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A Pirate's Life for Me: Living the Pirate Lifestyle in a Landlubber's World

Updated on August 26, 2013

"So ye come seeking adventure in salty ol' pirates, eh?" --Pirates of the Caribbean, Disneyland

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A 13-Step Process to Piracy

Do you want to live the pirate lifestyle without the scurvy, dirt, or a noose at the end of your journey? Sadly few of us are likely to get the opportunity to serve on a sailing ship anytime soon or bathe in a shower of gold, but luckily ol' Pirate Dan has followed the swaggering path of the pirate for years and learned all the tricks to living as a roving gentleman in a world of blaggards!

Mind ye the Path of the Pirate takes a great deal of dedication and years of practice to truly master. But it's a bloody fine journey, lined with rum and wenches and all the delights of sea and sail!

So climb aboard, me hearties! Here begins yer transformation into a contemporary buccaneer!

Assemble a Pirate Ensemble

The first step in becoming a great pirate is to pick up the proper duds! Blackbeard, Morgan, Roberts, O'Malley and Kidd all knew the importance of appearances in a pirate whether trying to terrify victims, charm a wench or even impress the king or queen of England!

These days of course pillaging and plundering helpless mariners is much less in style, but dressing to impress will be a good idea long after you and I are dust, my friend!

Notice I do not say you need a pirate "costume". A costume is a cheap, temporary disguise you wear to hide your identity or assume a different personality for the sake of fun or art. What you are doing here is bringing out your inner pirate. If your inner pirate is terrifying and mean, wear a ton of weapons and lots of black and red. It you are more a charmer, go for lots of gold and blue and puffy shirts. If your inner pirate wears lots of metallic silver and pink, congratulations! Your inner pirate is Cyndi Lauper!

This is your chance to play dress-up as your own daydream hero or heroine. Lads, you can finally wear a sword and talk like a salty dog and not be looked at like you're a candidate for the insane asylum! Ladies, here is the perfect chance to wear the leather corset, the thigh-high boots, and the flowing skirt you've always wanted!

But most importantly, your pirate ensemble must be a self-portrait of the pirate that you are deep down!


Incorporate Piracy Into Your Everyday Life

Obviously unless you live in a fantastically open-minded community you are not likely to be able to wear your full pirate ensemble often in your everyday life. For most of us, we see much more of the cubicle than the Caribbean, the subway than the sea. Our bosses are likely to raise an eyebrow to our boots, frown at our frock coats and call the police over our cutlasses!

Thus today's pirate of class knows stealth and creativity must be employed to express your pirate soul in your daily life. There are a number of wonderful ways to do this without getting in trouble.

  1. Many employers these days demand their underlings-I mean- employees wear ties to work on a daily basis. But many of these authoritative individuals are more than willing to tolerate the occasional outlandish necktie. A tie sporting palm trees, jolly rogers, parrots or even the odd island girl will often earn you a smile and even a thumbs-up from your likeminded fellows in the workplace.
  2. If an outlandish tie is not permitted at work, you are not likely to hear much fuss over a small tie tack or pin with a subtle pirate logo on it. If anyone questions, you could always say you wear it because you're a big fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates! (LET'S GO BUCS!!!)
  3. When not at work, you are able to dress a little more expressively but you will find the traditional Elizabethan dress is still not exactly welcome in many places beyond the renaissance fair(home sweet home!) and LARP/SCA events. Luckily the t-shirt industry has always had a soft spot for us modern marauders so there is a wealth of pirate-themed t-shirts out there for every style of pirate, from the motorcycle-riding leader of the pack to the family dog!
  4. Bandanas have somehow managed to outlast the ages as an acceptable garment in everyday dress, if not necessarily in all occasions. A good contemporary pirate should have at least a few bandanas of various colors.
  5. Pirate-y jewelry can almost always be worn in everyday life without much fear of disapproval, though of course there are limits. Since our hip-hop friends have brought the wearing of large, showy pieces of finery back into the fashion world, for better or for worse, most pirates these days can get away with wearing a doubloon around their neck or a few jeweled rings on their fingers.
  6. Tattoos have taken off in a big way in our lifetime. It seems everybody these days from the restaurant dishwasher to the corporate CEO to the attractive soccer mom has some sort of ink on some part of their body, carrying on the tradition laid down by the mariners of old.
  7. Don't be afraid to turn your car into your commuter dinghy! Adding a little jolly roger on the antenna, a clever buccaneer bumper sticker or a pina-colada scented air freshener can do wonders to remind you of the rolling sea as you wait at the red light.

