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Captain Pete vs the Pirate
It Didn't Happen Like This
Those of you that know me are already familiar with my life on the water and with some of the truly unique characters that I have had the pleasure of meeting. From the Seal Captain of Morro Bay to the Sea Gypsy of Southern California I have enjoyed the company of many an interesting personality as I roam the waters but few can match Captain Pete. A more colorful figure I dare say you will never meet. What follows is just a brief account of some of my dealings with him.
It Was More Like This
King of the Ocean
Tall, wolf-lean with rakish good looks, a devilishly handsome , pencil-thin mustache and a charming way with the ladies, that was Pete, captain of the vessel Seahorse. The physical embodiment of everything one imagined when they heard the phrase 'sea rover.' It's not an exaggeration to say that, if Errol Flynn had leapt right off the screen of The Sea Hawk, he would have paled in comparison as he stood beside this rogue of the seven seas, this sea god among men.
Stabbed in the Back
Even More Interesting Man
An experienced captain who had braved the open ocean on a solo voyage from his home port of San Francisco across the unforgiving waters of the Pacific all the way to the island paradise of Hawaii and back again. Few men were as brave or daring as Captain Pete but every man wanted to be. Idolized and loved by all, he was a man who's inner light shone so bright that it warmed all of those about him. His life was so large and he lived it on such a grand scale that he inspired everyone around him to do bigger things than would otherwise have done.
The tales of his escapades are so epic that they bordered on the ridiculous, rivaling even those of that silver haired Mexican man-god on the Dos Equis commercials, The Most Interesting Man In The World.
Stretching the Truth
Do you know someone who stretches the truth?
Larger Than Life
He had once dined with the legendary John Wayne aboard his yacht the Wild Goose. He grew up shoulder to shoulder with the iconic noir actor Sterling Hayden, brothers in arms as they became a part of the Anchor Out community of boat people living free in San Francisco's Sausalito area.
He slept with the kind of women that most of us wouldn't even dare to allow in our most private dreams, once having had a brief, three day affair with a young actress by the name of Kirstie Alley.
He even sparred with the martial arts master himself, Chuck Norris, and did better than hold his own. Chuck even asked Pete to "not kick so hard"! This man was Indiana Jones, Douglass Fairbanks and James Bond all rolled into one, unbelievable, human being.
I could go on, for some time in fact, but the story I want to tell today is, in my opinion, not only the most exciting but also the one most revealing of Pete's character, it's the tale of Pete versus the Pirate.
One of the most famous historical sailing books of all time.
Pete was a connoisseur and collector of old things, things with a history to them, things that told stories and the pride of his considerable collection was a pair of genuine, old fashioned cutlasses. I never found out how he came to possess them but one of them reputedly belonged to an officer from Captain Cooks own ship the HMS Resolution, an impressive artifact by anyone's standards. But it was the other cutlass that was Pete's pride and joy, a weapon said to have been wielded by the fierce and mighty Blackbeard himself in his final battle aboard his pirate ship Queen Anne's Revenge. What a sword!
So it came to pass one dark night that Captain Pete was anchored out, somewhere in the Delta, a beautiful but lawless place on nights like this one. He sat in his cabin working on a piece of wood he was carving into the shape of a mermaid when the pirate appeared in the companionway hatch. A mean looking cur with a scarred face and a pistol gripped in his fist. A pistol pointed dead at Captain Pete's face.
Cool as ice, Pete flashed a sparkling smile at the intruder and said "It's customary to ask permission before boarding another man's boat. Failure to comply with that time honored, maritime tradition usually results in the interloper getting hurt." Unsettled by the captain's calmness the pirate hesitated, unsure of how to proceed. But this wasn't his first boarding and he knew the routine well so he quickly got back on the schedule. "You got money on this tub?" Pete's lips firmed a bit and a little of the natural warmth went out of his eyes "Be careful who's boat your calling a 'tub'. As a guest aboard my ship I'll give you one pass, but just one." Pete's utter lack of concern for the gun ate into the pirate's confidence. "Get everything you've got that's worth anything" he growled and motioned with his pistol. And yet Pete still didn't even seem to notice the gun, instead reaching for his favorite mug and sipping down some coffee while he fixed the buccaneer with a steely eyed glare.
