In the early morning hours in August, there was a strange current in the air about the sleepy seaport town of Beaufort, N.C. It’s always a place where a seafaring soul can venture ashore without fear of standing out, yet there seemed an unusual number of earrings, eye patches, and bandanas adorning those making their way down the streets.
Beaufort was in the throes of a Pirate Invasion.
In the midst of the madness, I fetched up alongside Captain Horatio Sinbad of the Meka II and requested that he submit to an interrogation regarding his piratical activities.
“Maybe squeeze ye in fer a gam,” he growled.
For decades, Capt. Sinbad and his crew — Lieutenant Terry Brown and Black Bart, the parrot — have terrorized the ports and waterways of the eastern seaboard, but it all began in a backyard in Detroit, Mich. That’s where Sinbad built the Meka II, a 54-foot, 18-ton brigantine, to the dismay of his neighbors, as he describes in his book, Boat Building in Your Own Backyard, Or How to Lose Friends and Provoke Others.
The project was the realization of a childhood dream.
“Well, some people want to fly airplanes, some want to be engineers or doctors,” Sinbad explained. “I thought this would be an interesting life. At the age of eight in 1950, I saw Walt Disney’s “Treasure Island,” and that kind of sent me over. Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver … I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Most boys are like that. Mine stuck, though. My mother says, ‘He just never went beyond that!’”
And so the Meka II was built, launched in 1976, and sailed for a few years on the Great Lakes before Sinbad, yearning for open waters and warmer climes, took his ship to sea. He worked up and down the coast before discovering Beaufort, N.C.
“When I first came here, I just fell in love with Beaufort,” Sinbad said. “It’s 30 years behind the times. People take a lot of time to talk to you, they’re very friendly, and very helpful. And so this is the place to be. Plus they let me fire my cannons! They enjoy it. They invite me to participate in the Pirate Invasion. So I stayed.”
At this point Sinbad was drawn off to parley with a crowd of insistent young autograph-seekers. “Captain Sinbad, at your disservice!” he cried.
The Meka II sets sail from Beaufort to participate in re-enactments, maritime history festivals, and tall ship festivals from Nova Scotia to the Caribbean.
“The farthest east I’ve been is Bermuda,” he said. “I’ve been to the Virgin Islands, to Cuba twice, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and as far west as Mobile, Alabama.”
As Sinbad described the compromised life aboard a wooden pirate ship, he was boarded by a band of rough-looking characters claiming to be safety inspectors. The Meka II carries eight cannons, the largest firing 4-ounce charges of black powder. The powder is carried in a locked wooden box sheathed in copper to prevent the ship from becoming a casualty of its own weaponry. After inspecting the magazine and viewing the inside of each gun with a video scope, the safety crew was satisfied that the ship was ready for the next day’s sea battle.
Since Sinbad and his vessel evoke the spirit of piracy in the 17th century, and he sails in the same waters once haunted by one of the world’s most notorious pirates, it seemed only fitting to query the captain about his thoughts on Blackbeard.
“I would like to just sit down and get the true facts from him, and disprove this horrible history that I believe we’ve been forced to read out of books,” said Sinbad. “I just can’t believe that Blackbeard had 14 wives, and some of the Hollywood stuff. There’s too much evidence that he was a regular citizen of North Carolina, from Bath. I want the real scoop. There’s no proof that he killed anybody. Now that’s a smart pirate.”
Artifacts from the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, are being preserved and studied in a project spearheaded by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, but his treasure trove has never been found. Sinbad is still searching for his own pirate treasure as well.
“I haven’t quite gotten the treasure yet, but I’m hoping,” he said. “I get lots of invitations to go places. From the Great Lakes to Key West, they all want me to come. It takes a lot of money to move this boat around. Insurance is horrendous for a boat this old that’s wood … AND carrying gunpowder. They offer glory. I’ve had the glory — I want the doubloons. But the treasure is the boat and the lifestyle. A lot of people don’t understand that. This is something you can’t buy. You have to create it, physically and mentally.”
The Meka II set sail in September for Columbia, N.C. followed by Ocracoke in October. After that, wherever the winds carry her…