Read Pirate Books

Does the name Edward Teach mean anything to you, or Mary Read or Thomas Tew? How about Ching Shih, Jean Lefitte, the Barbarossa brothers and Benjamin Hornigold? If you fail to recognize any of these, you clearly have some required reading to do.

Now I will not spend too much time telling you which pirate books to read. There are entire websites out there designed to help you do that and I want you to go out there and find them. But since the legends of pirates and their lifestyles came to us because of several compelling books published at the right time, it is essential that those serious about piracy read the books.

There were non-fiction books written first by the mysterious Captain Charles Johnson and Esquemellin, followed by the fictional accounts which helped turn our pirate brethren into the cultural symbols and anti-heroes we see them as today.

Grab a cup of grog, sit in a comfortable throne, turn on the Hans Zimmer and let your mind wander to the wooden world of gold and guts.

Watch Pirate Movies

Long before Mr. Depp revolutionized the pirate image for us and a little fellow named Jake taught our younkers to count their gold everyday, the silver screen was home to such legendary pirate actors as Errol Flynn, one of the original Hollywood pretty-boys, Robert Newton who coined the expression "Arrr" and even Dustin Hoffman playing a strangely convincing Captain Hook!

Hours of entertainment before the mast await the souls with enough bravery and popcorn to set sail on the high seas of celluloid!

Learn Sea Shanties

Before disc jockeys and in-ship cinemas, sailors and passengers aboard seabound vessels kept themselves entertained through song. Most sailors' songs were heavily rhythmic and made to be sung while working though quite a few also existed to touch the soul of the lonely sailor far from his lady or set his feet to dancing.

As students of that period, modern pirates must know at least two or three sea shanties so they have something to sing as they wave their grog cups back and forth or pull the bowline before it starts a-roaming across the deck! My personal favorites are "Haul Away Joe", "Drunken Sailor", "Shenendoah", and "Two Hornpipes".

Apparently cows make good shanty singers...

Spend Time On The Water

The ideal adventure for the modern pirate is to book passage aboard or the join crew of a real tall-masted vessel but for many of us that chance may never come. But do not despair, my friends. A pirate at heart finds his or her way to the water as often as possible. Whether it is a river cruise on a paddle boat, a fishing trip aboard a little rowboat, a luxurious Carnival cruise, or even just the occasional lunch down in the wharf district, the contemporary corsair makes time to be near his innate natural environment: the water.

Some poor landlocked pirates without access to any rivers or lakes can keep a fish tank to bring the sea right into their very own homes! Yours truly has kept a tank or two in his day and found it very rewarding!

Get a Treasure Chest and Fill It

Pirates seldom suffered from any lack of motivation in their lives. One thing drove them to do what they did: treasure! ...But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Since Robert Louis Stevenson's Billy Bones heaved his old sea chest over the threshold of the Admiral Benbow Inn, pirates and wood chests have been forever linked. Hang any other use people could have for a wooden chest; they were meant to carry treasure by thunder!

As modern brethren under the black flag, we 21st-century buccaneers must carry on the tradition of having treasure chests filled with a whole manner of pretty shiny things. Of course, few of us are likely to have an entire chest filled with solid gold. Ol' Pirate Dan's chest probably has a street value of about sixty cents since it is full of only plastic coins and those glass beads yer grandma puts in her vase. But I do have a treasure chest! These days I mostly keep it so I can give me nephews a little present out of it when they come to visit. Nothing motivates the wee little cabin boys like the promise of something shiny out of Uncle Dan's treasure!

Yarrr separate checks, please...

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Attend Pirate Events

Human beings are social creatures. We always feel the need to seek out like-minded people to share in our interests and pirates are no exception. Luckily in these days of social innovation it is all too easy to find people all over the world who also feel the roving spirit of the sea marauders.

Nowadays there are countless opportunities all over the country for us to get together.

Locally there are pirate-themed parties often put on by clubs, businesses and other social organizations. These often coincide with a holiday or special occasion or even the premiere of the latest pirate movie. I have seen pirates in parades, at hospitals, across the bar and even delivering pizza!

More specially-arranged pirate events include events put on by Live Action Role Play groups, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and reenactment groups focused on the Atlantic world and especially pirates. There are also renaissance fairs all over the world which encourage people to dress up and drink, shop, dance and even compete with others in a living daydream on the border between business and play.