Some men have hearts that are filled with fear. They're easy to recognize because they are usually bullies or loud-mouths or both. The pirate had a heart like that and when he should have been shooting or fleeing he made the mistake of threatening. "I said…" Pete's steaming cup of java landed right on the hand that was holding the pistol. It burned like the devil and the gun clattered to the cabin sole.
Quick as an angry jungle panther Pete was up and coming at the thief who, terrified, fell backwards into the cockpit. With blistering speed Pete snatched Balckbeard's cutlass from the wall and pounced into the cockpit to tower over the fallen pirate. He pushed the point of the sword against the pirate's neck and grinned "Yield?" It was a scene right from the golden age of swashbuckling. Seeing the fear in his foe's eyes Pete showed mercy and took the sword away. "Get off my boat." He turned and stepped back inside but, like most lowlifes, the pirate interpreted compassion for weakness and pulled a knife. He lurched at Captain Pete…
Who easily avoided the clumsy attack and once more pressed the cutlass point to his attacker's jugular. "Really?" The knife followed suit with the gun and hit the floor with a rattle. The captain's grin was like a schoolboy who'd just been given a new motorcycle and been told to 'go wild' with it.
Expecting to be shown all the clemency he himself would show someone he had under his total control, the pirate closed his eyes and silently prayed to a god he didn't really believe in. He was surprised when he felt the cold leather touch his palm. "If we're going to fight," Pete said "Let's do it right." The pirate cracked open an eye to see the Cook sword Pete had shoved into his hand. "En guarde!" The captain bellowed and shoved him backwards. He hesitated a moment to let the pirate regain his feet before charging after him.
Back and forth along the length of the boat they dueled like the sea men of old. Cut-parry-thrust-riposte! Their weapons clanged with the bell like clashing of steel upon glinting steel. Swish-duck-slash! The pirate, to be fair, gave a good account of himself but he was outmatched and out-manned by the gallant Captain Pete who, with one, last, mighty thrust, ran him through, belly to back. The pirate's knees buckled and he collapsed from the pain of his wound. For a third time that night he dropped a weapon to the floor of the Seahorse.
But Pete , although a warrior born, was not intent on killing the man. On the contrary, he had been careful not to hit any vital organs with the thrust of his cutlass. He lifted the pirate and carried him below, gently placing him on the starboard bunk before quickly bandaging his wounds and then covering him with a blanket. Fast as he could Pete heaved anchor and sped for the nearest doctor, determined to save the life of the pirate that had just tried, three times, tried to take his.
Or at least, that's the way that Pete remembers it. But the reality was a whole lot darker that the glowing events just described. What really happened that ugly night was that Captain Pete was drunk and angry. He was often an angry drunk, as a matter of fact. It was the pirate's misfortune to visit the Seahorse that evening. Another point of interest to note is that he wasn't a pirate at all but a young man who had done some work on the Seahorse for ol' captain Pete and he had come calling for his pay. Money that was rightfully owed him.
But drunk and angry Pete refused to pay the guy. A loud argument ensued during which the young worker made a fateful, remark. A thoughtless remark that just shot out of him in the heat of conflict. "Then I'll just put a lien against your boat then until I'm paid" he shouted as he turned to storm out of the cabin. It would cost him dearly. The besotted Pete snatched up an old bayonet he kept hidden on the boat for personal protection and stabbed the poor guy in the back, hitting him right in the spine.
The young worker survived the injury but it would cause him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Captain Pete went to prison for seven years, a result that came, in large part, from Pete's own sister testifying against him at the trial. She said that he had always been unstable and lived in a dream world where he could do no wrong.
I've met a lot of interesting people on the water, most of them good folk that wouldn't harm a soul. But I've also met some dangerous people too, just like you meet on land. The difference is that, when it's just two people on a boat in the middle of nowhere, far from witnesses, with the obvious options to dispose of a body, the situation can get out of hand. Quickly.