The Pirates of Rye

To be a pirate king!

Black Dog McFarland

Evidence of pirate activities has been showing up in escalating amounts along the coast of Rye since late spring of 2007.

First noticed by participants in the 2006 December bird count, pirate paraphernalia such as eye patches, wooden peg legs, metal hooks, and bandannas have lately been found amongst the seaweed and driftwood by dog walkers on the beaches and camera buffs walking the rocks to photograph surf.

Rye pirate crying out, "Shiver me timbers!" (Jim Cerny photo)

According to sources at the town hall, who asked not to be identified, an investigation into pirate activity was actually launched shortly after Labor Day 2007 when an out-of-state tourist taking a pre-dawn walk on Wallis Sands noticed a small boat flying a pirate flag attempting to take advantage of the flood tide by sailing up Parson’s Creek. According to the eye witness, the attempt was thwarted by the presence of the bridge over the creek adjacent to Petey’s Restaurant.

“Blame it on the bad economy!” was the answer that Rye Reflections received when its reporter questioned town officials regarding the credibility of pirate activity in Rye at this time in history.

With all the press coverage of pirates in Somalia plus a lifelong interest in pirate lore, your reporter decided he needed to do more than blame the bad economy. He decided he should do whatever he could to investigate the pirate evidence and try to shed some light on this shady subject.

Donning what I considered to be authentic pirate attire, I spent morning after morning strolling Wallis Sands, hoping against hope to duplicate the experience of the out of state tourist and catch the pirate band during an unguarded moment. Walking the beach with a black eye patch and a bandanna around my forehead attracted considerable attention. More than one golden retriever, a breed notable for their serene temperament, arched its back and showed me its teeth while its owner gave me plenty of room as they passed me on the sand.

My dreams of corralling a pirate were dimming rapidly until one day as I was riding 1A on my bicycle I noticed a strange collection of stuff tossed into the marsh grass to the west of the road. I jumped off my bike and investigated. There were cans of tuna fish, jars of peanut butter, bottles of various hard liquors, six packs of beer, and, amazingly enough, several wallets devoid of cash and credit cards but with miscellaneous membership cards and other personal items still within them.

A piece of eight. (Jim Cerny photo)
At first this stuff made no sense to me. I left everything as I found it, returned to my bicycle and started peddling away. I had gone about a mile towards home when it hit me. I had just had my first encounter with Rye pirate booty.

The next morning I rose early … it was a late June day and the sun was also an early riser, donned my eye patch and bandanna, and made my way to the Rye Harbor area where I slunk deep into the marsh grass and brush to see what would happen. I managed to find a well hidden spot which was high enough above the water table to remain relatively dry and I settled down to watch the harbor.

As the eastern sky began to turn pink from the advancing sun, imagine my excitement to see a small boat … similar to a lobster boat in size but flying a pirate flag, make its way through the granite seawall which protects the harbor from winter storms, and quietly chug its way to the state pier. In a Santa Claus instant four men were off the boat, all carrying plastic bags. Two of them were very tall and thin and dressed in jeans and tank tops, not exactly traditional pirate gear. The others, however, were rather large in stature. The pirate hats they wore made them look even shorter and heavier than they were.

Quickly they made their way out of the harbor entrance and across 1-A where they dumped the contents of the bags into the marsh grass. Next they tore up a few handfuls of that same grass and threw it over the stuff. In only a few seconds they returned to the boat, and it chug, chug chugged its way out to sea.

As soon as they were safely out of sight I jumped up and ran to the spot where they had dumped the contents of the bags. Pulling aside the camouflage which they had so hastily provided, I was stunned to see a fantastic collection of booty.

Jewelry of many descriptions, fine china, expensive looking cameras, there were all kinds of valuables laying there in the salt grass. There was even a fine looking pair of leather shoes. I brushed the salt hay back over the stash and left.

The next morning I returned, determined to make contact with these modern-day pirates. Instead of hiding in the grass I jumped aboard a sail boat that was sitting on blocks apparently awaiting a paint job. I wore my bandanna and eye patch, and for added effect had a gold earring jauntily attached to my left ear.

Sure enough, the same boat pulled up to the pier, and as the crew disembarked I hailed them from my perch in the sailboat. “Ahoy, mateys!” I shouted in my most nautical voice.

Startled, the group turned as one to face me. When they saw my pirate attire, the expression on their faces turned from alarm to curiosity.

“Are you here for the interview?”  one of the tall ones asked. Thinking quickly, I shook my head in assent.

“Wow!” he remarked, mostly to himself. “” really works fast.

They invited me aboard their boat, where I was given a short tour. There was considerable more booty stored throughout the front cabin, under the seats, wherever there was a bit of space.

After the tour the group sat me down in the cabin of the boat and began to question me intensely. “What makes you think you want to be a pirate?” one of the tall ones asked, eyeing me with suspicion.

It was then that I lost my composure. Breaking into violent sobs, I described my secret admiration of pirates and their swashbuckling lives. After that I got into my fascination with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and my participation with my cousin and her husband in singing pirate songs: “Being a pirate is all fun and games til somebody loses an ear. It slips down your neck and falls on the deck til somebody shouts Oye, what this here? You can’t wear your glasses, you can’t woo the lasses, and folks have to shout so you’ll hear. Being a pirate is all fun and games til somebody loses an ear.” I sang the first verse for them, and stopped before I got to the chorus as I noticed their eyes getting a little moist.

“Shiver me timbers!” shouted one of the stouter pirates, “He’s one of us.” The tallest one, who by now I had decided was the boss, gave me an ironic smile. "I hate to burst your bubble" he said, "but being a pirate in this day and time is not like the pirating which you see in movies. For instance, he continued, “we have to worry about OSHA rules. We can only loot and pillage for six hours before we must take a mandatory break. I can’t even remember the last time a pirate lost an ear because we are not allowed to sharpen our cutlasses. In fact, our cutlasses are all made of a soft kind of rubber and wouldn’t even hurt a flea.”

I stared at him in disbelief.

“Not only that,” the other tall one chimed in, “but we also have to satisfy the greens. We can’t dump undesirable booty overboard because we might pollute the ocean, we can’t make anyone walk the plank because today’s planks are coated with an outlawed chemical, and God forbid that we dispose of any waste in a manner inconsistent with good ecology because our poor little boat would be banned from the seas forever.”

One of the short pirates spoke next. “Just on the other side of the road over there sits last night’s booty,” he said. “It’s waiting there until we can pick it up and get it listed on e-bay.”

He noticed the glassy look in my eyes.

“Yep, e-bay. All of our booty gets sold on the internet. It’s the fastest and most efficient way for us to turn our booty into cash.”

By now I was completely deflated. I took off my bandanna, my earring and my eye patch and handed them to the leader. “I’m sorry” I said, “but don’t take your ad off of I am definitely not your guy.”

As I rode my bike home, the words of a Jimmy Buffett song kept running through my head. “Yes I am a pirate. Two hundred years too late. Cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder, I’m an over forty victim of fate.”


In a parallel universe, January, 2009