All that clunking and banging, that’s not normal,” Dad said.
“Yeah, it sounds like my car when I try to gun it in neutral,” I said. “We’re a little too close to that pier for comfort.”
“If we’re drifting, better we bump into those giant buoys than drift over something that could damage the bottom of the vessel, or worse, drift out to sea, because then a wave could flip us over — being secured somewhere is the best,” Dad said in his comforting, Let’s consider all the worst-case scenarios way. Dad surveyed the dock, which looked abandoned from where we stood. “If we can get close, we could climb up one of those ladders hanging off the side.”
“Look around,” I said in a chiding tone, mostly because I did not like the idea of James Bonding my way from sea to land. “There are some really old, really young, and really out of shape people on this boat. They’re not going to be scrambling up some ladder dangling off the side of a pier.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Dad said, but his eyes were still searching the cruise-ship terminal that was undergoing a makeover.
“I didn’t realize we’d be storming San Diego,” I joked. “This wasn’t part of the original adventure, but I’m down if you are. I’ll make a deal with you — you can have downtown, but I get the East Village. How long do you think it’ll be before the city realizes it’s being taken over by pirates?” We both laughed.
When I’d first learned Pirate Days would be happening down at the Embarcadero, I enlisted the OP (original pirate) to accompany me. I may curse like a sailor, but my dad actually is one, having spent 20-plus years in the Navy.
Witnessing the adorableness that is a gaggle of miniature Captain Jack Sparrows aside, the major draw for me was an excursion on the Treasure Seeker, an 83-foot “pirate ship” that is usually docked at Cabrillo Isle Marina on Harbor Island.
An hour and a half earlier, Dad and I were waiting in line to board the galleon replica when a pretty pirate with yellow hair made her way down the queue, checking boarding passes. She answered the occasional question thrown at her in what I can only describe as a piratey way. I appreciated her natural domminess — forceful without being rude, reserving her pleasant smile for only the littlest of pirates. The way she carried herself commanded attention and respect, as evidenced by the obsequious glances she elicited from even the toughest-looking dudes in line.
After “Miss Fortune” completed her count, the captain, in a voice that sounded like several stones rubbing together, shouted for us to follow him. The crew included three male actors, the lady, and a helmsman (who was likely the “real” captain, as he remained reticent throughout the voyage and wasn’t as awesomely costumed as the rest).
As the ship glided past the Coronado pier, us swashbucklers were instructed to fire the water cannons at the fishing scoundrels. Dad delighted at this bit, while I turned my head to protect my sunglasses from the mist.
There were sword fights (the crew dubbed one kid Miss Ritalin for her over-enthusiastic jabs), there was deck-swabbing (I told my father to burn his phone after he snapped a picture of me with the mop that was forced into my hands), and there was jig-dancing.
It was toward the end of the excursion that things went awry. All us landlubbers had been ordered to scan the surface of the water for signs of a “stolen treasure.” After a few minutes, my father and I stopped watching the water and turned to meet each other’s eye.
“All this wanting us to look out at the water makes me want to turn around and find out what’s going on in the middle of the boat,” I said. “You heard that, right?” Dad nodded. I was referring to what he was about to describe as “clunking and banging.” It seemed the crew was attempting to bring us closer to the “treasure” — a small white buoy bobbing in the distance — but the ship wasn’t responding. Because this wasn’t their usual splashing ground, I wondered if some unknown obstacle had snagged the bottom of the boat. Maybe it was the Kraken.
When the guests grew restless, the crew was quick to improvise: “That treasure might be cursed!” the captain bellowed. A woman with a young boy turned to us and asked what was going on.
“Something’s probably wrong with the motor, as we’re not moving,” I said. As we drew closer to the docks that were towering over the starboard side of the ship, my attention was drawn to the sound of a motorboat approaching portside.
“Cops are here,” I said.
“Harbor Police,” Dad corrected me.
They stopped about 20 feet away; we watched as one officer stretched to retrieve the small buoy. I cackled when it emerged from the water with a treasure chest attached to it. Once they’d hauled in their not-so-ill-gotten gains, the Harbor Police approached the Treasure Seeker. After a quick exchange with one of the pirates (who informed the officers as to where the galleon is usually docked and accepted the water-cops’ offer to dump the treasure there), the police boat made a quick turn and motored away. “They’re making off with our booty!” I shouted for my father’s amusement.
Meanwhile, on the pier, construction workers had begun to gather, bewildered grins on all of their faces. In his gravelly voice, and maintaining a pirate-perfect accent, the captain called out, “Gentlemen! Can we impose upon you to throw us a line to tie us off?” It took a moment for the men to realize he wasn’t kidding, at which point the guys in orange reflective vests and hardhats hustled to help while shaking their heads and smirking.
Without breaking character, the captain thanked us for our patience and explained the situation — trouble with the engine, which most of us (save a few poor, dimwitted souls) had figured out by then. He then asked us to collect our things and make our way to the stern.
After climbing over the stern and being helped onto the pier by no less than four men (two pirates, two construction workers), I asked one of the workers how often they’re set upon by pirate ships. “Not too often” was the unsurprising answer.