Yo-Ho, Yo-Ho, a Pirate's Life for Me

By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 6, 2008

"There are three words you must learn, mateys, if ye be wanting to be a real pirate. We don't say 'hello'; we say 'ahoy!' Instead of saying 'yes,' we say 'aye!' And most important, you've got to have a good 'Arrrgghhh!' " yells Pirate Sinker, a.k.a. Erin Hendershot, 18, of Point Pleasant, N.J. Twenty little voices heartily oblige with an ear-splitting "Arrrgghhh!," and we're off to a rollicking start.

Pirate Adventures on the Chesapeake, an interactive pirate cruise in Annapolis for children ages 2 to 10, makes for an unforgettable family outing.

The adventure begins with staff members transforming children into authentic-looking sea dogs with painted mustaches, mermaid tattoos and other swashbuckling regalia. Then a pirate indoctrinates the kids in pirate customs and escorts them onto the Sea Gypsy for an hour-long cruise. Accompanied by parents, the children search for and decipher a treasure map, find buried treasure, drink grog and practice their pirate revelry with jigs or limbo dances.

The highlight of the expedition is a battle with legendary "bad guy" Pirate Pete (another young staff member in a motorboat); children are encouraged to pummel the villain with water from the ship's cannon-style squirt guns. The dastardly dude is forced into the water by the triumphant squirters, bicorn hat, sword and all.

Claudia Oscar, 5, of Columbia was a second-time passenger and, like a good pirate, focused on the booty. "I liked getting all the treasure, especially the toys, the little animals, the jewels, the beautiful emeralds," she said.

The company is owned and operated by Emily Tomasini (known as Captain Ruby), 33, and her husband, Michael (Captain Crabby), 34, both of Annapolis. Emily, who grew up sailing and working on boats, has a teaching degree. "After college I was working summers in Cape Cod on a similar pirate adventure cruise, and there it was," she said. "All my talents, combined in one imaginative venture. I love the kids' pure excitement, and I can't think of a better classroom."

The Tomasinis employ a crew of young people who get into their pirate roles with complete abandon. Amanda Coale, 18, of Arnold is in her fifth summer as a sailor on the Sea Gypsy. "When you get home from a day of four trips on the boat with the kids, the lingo does linger," says the James Madison University student. "I have been known to call my friends 'mateys.' "

Crew members take turns as the water cannon target and develop their own individual pirate yarns, making each expedition unique.

The children respond immediately to their effervescent pirate leaders, allowing parents to enjoy the cruise themselves, usually with their digital cameras aimed straight at their happy buccaneers. Navy Cmdr. Thane Gillman, 42, and wife Mary, 38, of Annapolis boarded the Sea Gypsy (which can accommodate 45 passengers) for the first time with their daughters, Elizabeth, 7, and Catherine, 5. Though they have traveled the world with the Navy, Mary Gillman said: "It's nice to be out on the harbor in our town with the other boats, cruising on a pretty day. I work at the Naval Academy . . . so I'm taking pictures of the view of the school. The girls are having fun; it's just a perfect outing for the whole family."

Emily Tomasini says: "Every group we take out is entranced by the adventure; no kid can resist. Even the most jaded 9-year-old boys start really believing they are pirates searching for treasure. By the end, the crew has them caught up in a dance party. It's all about the kids, making sure they are engaged."

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake 311 Third St., Annapolis Hours: Sails daily, mid-April through Labor Day (after Labor Day, weekends only through October) at 9:30, 11, 12:30, 2, 3:30 and 5. Arrive 30 minutes before departure. Contact:410-263-0002. http://www.chesapeakepirates.com. Cost:$18, children younger than 3 $10. Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake 311 Third St., Annapolis Hours: Sails daily, mid-April through Labor Day (after Labor Day, weekends only through October) at 9:30, 11, 12:30, 2, 3:30 and 5. Arrive 30 minutes before departure. Contact:410-263-0002. http://www.chesapeakepirates.com. Cost:$18, children younger than 3 $10.


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