Pirates rule on these Chesapeake cruises

  • By Andrea Sachs and John Deiner / The Washington Post
  • Saturday, June 9, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

With Johnny Depp back in theaters, you may want to get in touch with your inner Blackbeard. Here’s a look at two Maryland day cruises and how they compare.


Real pirates don’t cry … unless they need a nap.

Yet the sandman has little chance against Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake, a 75-minute high-action-on-the-low-seas journey. The mini-buccaneers (ages 3 to 10, ideally) are so engaged from start to finish, there’s no time for tiny eyes to leak.

“We want them to feel like they went on an adventure,” said Emily “Ruby” Tomasini, who owns the operation with her husband, Michael “Crabby” Tomasini, “and to walk away thinking they’re a pirate.”

For the rare child who doesn’t already think he’s a pirate, the company provides the necessary props: scofflaw name (Angry Alex, Insane Ishmael), gold hoop earring, Vegas-style vest, painted body art of a mustache (curly, straight or mean), scar, skull and crossbones, etc.

On Saturday, on the second of six trips that day, Vince “Rudder” Thompson was the fearless leader, braving 13 rambunctious kids and a few stage parents. Rudder called a group huddle to explain their mission: There was a treasure out there in the Severn River, and come heck or high water, they were going to find it.

Aboard the 34-foot Sea Gypsy IV, a kid-proofed Maine lobster boat, the children were assigned a number of tasks: Locate the treasure map, find the X, track down the keys to the chest. Uh-oh, Pirate Pete had stolen them. What to do? “Start shooting him,” suggested Windmaker Will, hopping around the deck. “Start throwing fireballs.”

Water-shooting cannons would have to suffice. Manning the water guns, the kids sprayed the hapless pirate and his associate until they fell out of their dinghy and relinquished the keys.

When the treasure was found and hauled up, Rudder instructed the kids to defy the Golden Rule of Parenting: Don’t share. Grab the goods and stuff your pockets. The treasure chest was brimming with gold coins, colorful plastic fish and sparkly toy gems.

On the return trip to shore, Rudder announced one last activity: Pretend to be asleep, then surprise Ruby when she came forward. However, as any parent knows, a child’s lowered head can activate tear ducts. “Mommy,” whispered Creepy Cody, 5.

Yet Cody didn’t have time to cry. In seconds, he was jumping up and yelling “Arrr!” like a true pirate.

Andrea Sachs

They fire guns! They quell mutinies! They bury treasure! They do parties!

Yes, for a price, Pirates for Sail, a band of scalawags who consider a tricorn a must accessory, will entertain your podmates at the next office shindig. But if you want to see them on the high seas, or at least in the placid confines of the Inner Harbor, you can hop on the Clipper City, a 158-foot schooner that also hosts brunches, reggae parties and happy hours.

“This ship is a beauty,” said Tim “Last Mate” Michau, dripping with sweat Saturday as he stood in his pirate duds. “But sometimes I wish we’d commandeer that vessel.” Nearby, an air-conditioned sightseeing boat bobbed at a pier, a dozen tourists peering over the top deck.

Once the ship was under way, however, the oppressive air was replaced by a stiff breeze and some bawdy repartee. The ship can hold about 140 guests; about half that number boarded last weekend, with adults outnumbering children. After starting the cruise with shots fired from the bow, a swaggering septet launched into two hours of buccaneer shtick.

You either dig adults dressed like Errol Flynn singing ditties, sipping who-knows-what from tankards and saying “ye” and “ahoy” a lot … or you don’t. If you’re in the latter group, the Clipper City has a raised aft deck to escape the spirited mayhem (except when the perpetrators are on smoke breaks, that is). Most of the action is on the main deck, mercifully protected from the sun by a canopy.

The younger sailors were asked (prodded, actually) to join the troupe, and much of the entertainment was geared toward them. It culminated in a treasure hunt that yielded “bags of plunder” containing trinkets such as plastic compasses. Still, the subject of the songs and banter frequently shifted toward more adult-oriented fare, with booze being a particular favorite. (Some kids, for instance, clapped happily along to one tune extolling the virtues of alcohol and tobacco.)

Hey, whaddya expect? They’re pirates.

By the time the ship reached Fort McHenry, the pirates had gleefully lost control of the ship to the eye-patched kids, who were racing around half-blind with plastic swords raised. Moms and dads seemed pleasantly lubricated from the cash bar and its $4 Coronas.

The Clipper City’s return to port called for more gunfire, with the pirates bemoaning the fact that they once had a cannon to shoot.

So what happened? Seems it was stolen.

John Deiner

Pirates ahoy

Feel an “Arr” inside that needs to get out? Options include:

Annapolis: The 75-minute Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake sails six times daily from Annapolis, Md. Tickets are $18 for ages 3 and older, $10 for kids younger than 3. Info: 410-263-0002, www.chesapeakepirates.com.

What You See: The U.S. Naval Academy, the Annapolis waterfront and Severn River.

Arrr Factor: Pervasive.

Bottom Line: Take the wee ones, but leave the tweeners at home.

Baltimore: The two-hour Pirates for Sail cruises are held on the Clipper City on Tuesdays (6 p.m.) and Saturdays (2 p.m.). Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children. Info: 410-539-6277, www.clippercity.com or www.piratesforsail.com.

What You See: Inner Harbor and Fort McHenry, sans narration.

Arrr Factor: Easy to avoid.

Bottom Line: Even if you hate pirates, it’s a pleasant way to get out on the water.

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