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A Pirate’s Life for You

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I recently picked up a copy of Keith Richards’ memoir Life, a book brimming with debauched tales drenched in the unmistakable verisimilitude of truth—or at least as much truth as a man who spent a good chunk of his life on a bender of biblical proportions can recall. (Seriously, there’s only one substance on Earth he won’t put in his body.1) Richards is a roué to the core and a chum to royals and junkies alike. He is a fascinating guy who by his own estimation, sleeps so rarely that he has already been conscious for the equivalent of three normal lifetimes—and he doesn’t look a day younger. He’s so fascinating in fact, that for many he has come to represent the apotheosis of the unfettered Id—doggedly chasing pleasure for its own sake and sidestepping assured death at every turn. It’s no wonder then that Johnny Depp famously based his punch-drunk-yet-oddly-dashing character in Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow, on Richards.

What surely occurred to Depp is that pirates have always hit a raw romantic nerve—borderless cultural touchstones since the days of Caesar. 2) Like Richards, a pirate is a symbol of freedom at the bleeding edge. Freedom from unwanted obligations. Freedom from bosses and neighbors and in-laws. Freedom from taxes (though death would still be very much present). Freedom from gasbag pundits on TV shouting about what’s wrong with the world. And, most importantly, freedom from what’s really wrong with the world. Because make no mistake about it, we live in troubled times. The economy’s (still) in the tank, we’re entrenched in two different land wars in Asia, and KFC’s Double Down sandwich is being touted as a low-carb alternative for lunch. Seems like a good time to hop on a boat and chart a course to ports unknown. And hey, if you want to quench your own Id with some plundering, pillaging, and a good old-fashioned swashbuckle or two—the world’s your oyster. (For those of you fretting over the moral implications of international outlawdom, just Google the articles of conduct set forth by the pirate Bart Roberts for his sloop the Fortune—it will soothe your delicate sensibilities.3)

The bottom line, at least for Jack Sparrow and his fictional cohorts, is that being a pirate is pretty much the best: Do what you want, when you want, and always keep a nip of rum at the ready. Not a bad code to live by—in someone’s imagination. But the fact of the matter is, in today’s world, that code’ll earn you a rap sheet, a cirrhotic liver, and a handful of angry ex-wives.

Concordantly, in real life, pirates suffered from exotic infections. They maimed each other at the drop of a tricornered hat. And while walking the plank may sound quaint, Blackbeard himself would tell you a pirate death meant a pirate hunter was sent to find you, cut off your head, and sail back to port with it dangling from his bowsprit.

Personally, I’d rather pay my taxes.

So where does that leave us? Uncompromised freedom is a pipe dream. But that doesn’t mean we’re not among the chosen few. Boaters are better suited than any other group to grab a small piece of the fictional pirate ideal for themselves. Because at the end of the day, we can get in our boats, cast off our lines, and set out for the high seas with all the adventure and autonomy that that endeavor entails. Just don’t get carried away with your newly appreciated sense of independence, lest ye end up off some other ship’s bowsprit.