It was the last week in June, 2003, that pirates sailed into the Caribbean, led by what may be the strangest pirate that ever lived. Captain Jack Sparrow. Not even Blackbeard could have guessed that Johnny Depp, in Disney’s swashbuckling film, Curse of the Black Pearl would plunder the hearts and wallets of pirate fans around the globe for years to come.
What most people don’t realize is that when Johnny Depp began to portray his character as a saucy, almost effeminate pirate, several of the executives bristled. Depp won out, and Disney was buried under an avalanche of cash. They didn’t complain much about that. Grossing over $654 million, Curse of the Black Pearl went on to become the most successful film of the year.
Other films in the series include Dead Man’s Chest (2006) which earned $1.1 billion. At the World’s End (2007) earned $960 million, On Stranger Tides (2011) over a billion dollars, and Deadmen Tell No Tales in 2017 plundered nearly $800 million. Not a bad take for a bunch of hapless, unwashed pirates.
Depp never won an Academy Award for Curse of the Black Pearl. He never won an Academy Award for the other five Pirates of the Caribbean either. In fact, of all the movies he’s appeared in, and that includes: Sweeney Todd (2007), Charlie and the
Chocolate Factory (2005), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Sleepy Hollow (1999), he’s never once won the coveted award. Is he that bad of an actor or do the people who vote on such things actually live with their heads up their astral?
Pirates never get old. Each generation must face the possibility of encountering some very real ones out on the high seas. Yet, as the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted from around 1700 to 1720, fades into history’s rearview mirror, the appeal of pirates has never been stronger. Within a span of 14 years, Disney has sensed this, and continues to pillage the box office around the globe for the foreseeable future.
There are a few things that might surprise you about pirates. In fact, there are a few things that might surprise you about Johnny Depp. For example, did you know that he carries his pirate costume around with him so he can visit sick kids in the hospital? He’s not going to intimidate too many people with that kind of attitude. In fact, after playing the role of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, he found out the horse he rode was going to be put down so he adopted it. Softie!
Johnny Depp has been close friends with Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones for years. Depp used him as an inspiration for his portrayal of Jack Sparrow.
Anyone who’s seen Sweeney Todd is probably aware of what an excellent singer Depp is, but don’t ask him to dance anytime soon. It’s one of his biggest fears.
When God made Johnny Depp, he threw away the mold. As a man of contradictions, he isn’t easy to explain away as the executives in Hollywood know only too well. When he was cast as Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, not many people knew he was allergic to chocolate as a kid. While he was filming the first Pirates of the Caribbean, he fell in love with an island he came across in the Caribbean. He was so enamored by it that he bought it for $3.6 million. My brother-in-law would be proud of him. Everything there runs on solar power.
If you think Captain Jack Sparrow is a strange character, you’ll be more than amused at the real-life character of Depp. He has 30 tattoos on his body. In fact, he once said: “My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” I don’t know if any of those tattoos are of saucy wenches or skull and crossbones, but he is known to have tattooed Winona Forever on his body. When he and Winona Ryder broke up, he had it altered to Wino Forever, a nod to his wine-keeping hobby.
You can’t say Johnny Depp hasn’t immersed himself in the persona of a pirate over the years. He was once accused of having trashed the room of a five-star hotel in New York City, something he flatly denies. To this day he swears an armadillo did it after jumping out of a closet. When questioned by police where it went, he pointed to the window. “Jumped out!” he exclaimed.
All the films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series serve up a lot of fun even if they are a little lean on historical accuracy. For example, did you know that most pirates never made anyone walk the plank. If they got around to disliking you, they simply threw you overboard.
Then, of course, there’s the Flying Dutchman. The historical account is actually simpler than what the movies portray. A Dutchman trying to round the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa kept being pushed backwards by ferocious winds and mountainous waves. Exasperated, he swore to the devil that if he would let him through, he would sell him his soul. Since then any sailor who sees the Flying Dutchman is doomed to die prematurely.
As for the depravity and slovenly dress of pirates, the crew of the Black Pearl got it right. The more unkempt and dirty pirates were, the happier they seemed to be though Jack Sparrow dressed more closely to real-life pirate Jack Rackham who sported fancy clothes. As for pirates’ finances, I’m afraid my financial planner would starve if he were around pirates of the Golden Age. When in port, most spent every last doubloon on wine, women, and debauchery. Of course, there were exceptions. Buccaneer, Henry Morgan, whom all that rum has been named after, saved a generous portion of his booty and bought several plantations in the Caribbean.
When the next Pirates of the Caribbean comes out, I wonder where the adventure will take us. It doesn’t matter much. When Johnny Depp transforms himself into Captain Jack Sparrow, and his mascara is barely dry, we’ll be running for our lives trying to keep up with him. See you then. I’ll be the one in the movie seat behind you, swinging my cutlass wildly and curdling your blood with the fiercest scream I can muster. “Aarrggh!”
