The two-hour adventure begins aboard The Shamrock, a comfortable catamaran that serves as the mother ship of the Wrightsville Water Tours and Taxi Service in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Captain Joe Abbate mans the wheel while the resident pirate, Don Juan Cortez, sits surrounded by the fledgling pirates who are wide-eyed listening to his tales of the sea.
Don Juan prepares his young visitors for a trip to Masonboro Island, which is the largest undisturbed barrier island along the southern part of the N.C. coast.
Without any roads, hotels, lifeguard stands or beaches cluttered with umbrellas or people, visitors can get a sense of what the terrain looked like when pirates sailed the seas. The main rule: Stay on the trails to lessen impact on the vegetation and habitat of the 8.4-mile-long island.
As the catamaran churns her way toward Masonboro, Don Juan transforms his young visitors into "pirates." He ties red ribbons around their foreheads, teaches them pirate lingo (can you say "shiver me timbers, " "ahoy matey" and "arrgh?" If so, just say "aye!"), and shows them how to decipher the map which reveals where treasure is buried on the island.
The Shamrock, sporting a black pirate flag, eases up to the shore and releases the passengers who climb down a ladder and splash through a bit of water to get to the trails.
Don Juan leads the way, map in hand, as the kids follow his direction and scan the dunes and marshes. The only way they'll know they have discovered buried treasure, he tells them, is when they find the "x" marking the spot. But on a remote island, the X may not stand out like one drawn by a permanent marker.
The kids trudge on until shouts of "there it is" echo through the air. They gather around an "x" in the sand. The letter has been formed using pieces of sea grass. Don Juan confirms it is the spot to dig, and the kids collapse to their knees and frantically dig through the sand until they unearth a small treasure chest.
Don Juan carefully opens the chest and hands out the booty: gold coins and colorful beads.
Content with their stash, the kids then follow Don Juan over the sand dunes where they are greeted by the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Waves crash on shore as Don Juan tells the kids to scour the beach. He wants each child to find a shell that has a hole in it for a special surprise on the return trip.
Back on board, Don Juan inspects the shell that each young pirate has found. He then loops twine through the hole and presents them with a necklace to wear as a reminder of their adventure.
But the trip isn't finished yet. Amid songs and funny tales, Don Juan proclaims that they have all passed the test of becoming bonafide pirates -- and to celebrate their entry into the pirate world, he chooses a pirate name for each of them. My daughter giggled as he dubbed her "Jewel." My son became "Hawk." And even my 82-year-old dad who joined the journey rated a name from Don Juan. He called him "Bait."
Contact Captain Joe Abbate at the Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. All trips leave from the Blockade Runner Dock at 275 Waynick Boulevard, Wrightsville Beach, NC 28480.
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