To Err is Human, but to Arrr is Pirate

June, 2014

Recently I had the good fortune of arriving at the port of Cape Vincent coincidentally with a tall ship, Leona’s Ransom, flying the Jolly Roger. I was invited aboard, the three pirates being of the Nova Scotia sort and quite friendly.


After having a look around, I took a few photos and then chatted with the young crew.  In their early twenties, none showed any signs of scurvy, one was female, and one wore a black eye patch – which (if he actually needed it) was more likely the result of an encounter with a hockey stick than a cutlass. These were cute and well-dressed pirates.

I experience a type of what Oliver Sacks calls musicophilia, which means that I very often have music playing in my brain.  It can be any kind of music and is usually a song that I like, or rather, part of a song that I like, repeating to the point of being annoying.  It doesn’t take much to strike up the band:  my eyes saw the ship, my brain said, “Hey, let’s sing something from Pirates of Penzance!”  I was instantly in Gilbert & Sullivan mode, hearing the full musical stage production version.

When Frederic was a little lad he proved so brave and daring,
His father thought he’d ‘prentice him to some career seafaring.
I was, alas! his nurserymaid, and so it fell to my lot
To take and bind the promising boy apprentice to a pilot
A life not bad for a hardy lad, though surely not a high lot,
Though I’m a nurse, you might do worse than make your boy a pilot.

“Are you familiar with The Pirates of Penzance?” I asked the pirates.  They had never heard of it!!!  And that is how I came to sing When Frederic Was a Little Lad on board Leona’s Ransom.

I was a stupid nurserymaid, on breakers always steering,
And I did not catch the word aright, through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions, which within my brain did gyrate,
I took and bound this promising boy apprentice to a pirate.
A sad mistake it was to make and doom him to a vile lot.
I bound him to a pirate you instead of to a pilot.

At that point, the pirates made me walk the plant, but luckily it wasn’t far to shore and I lived to tell the tale.   As I dripped away, I heard one of them exclaim, “Drink up me hearties, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me!”  No matter how sweet they might seem, apparently pirates will have no truck with sopranos.

“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.”  ~ Mark Twain,  Life on the Mississippi
“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”  ~ Unknown
“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”  ~ Steve Jobs


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