was morally wrong in some other, worse, way that justified their naughty behavior.
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t born a pirate. In fact I love following the rules, or more accurately I hate breaking them. Either way I’m a rule follower. But I also like places where there are no rules, so I can do as I please without concern.
Sam Bellamy didn’t want to be a criminal either, but he fell in love with a girl whose family needed him to be richer, which I imagine, if I’d chosen a different lover, could also happen to me, being that I have more or less no money. Black Sam Bellamy tried to be a treasure hunter first–like I said he didn’t want to steal–but he couldn’t find the Spanish shipwreck he was looking for, so, desperately in need of booty, he became a pirate.
My lover didn’t force me to become a criminal, but he did say he was sailing to Mexico and I could either stay behind or come along, so at the age of twenty-seven I quit my job and became a pirate. He tried to explain to me that there’s a difference between a sailor and a pirate, and when I looked up the definition of a pirate I began to think he might be right, but being as familiar as I am with Black Sam Bellamy, I proffer that the current definition of a pirate is small-minded and myopic.
One thing a lot of people don’t realize about pirates is that most of them had very noble intentions, kind of like Robin Hood. The British crown was rather cruel after all, and especially did not pity the poor. As Black Sam put it, They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. He really was quite erudite for a pirate; did you see how he used the word forsooth? And to describe his life’s work as simply “attacking and robbing ships at sea” doesn’t seem very fair.
One big difference between Sam Bellamy and me is that he was a natural seaman and an excellent sailor, while I often become violently seasick and have a hard time telling which direction the wind is blowing, and I get mixed up about whether a north wind is blowing from the north or towards the north, and I don’t like when kelp touches my feet while I’m swimming. Most of the fish I catch fall right off the hook before I can guide them into the net, and in the lucky event that I do manage to land a fish, and I tell it thank you before bludgeoning it over the head with a PVC pipe, I end up wincing as I miss the mark repeatedly, spraying fish blood all over myself and unnecessarily prolonging the poor thing’s final, miserable moments. But when it’s over, and my shins and cheeks are dotted with little specks of vibrant red fish blood, I think at that moment maybe I actually do look like a pirate.
The first ship Sam Bellamy captured once he became a pirate was a slave ship called the Whydah Gally, which was traveling back to England loaded with riches that the merchants had acquired in exchange for 312 West African captives. The deplorable captain of that ship surrendered without much ado–he was neither a nationalist nor a rebel, but simply obsessed with becoming rich at the expense of others. Sam was grateful to him for not putting up a fight, and allowed the captain to sail home in their old, less impressive ship in exchange for the Whydah, which Bellamy and his crew converted into the most formidable war ship in the Caribbean. It’s a little disappointing that Sammy let the slave trader off so easily, but I suppose he did take all of his dirty money and scared the shit out of him. There is no record of Black Sam Bellamy ever killing a single captive, merciful pirate that he was.
Black Sam Bellamy died in a shipwreck when he was twenty-eight years old. He had raided 54 ships at that point, and all of his acquired riches (worth $120 million, or so) sank to the bottom of the ocean along with Sam and 140 of his men.
The wreck was rediscovered off the coast of Massachusetts in 1984 in water that was only fourteen feet deep. That’s right, the greatest pirate in the history of the world capsized in fourteen feet of water, never to return to the woman that possessed his heart, and on whose behalf he’d become a pirate in the first place.
I’m also 28 years old, and a few times this year I worried I would die at sea, but I never did. Every so often I’d wake with a start in the middle of the night, overcome by an intense conviction that my lover, on watch up above, had fallen overboard into the dark waters off the coast of Mexico and was swimming with the fishes.
I’d climb out of the hatch, pretending I was only getting up to pee when actually I was terrified, and every time to my complete surprise he was right there, bundled up in blankets and coats, reading about diesel engines or dyneema rigging or the practical uses of a hundred hitches and knots and drinking two buck chuck straight out of the bottle.