Culture Guides

Here be Pirates: A Guide to Buccaneering in the 21st Century

All over the world, hordes of red-eye Deppendents are cramming themselves into cinemas to catch the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s not only hormonal tweens reduced to screaming, weeping bundles of urges by the site of Johnny Depp in makeup, nor is it only single white men who are finding Penelope Cruz’s piratess character fulfilling dark, swashbuckling fantasies they didn’t even know they had. The whole world has gone stark, buccaneering mad.

Is this really what the pirating life is all about though? Jack Sparrow walks the walk and yarghs the yargh, but he also comes with the backing of the Disney Empire and an entourage of makeup artists and stylists. A far cry from Blackbeard jamming burning cannon fuses into his hat. This is not to say that Road Junky hates Johnny Depp – such a declaration would be social media suicide – but the theme park pirates of today do seem to be a far cry from the bawdy buccaneers of yore.

The problem is that everyone is hung up on the image. It’s all about gold teeth and frilly shirts, when what piracy should really be about is boozing, whoring, brawling and burying treasures with only vaguely labelled maps to record where the booty be.

This does not, however, mean you should abandon all hope. Piracy is alive and well in the 21st century. You just have to know where to look.

Sail Somalia

Yearning for daring boarding manouvers, braces of pistols, fabulous booty and high-speed, high-seas chases? Then sail Somalia! Sure they’ve changed cutlasses and peglegs for AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades, but these days Somalia is making headlines as the pirating capital of the world. Returning to Sharia Law in Mogadishu doesn’t have quite the same ring as whoring away your spoils in Port Royal though, and for this reason Somali pirates will probably never seem quite as glamorous as their Caribbean predecessors. Still, there are plenty of parallels: just as the original pirates of the Caribbean eventually found themselves pursued by most of the (legitimate) navies of the world, Somali pirates are now finding themselves facing off against an unlikely coalition of world powers; the US, China, Russia, and purportedly even shit-stirring Iran have assembled a mighty anti-piracy armada.

Join a Political Party

In the wake of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution many new political parties have formed. It’s a time of freedom for some, and of the same tired shit for others. The newly formed Pirate Party of Tunisia, though, is bringing a more swashbuckling approach to politics. Tunisia has a proud pirate legacy; it was from Tunis and other ports that corsairs terrorised the Mediterranean, taking thousands of captives. Admittedly this new political party’s stated purposes have little to do with pillage, booty or wenches, but they do speak a lot about freedom, which pirates are all about (their own freedom, not that of the slaves). More importantly, their symbol is a black flag flying over Tunisia’s flag, and pirates are definitely all about well-chosen flag motifs.

Raid a Caribbean Fortress

Even without the film franchise, when most of us think of Pirates, we’re really thinking of the Caribbean. This is the sea that made the likes of Francis Drake, Henry Morgan and Blackbeard famous. Today the long curve of the Spanish Main is still studded with the fortresses that once guarded the wealth of Spanish America. Cities like Portobelo and Cartagena de Indias were the scenes of some of the most famous raids in pirate history (all over the old British Empire you can still find places named after the English raid on Portobelo). Today they’ve lost some of their swagger; in place of mule trains laden with silver you’ll find package tourists visiting UNESCO heritage sites. These tourists, though, represent equally rich-pickings for the daring buccaneer. Most of the time they don’t even realise they’re being robbed blind by pirates masquerading as tour agencies and authentic souvenir stores. Why not take things back to the golden days though? Start with a bottle of local rum, buy yourself a big hat, set it on fire, hoist the Jolly Roger, and launch a daring boarding action of the tour bus.

Squander your doubloons in Vegas

If one place in the world still holds true to the spirit of piracy, it is Las Vegas. While Disney has sanitised the world of piracy, Vegas has been going in the other direction and taking piracy back to its crass, exploitative roots. Every night the Sirens of TI perform their free, parental-guidance-recommended (“Mummy what’s happening?” ” Well that’s a wench and that nice man wants to have his way with her”) show. The sirens seduce, the pirates dance and swing from the rigging and fall in the water. It’s kind of like a wet t-shirt contest but with feathers and cannons. If the spirit of Port Royal lives on anywhere in the world, it’s right here, where no matter how many galleons you’ve ransacked, you can still wake up confused, penniless and pantsless in the stocks.

For a limited time only the father of modern piracy, Cap’n Bill Cosby, will also be at TI. What more could a buccaneer want?

So run up the colours and load the cannons. The pirating life is alive and well; it’s a merry life and a short one.

Cue the theme music

Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson is an editor at Road Junky and more of his work can be read atHe keeps a his blog. You can also enjoy his bountiful wit via Twitter.