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A rather strange burial took place at sea over four hundred years ago. On January 29, 1596, A group of English sailors committed the body of Sir Francis Drake to the deep in a remote corner of the world. At his own request, he was buried in the armor he received when knighted by Queen Elizabeth. To this day, archeologists and divers have been unable to locate his remains and his sleep continues undisturbed somewhere off the coast of Portobello, Panama.
Drake is a fascinating figure who has captured the imagination of everyone from paupers to queens. For those who loved him, he possessed no flaws. For the Spanish of his time, he was known as El Dragon, a devil to be captured and beheaded.
Drake first sailed with the Hawkins family, relatives with whom he demonstrated an exceptional ability to fight, navigate, and lead. But one battle in the Caribbean changed John Hawkins’ opinion of his cousin. In the confusion of battle, they got separated, and Drake sailed away. Hawkins later claimed Drake abandoned him out of cowardice. Reports from eyewitnesses and Drake’s own reputation for bravery seem to discount this claim. Nevertheless, Hawkins cherished a particular animosity for Drake the rest of his life.
As a sailor, soldier, and strategist, Drake was unparalleled. Hired to bring back as much gold as possible from the Spanish Main, he adapted fighting and raiding techniques to the situation much like Special Forces teams today. One of his targets were mule trains loaded with gold and silver headed to Nombre de Dios. The town was buried in a remote jungle far from his plundering ships, but his men adapted to the trek through snake and mosquito infested forests.
Though his initial efforts were unsuccessful, Drake would not be deterred. A chance meeting at sea with French pirate Guillaume le Testu was the stroke of luck he needed. Testu shared with Drake a hatred of Spain and a love for gold. With another raid by Drake farthest from their mind, the Spaniards were unprepared when privateer and pirate struck.
Drake carried off so much gold and silver, his men had to bury part of the booty. This no doubt help to popularize the belief that pirates buried their treasure. Unfortunately, le Testu was captured by the Spanish and beheaded, and the buried treasure reclaimed by the Spanish. Continue reading →
It’s been a busy month for pirates… at least those rascally bucaneers who pillaged and plundered the Caribbean three hundred years ago.
Disney was right to name their amusement attraction and film series by the name Pirates of the Caribbean. Both helped capture the essence of what has made pirates attractive over the centuries though some people I talk to are shocked when I point out Jack Sparrow was just a fictional character.
Books and films have propagated some of the common myths we cherish about pirates like burying treasure every chance they got or entertaining themselves endlessly by making their victims walk the plank.
The fact is pirates were too busy donating their money to impoverished innkeepers in exchange for a little rum to find time to bury it. Why they were even known to assist lonely women down on their luck and their backs in return for a couple of life’s simple pleasures. Their generosity left them broke.
As for walking the plank, it’s difficult but not impossible to find references to this diabolic deed. You can read more about it in me upcoming book Uncommon Mariners. Let it suffice to say, once pirates captured a ship, like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, they set straight to work, searching for all that hidden gold.
Disney would have you believe as would Homer Pyle the painter of pirates that those who didn’t cough up their belongings were forced to walk the plank while a crew of gnarly, smelly pirates chortled and snarled “Aarrrgh.” Sometimes spelled aarrrrgh or arrr, the accent being on the last three letters. The truth is, if murderous pirates were sufficiently annoyed with you or their underwear was too tight that day, they simply threw you overboard.
A lot of people including a number of historians over the years put Blackbeard in this category, but that’s only because they came to believe the Hollywood hype and Blackbeard’s own press releases. Of course, Blackbeard didn’t actually issue press releases. He didn’t have to. His physical demeanor gave the aura of being the nastiest, meanest, most ornery, ferocious pirate in the Caribbean. One look at his snarly beard bedecked with burning fuses struck more fear in a shipload of sailors than a hundred press releases.
The reason I’m telling you this is because December the 10 has slipped into oblivion again this year, the date Stede Bonnet, was hanged in Charleston in 1718. Bonnet was a gentleman pirate and one of Blackbeard’s consorts, but It would be stretching the truth to call him his friend.
Bonnet became a pirate for the most unlikely of reasons. He was tired of his wife’s nagging. If you had to pick him out of a lineup of ten pirates, you’d be wrong nine times. He looked more like a Wall Street type than a thick-bearded ruffian ready to cut your heart out.
Still the fact remains he was a pirate. Strangely enough, he had to buy his ship not steal it, and he didn’t even understand how the whole pirate thing worked: First, you pillage, then you plunder, drink some rum, then pay the crew. Pirates called it: “No prey, no pay!”
Stede’s first mistake was paying his crew before they even left port. Actually, his first mistake was becoming a pirate.
After being resoundly beaten in one of his earlier encounters, he limped into the pirate base of Nassau where it was love at first sight. Not what you’re thinking I guarantee you. Blackbeard was on the dock, and when he laid his eyes on Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, he knew he had to have it.
