On the Lighter Side


Way back, when God was still a kid going to Sunday School,

Long before neckties, Social Security and Income Taxes, a breed of real men  inhabited this island and roamed
the seas around it. They deserve to be remembered.

The blue-noses called ‘em pirates, freebooters, buccaneers - and worse, if puritanical inhibitions allowed stronger language. And the pirates were all their detractors said they were; and more!

For love of high adventure, a rough living, and the sheer hell of its, men like Barbarossa, Morgan and Lafitte took to the sea in frail wooden ships, manned by roughneck crews who were ready to challenge anything afloat -- so long as there was a chance of finding a cargo worth enough to make a fight worthwhile.

In spite of the yarns you've heard, piracy was never a high-paying profession -- except for a very few. Plumbers and barbers and taxicab drivers have always been able to make a lot more money than the pirates did, as averages go. But there was always the glorious possibility that the boarding party would find chests of gold and caskets of jewels; even though they rarely did.

A much better chance existed that, in trying to get up and over an unfriendly gun’ale, a cutlass or a club would split your skull. The occupational hazards were so many and so deadly that following the "Jolly Roger" was always a young man's game. If for no other reason than that so few lasted long enough to qualify as middle-aged.

But, what a life while it lasted! A pleasant interval of sail-mending, hull-caulking and consorting with friendly native girls would suddenly be ended by the "sail-ho!" cry of the lookout on his lofty perch. As the espied galleon drew nearer, permitting confirmation of it’s flag and type, water casks were filled, weapons made battle-ready, and the normal enthusiasm for the chase was fanned into flame by expansive, noisy conjecture about the riches that might be aboard the prize; and the size of the personal shares in the loot - if such imaginings proved to be true.

At the strategic moment, a dozen of the cutthroats would lean back on the oars in a   longboat and tow the sleek corsair out of its hidden mooring in the mangroves, through a cut in the reef and into the open sea. With shouts and revelry punctuating their labors, sails were hoisted skyward, where they popped full, then billowed and strained before the ever-present tradewind.

Now the greyhound of the sea was alive and running ‘with a bone in her teeth’ – and set on the proper course to intercept her quarry.

Try as she might, a heavily-laden galleon was no match for the speed and maneuverability of the smaller challenger. As the contestants draw closer together, blood boils with the promise of the fight impending -- and the hope for untold riches.

The distance between the hunter and the hunted narrows to a few fathoms, then a few feet. Grappling hooks are thrown and secured, binding the gunwales together. A rush of screaming pirates swarm up the side of the larger craft, fighting their way aboard her - and paying with their lives if they fail to gain their objective. Swords, knives, clubs and knuckles are all used in turn, as the antagonists surge together in mortal combat.

But the clean-living, well-paid merchant seamen were seldom a match for their unwashed, rum-swilling, wench-chasing, dissolute, money-hungry adversaries. As quickly as it began, the battle is over. Now begins a foc’sle to stern-trunk search of the prize. Whatever of value that is found is transferred to the raider ship; as the pirate captain sits on a biscuit box directing the operation and enjoying a bottle of rum from his unwilling host's stores.

When nothing else of interest or value remains to detain them, the  order comes for the pirates to return to their own ship. It is a crucial moment since, depending on the quality of cooperation the vanquished Captain showed in his defeat, the galleon may be released without further harm -- or she may be fired as an object-lesson for other galleon captains who might, in the future, feel inhospitably inclined toward a raider.

The grappling hooks are disengaged, sails again climb the tall masts and catch the wind with an eagerness that seems to match the gusto of her crew. The corsair falls off a bit, then taking the wind a-beam she heels over and bounds across the swells -- headed back to her hidden cove in the lush, green island. Hoots and catcalls of the gloating pirates serve as a boisterous farewell to the now looted and empty merchant galleon.

 Bad business, you say?

 Maybe. Maybe not.

Piracy bothered little with the powder-puff niceties of so-called proper business conduct, but pirates also avoided the cheap chicanery and shallow posturing that are hallmarks of the modern marketplace. Be sure of one thing, a man who had what it took to put a knife between his teeth and storm the side of a hostile ship was certainly also too much of a man to make short-change, or learn how to tell the "commercial lie".

So here's a toast to our infamous predecessors on this "Incredible Island,"

Whatever else they were, by God, they were men! And no matter whether their ancient bones are mingled with the sand along the shore, or contained in a shallow grave well above the tide line, their ghosts are always welcome here at SPYGLASS HILL.

So come! Raise your glass to the pirates, and hope that we may each contain at least a small ration of the same courage and fortitude that made them -- in their time -- scourges of the sea, and the envy of lesser men -- across the full face of the earth.


Lorenzo Dee Belveal, Author
Copyright © 1997 Lorenzo Dee Belveal
All Rights Reserved

Guadalajara, Jalisco, MEXICO