by Kellie Abrahamson
Thanks in large part to Disney’s hit franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, the public has a particular fascination with the swashbuckling, peg-legged, rum-swilling raiders of the high seas. They’ve become a charming symbol of freedom, despite their historically uncivilized behavior. On the First Coast, there’s no place better to celebrate all things pirates than St. Augustine. There you can learn about their misdeeds at the Pirate & Treasure Museum, enjoy a weekend of pirate fun at the annual St. Augustine Pirate Gathering in November and even stay at the Pirate Haus Inn, a colorful themed hotel. But perhaps the most fun way to experience a true pirate adventure is to climb aboard a ship and become a member of the crew. That’s what Black Raven Adventures is all about.
Since its launch in 2009, the Black Raven has quickly become a favorite with pirate fans young and old. The floating performance theatre can accommodate up to 127 passengers and boasts a full bar, clean restrooms and a crew of colorful characters ready to take you on an unforgettable adventure on the Matanzas Bay.
Black Raven Adventures currently offers three different shows. Their all-ages family program includes music, stories, games and the interactive storyline “Mutiny Trial on Open Sea.” Club 21+ is a bit more free-form and adult-oriented. The cruise still features skits, stories and music, but the language is more “salty” and the tales more bawdy. The ships newest program is Blackbeard’s Treasure Hunt. I recently experienced this exciting expedition with my two pirate-loving kids.
Our adventure began on land, at the Black Raven’s Ship Store, located at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. There we were able to acquire our boarding passes, pick up some refreshments and scope out the store’s impressive selection of pirate-themed wares. We were also given a “Letter of Marque” for each of the children, entitling them to a share of any booty the Black Raven may obtain during our voyage. A few minutes later we stood before the mighty Black Raven, handed over our boarding passes to one of her crew members and climbed aboard.
Once the ship was full of would-be pirates, it was time to set sail. Our captain for the day was the dreadlocked scallywag Jay Bird, who gave us the ships rules (or, as pirates like to think of them, “guidelines”) and launched into a song or two with the help of Rose, one of the Black Raven’s resident wenches. After a couple shanties, Jay Bird informed us that we weren’t the only pirate ship in the area: Blackbeard’s vessel, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, had been spotted in the area and is said to be carrying a treasure chest loaded with booty. Because we were sailing into potentially dangerous waters, each of the children on board would need to become pirates!
Each child was given a foam sword and took turns being trained by Jay Bird and his first mate, Mr. Mac. Once everyone was ready to send Blackbeard to Davy Jones’ Locker, it was time for them to look the part with some pirate-themed face painting. While the kids were swashbuckling and putting on their battle paint, the grown-ups on board were able to enjoy the beautiful views along the Matanzas or indulge in one of the adult libations available at the ship’s bar.
Our leisurely journey soon took a decidedly more exciting turn when the Queen Anne’s Revenge was spotted on the horizon flying an ominous red flag signaling they were ready to fight. It headed right for us and, after circling the Black Raven several times and firing off a cannonball or two, Blackbeard and a member of his crew pulled alongside and prepared to board. It was then that Jay Bird signaled to the pint-sized pirates to draw their swords, effectively frightening Blackbeard into submission. In exchange for his life, and a bottle of rum, Blackbeard handed over a massive treasure chest which was, as promised, stocked to the gills with jewels, coins and miniature chests for each child in possession of a “Letter of Marque.” Flush with victory, the crew of the Black Raven headed for home, singing shanties along the way.
There’s a degree of suspension of disbelief that you need to thoroughly enjoy a journey aboard the Black Raven. Cynics or those looking for high-minded entertainment need not apply. The kids had a blast during our pirate adventure and have been sharing the jokes and songs they learned aboard the ship with whoever will listen. It’s truly been the highlight of our summer.
A Pirate's Life for Me!
by Kellie Abrahamson