Monday, October 19, 2015

“To Sail with the Heart of a Pyrate”: A Review of Sword of Tortuga, by Sinbad

 (Beaufort, NC: Pirate Privateer Productions, 1994). ISBN: 0-9658878-0-4
by Joey Madia
Four months ago my family and I left the mountains of West Virginia for a new life near the water in the idyllic town of Beaufort, NC, on the so-called Crystal Coast. Without a doubt, Beaufort lives up to its billing as one of the best little towns in America. Its waterfront is packed with quaint shops, excellent restaurants, and an always changing array of sailboats, fishing trawlers, and yachts, and the locals truly do exude the legendary Southern Charm.
Another interesting aspect of Beaufort is how it loves its pirate traditions. Although details are sketchy, it is recorded that Spanish privateers made off with several ships docked in Beaufort Harbor on June 4, 1747. Emboldened by the lack of resistance, they returned on August 26, 1747, taking over the town. They were soon repulsed by a force of militia and never returned. This local triumph is celebrated through an elaborate re-creation each year during a two-day August event called the Beaufort Pirate Invasion. I had the pleasure of dressing up in my pirate gear and joining in the fun this year. It’s a great boon for the town, bringing in more visitors than any other yearly event.
Captain among Beaufort’s many pirate heroes (and the mastermind behind the Invasion) is Horatio Sinbad (his legal name), the author of Sword of Tortuga, who is a commissioned privateer with an official letter of marque signed by a North Carolina governor and President Ronald Reagan. His history is as colorful and adventurous as his name. In the mid 1960s, while an engineer at General Motors, he built a 54-foot, 18-ton brigantine named the Meka II in his backyard in Detroit, Michigan (the story of which is told in his DVD, Boat Building in Your own Backyard or How to Lose Friends and Provoke Others) after having spent time as a sailor in the West Indies when he was sixteen (where he got the nickname Sinbad) and having built the Meka II’s predecessor (which sank in a storm).
Although he’s logged some 60,000 miles on the open seas, from various points all along the East Coast, and in Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands, winning races along the way and participating in countless tall ship and marine reenactment events, for the past 40 years Sinbad has called Beaufort home. A father of four, he’s made his living as a draftsman, boat builder, restaurant owner, charter boat captain, commercial boat operator, sailing school operator, re-enactor, and pirate merchant.
I share all of this biographical information at the onset because, in order to truly appreciate Sword of Tortuga, you have to know something about the author, who took on a new name in reality and then projected and modified his experiences and personality onto a book character named James Cambridge, a has-been film star who played an Errol Flynn/Douglas Fairbanks–like character in the 1950s named Dirk LaRoche. LaRoche’s ship (which James now lives on) is the Black Swan, but her description is a lot like that of the Meka II.
My favorite thing about Sword of Tortuga is the fact that it makes for a wonderful introduction to the history, landscape, and atmosphere of Beaufort. Sinbad’s four decades of getting to know the people really comes through in the descriptions of the places and local population that hold together the narrative, which is a rousing tale of financial sector corruption, intense greed, considerable wealth, and the immorality and bullying they produce.
In other words, as should any rousing tale of pirates, it makes you ask the question: Just who are the good guys and the bad guys—the ones who are up front about their outlaw ways and bucking of the system, or those who mis-use and manipulate the system at the expense of innocents to fulfill their nefarious aims (think Housing Bubble/2008 financial “collapse”)?
Sinbad’s knowledge of sailing vessels and pirate lingo give authenticity to the story, breathing into life an array of colorful characters that play on popular story archetypes, but with their own particular flair. Besides our hero James/Dirk, there is his beautiful niece Julie, caught between her own escape fantasies and the harsh realities of her ultra-rich family and abusive boyfriend; Caleb, the barely-keeping-afloat disabled Veteran and tugboat captain who just might get the girl AND some larger redemption; and the “Big Bad”: John Kensington, a sort of JR Ewing meets Charles Widmore from Lost. His ostentatious yacht has one or two analogs docked at Taylor’s Creek in the real-life Beaufort at any given time.
Also worthy of note is the device that Sinbad employs to give us a full taste of the swashbuckling, pirate-lingo world that the characters in Sword of Tortuga (and so many of the modern-day denizens of Beaufort) are compelled to emulate—Julie is reading the novelization of Dirk’s biggest film early on in the book. This is another case of art imitating life: There IS a film version of Sword of Tortuga—a labor of love years in the making (not unlike the Meka II) that is currently in post-production.
Pirates are as popular as ever—Black Sails and the upcoming fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean attest to that—and Sword of Tortuga and the town of Beaufort, NC clue us into some of the better reasons why.

For information on ordering the book, and more information about the film, Horatio Sinbad, and the Meka II, visit: or on Amazon

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