The amusing thing is Blackbeard through wit and coercion had Stede Bonnet join his fleet with the gentleman pirate pretty much a hostage on his own ship. “You read yer books in yer fancy library,” he no doubt told Stede, “and I’ll find ye a fine sailing captain to manage the dirty work. Arrrrgh!” I’m not sure Bonnet was ever aware Blackbeard had relieved him of his ship.
A lot of adventures passed under the ship’s keel before Blackbeard and Bonnet parted ways, but you can be sure it wasn’t over until the master of intimidation said it was over.
Bonnet didn’t last long after that. The luckless pirate was caught by mistake off North Carolina when pirate hunters were searching for someone else. He was brought to Charleston, South Carolina where more than a few common folk threatened to riot when he and his men were scheduled to be hanged.
Many of these locals were ex pirates from Nassau and smugglers who made more money than an inside trader on Wall Street. But the thriving days of piracy in the Caribbean were on the wane, and Stede Bonnet’s days were numbered.
Stede Bonnet may not have cut the colorful swath in history Blackbeard did, but you deserve to know that despite the myths, he was Blackbeard’s peer and should be respected for that.
As for this well-educated man with a refined background turning to a life of crime, I have to ask you. What would it take for you to live your pirate dreams?
See you out there on the high seas of life. Arrrgh!
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Ever wonder if pirates in the Caribbean bothered to take time out from their busy schedule of pillaging, plundering, and wenching to celebrate Christmas?
It was no doubt the perfect time for pirates to return to the Caribbean after a year of plundering from Charleston to Boston. Once cold weather set in, it was the custom of some to head for warmer waters.
Blackbeard is a good example. Except it seems he made two fatal mistakes. One, he partied it up in North Carolina in November instead of heading to the warm waters of the Caribbean where Reggae bands, fancy rum drinks, and hot wenches waited. His second mistake was that he aggravated the living hell out of Governor Spotswood of Virginia so much so that the governor sent Captain Maynard in search of him and put an end to his fiendish ways.
Maynard didn’t have to look too far. Maynard met up with Blackbeard just before Thanksgiving in Oracoke, North Carolina. After a delicate game of cat and mouse, the curtain descended on Blackbeard with a dramatic flourish. Had he sought out a warmer clime, Blackbeard might have lived to see Christmas and another New Year.
One of the benefits of taking a few days to celebrate Christmas was the opportunity to clean your ship. We’re not talking about the excellent job housekeepers at resorts from South Carolina’s Grand Strand to Key West perform. Wooden ships are infamous for being on the menu of the toredo worm. A family of these hungry creatures can turn the hull of any wooden ship into Swiss cheese, rye bread and pastrami not needed.
The only way to combat them is to take the ship out of the water and scrape the barnacles and worms down to the hull. The process is called careening. Considering their size and bulk, putting ships in dry dock wasn’t an option, but the endless array of sandy beaches and shallow water bays in the Caribbean made that unnecessary.
Careening involved leaning the ship on its side, doing the necessary scraping, then leaning it on its other side and repeating the process. And all this while hoping the rum didn’t kick in too much with your crew and that pirate hunters would not discover you.
I admit it may sound like more work than fun, but how much fun is it for Santa to work his buns off making toys, doing recon work spying on boys and girls- and that’s not to mention the naughty wenches he’s got to keep an eye on. Well, okay, that part might bring a smile to his face, but how much fun is it to ride all over the world in one night, and then for a reward be stuck in your long johns the rest of the winter?
…..First, pirates depend heavily on a hideout. This could be a port or country where either no one cares about their presence or is unable to do much about it. Strongholds of the Caribbean pirates were scattered throughout the islands: Port Royal, Tortuga, and Nassau. Far from Spain and England, these pirates wreaked havoc at will then returned to their refuge.
Until recently, Somalian pirates had been quite successful. With no country in close proximity to their home base, they merely had to blatantly sail home with their booty. Times have changed for Somalian pirates; like England and France years ago, the countries affected have brought pressure upon them and the attacks have dropped dramatically; but the price is vigilance.
…..Second, pirates thrive on a hot bed of commercial shipping. You can’t be a bank robber if you aren’t near banks. You can’t be a sailor if you aren’t willing to go to where there’s water. Caribbean pirates thrived on the Spanish Main and any other shipping lane offering the promise of wealth. Ships passing through the islands became easy prey for treasure, ships, human cargo, and other booty.
Modern pirates in the Indian Ocean, off the West Coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia all have their own targets. Some are even brazen enough to attack ships anchored in port. Oil and other precious cargo have become the new booty.
…..Third, pirates take every advantage of the hit and run. It wasn’t baseball players, but pirates who perfected this technique 300 years ago. With craft smaller and faster than their prey, their strength lay in surprise and speed. We often think those pirates loved massive ships loaded with cannons, but the truth is many pirates preferred small craft that were unobtrusive and fast. Take the prey by surprise, get in, get out, disappear. Today’s pirates with their modern boats and sophisticated technology have reinvented this technique.