Lastly, there are a number of special pirate parties set up especially for us contemporary buccaneers. These can be anything from a night at the docks to a week-long bacchanalia of earthly delights sanctioned by a sponsoring organization. While yours truly has sadly not made it to any of these, I have been told by many trustworthy sources that these parties are not to be missed by those who can make it to them. They tend to be held along coastline in such festive cities as Los Angeles, Key West or New Orleans.

At this point I would like to give a shout-out to a few of today's best sources of modern pirate information.

The first is Bilgemunky, a gentleman much like myself but with much more experience in the practice of modern piracy. He reviews rums, books, movies, clothing and much more and attends pirate events all over the country. He gives insight into the world of pirate reenactors and the fun they can have on his website. While I have never met Bilge face-to-face, we have kept an email correspondence for the past few years. He has given me valuable advice on matters related to our mutual interest, and never left an email unopened. Good man. Good pirate.

Bilge's female counterpart (though infinitely prettier; sorry Bilge!) is Scarlett Harlott, a charming young lady who attends pirate events all over the country playing her favorite character from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Can you guess which one? I'll give you a hint: "We wants the redhead!!" She's pretty, classy, and twelve kinds of sassy! Like Bilge, she can give all sorts of insight into the contemporary pirate world and how to find your place in it!

Learn to Swordfight...Or At Least Pretend To!

Believe it or not, most real pirates were no good at all when it came to fencing. Any serious swordsman will tell you the cutlass, a pirate's favorite blade, was not really made so much for fencing as for hacking away at an opponent within the confines of a ship. To be sure cutlasses can be fenced with, but it is nowhere near the graceful dueling our handsome Hollywood stars make it out to be.

So do not be too sad if you're not a fencing champion as a pirate. More often than not in the practical pirating world a sea rover would prefer to shoot his enemy from ten feet away rather than have to cross blades with him in a close-quarters duel.

If you can learn to swordfight for real, then do it. Jump on the opportunity like a politician on a bag of money! But if you cannot, it's okay. Most pirates were driven more by alcohol and desperation than any discipline when they overtook ships and held their crews to ransom.

Find a Favorite Bottled Beverage

No pirate should ever be without his bottle. But the constant drinking of rum or beer these days is not exactly beneficial for your health. Of course, it wasn't then either but with an average life expectancy of about 50 I don't know that it mattered!

To remedy this problem, I simply direct you to the fact that pretty much every drink in existence can be found in bottle form or poured into a bottle of some kind. If you want, you can fill a glass bottle with iced tea or swagger across the deck clutching a Smart Water! All that matters is that the contemporary pirate has his or her bottle!

Visit Pirate Locations

If you want to live like a pirate, doesn't it only make sense that you make an effort to walk the same paths they did? Think of it as a pillaging pilgrimage. There are pirate destinations everywhere thanks to the fact that the pirates went just about everywhere during the Golden Age of Piracy. From New England to Africa, China to Panama the pirates left their mark everywhere.

Personally I have been lucky enough to visit the Outer Banks where Blackbeard fought his epic last battle and Jamaica where Henry Morgan once ruled as pirate king with the protection of the English monarchy.

Eat Pirate-ish Cuisine

Now, if you've been reading the pirate books and watching pirate movies then by now you realize the pirate diet was not exactly balanced. Ship's biscuit, salt pork and grog do not a marathon runner make if you know what I am saying. Therefore I recommend eating a few things that aren't exactly typical pirate fare but a bit more exotic. For example:

  • BBQ pork ribs
  • Jerk chicken
  • Seafood bisque
  • Pineapple
  • Fruit punch (actually was common on pirate ships)
  • Fish
  • Shrimp
  • Mussels
  • Crab
  • ...noticing a pattern?

Never Stop Hunting For Treasure!

Now this brings us to our thirteenth and most important tenet of modern piracy: Never stop looking for treasure.

When the old pirates sailed the seven seas, they lived every moment of their lives seeking that one thing they required to improve their lives and be happy. For some of them this meant rum and women. For others it meant a chance to build a life in the new world with their blood money. For others still it was just about the freedom of the sea, the spirit of exploration.

This is something all contemporary pirates should take to heart. Whatever it is that makes you feel right in your heart, never stop hunting for it. Whether it is the freedom of travel, the bliss of love, the peace of security or the fulfillment of involvement, never stop in your pursuit of your heart's greatest desire. This is what matters most for the modern buccaneer. Never stop hunting for treasure.

Whatever your treasure is, never stop until you find it!

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