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Pirates: not so cute anymore

It was inevitable I think: having kids who live on a boat must automatically mean that pirate gear comes along too. Truthfully, the simple fact that we have girls means that our pirate paraphernalia is fairly limited. But I’ve been surprised a number of times at the bounty of pink pirate adornments out there. And of course whenever I come across a rose-colored skull-and-bones it comes home with me each and every time. There’s just something adorable, slightly sassy, about a 2-year-old in a pink pirate bib, no?

“Mom, what’s a pirate?” Leah asked me one day after we had just finished reading one of our favorite pirate tales.

That one was a toughie, actually. Do I go with the Wikipedia definition, that “piracy is a war-like act committed by private parties (not affiliated with any government) that engage in acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea?” Or do I go with the version more preferred by children, that pirates bury their treasure chests on deserted islands or hide it in drippy caves, leaving mysterious maps behind for treasure-hunters to decipher?

Not wanting to add to the nightmares of my 5-year-old’s extremely active imagination, I went with the fully G-rated version. Nothing wrong with a little pirate fun, right? It’s everywhere, after all. We have pirate books (friendly ones, of course), socks, bibs, cat collars. We even have a copy of Dora’s Pirate Adventure on board.

My girls are perfectly happy with Jolly Old Pirates. Myself, however, hasn’t always been so sure. I mean, I think I know where Leah gets her active imagination from. I can’t help but picture David Shannon’s sneering cartoon pirates doing what they really do: attacking ships, killing the crew and taking the spoils. I welcomed our friendly childhood pirates onboard, but with my conscience a little irritated, wondering if it’s right to make such terrible criminals, well, cute.

And then the worst real-life thing happened: two weeks ago Real Pirates took four Americans hostage on their yacht off Somalia, hoping for the millions in ransom those in the West are naturally willing to pay for the return of their families and friends. When Navy forces tried to rescue the hostages, all four Americans were killed by the ruthless thugs. Even worse, not a week later, Pirates took a Danish cruising family hostage, including their three teenaged children.


I cannot stop thinking of these children, the terror they must be feeling at this very moment is unfathomable to me. Held captive by brutal thugs who will not think twice about shooting them and their parents dead if it means avoiding their own capture. Or if the payment doesn’t come.

It’s made me think long and hard about adorning my own precious children with the symbols of piracy.

Pirates are not the stuff of cutesy fairy tales. They are not swashbuckling heroes, only out to steal the fair maiden’s heart. Pirates still exist, they are real and they are terrifying, murderous criminals.

They are walking our plank, for good.


  1. Well put. Yeah, it was easy to soften and mythologize the pirates of centuries past, to imagine them as only adding the Disney-like color to an era that passed. But today, as the globe shrinks, we are confronted with broken societies raising kids in a Lord of the Flies culture, and the inevitable result. Do we wish for an opportunity to break that association between today’s pirates and our treasured mythology? Or is it best to be reminded as we are? To note: Former columnist Melanie Neale wrote about this very topic and perspective in Cruising World a couple years ago.
    s/v Del Viento

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Michael! I remember that Melanie Neale column well; at the time I kind of scoffed at it, thinking to myself that she needed to lighten up. I guess it hits closer to home now with these most recent events. I do enjoy the mythology, it just reminds me too much of the real thing now. Thank goodness our girls are more into My Little Ponies!

  2. shipwright says:

    Don’t stres. It’s simple.

    Childhood is a time for fantasy. You’re a little princess, pirates ae cool and Santa will be here at Chistmas time. The termultuous years of teenagehood are that difficult transition from the fantasy world of childhood to the reality of adulthood. Reasonable adults would not have sailed through pirate infested waters.

    1. It is easy to second guess the decision of the Adams’, I do so myself. But to characterize it as unreasonable may be oversimplifying and, indeed, how reasonable is the cruising life to start? Latitude 38’s Richard Spindler wrote the following recently:

      “Some folks have criticized the Adams for even trying to make the passage from Mumbai, India, to Oman and then the Red Sea, and even more so for leaving what might be perceived as the relative safety of the Blue Water Rally fleet. To give some context to the first contention, we’re reprinting the evaluation of risks from Randy Repass who, just days before, made the same passage with two friends on his Wylie 65 Convergence. Repass is, of course, the founder and chairman of West Marine Products. His report was to — and still will — appear in the March 1 issue.”

      To read the entire post:


      Michael Robertson, s/v Del Viento

  3. Thanks Sara, this is a thoughtful and well wrote expression…

  4. Tim R. Jones says:

    We live in a society that wants to cutsie-tootieize everything… turn every subset of humanity and also dangerous animals into some sort of lovable cartoon character. In fairness to our children, you as a parent need to be honest with them about what piracy exactly is and how piracy has been romanticized over the centuries.