Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Pirate Birthday Adventure -- You're never too old.

Last weekend my nephew turned 22.  He loves pirates and his wife, who was making him an excellent pirate outfit for his present wanted to have a pirate surprise party.  She wanted to have a scavenger hunt type thing and so my incredibly talented friends and family pulled together to pull off an amazing pirate adventure.

Here's the letter that started it all off, written by yours truly:

Unto My Most Adventurous Nephew,

From A Most Eccentric and Unknown Uncle Who Has Watched Your Ways

Concerning A Coming of Age, A Rite of Passage, and A Quest In Need of Finishing

I have little time left to me on this spinning ball of mud and I will waste little of it explaining myself. I am kin to you, but you were never told of me. I am kept locked away now by the wasting of body and mind. We will never meet, you and I, yet I believe that you are the one to finish the quest that I have devoted my life to. They called my meticulous work MAD, but you will prove them wrong! At least I think you're the one. But wait; I'm getting ahead of myself. First, let me give you some background.

An age ago when pirates sailed did Jose Gaspar take up the “sweet trade”. He took many rich prizes along the Gulf Coast, raiding shipping and settlements alike. His brig, La Florablanca, was known and feared by all. In his later years, Gaspar began to hoard his treasure, wanting not to split it with the crew. Finally though when La Florablanca rode so low in the water that the gunports could no be opened for fear of sinking the brig, the crew handed Gaspar the “black spot” and demanded a split of the booty.

Gaspar did not stay a pirate captain into his 60's by being a fool. So he put into Tampa Bay near the mouth of the Hillsborough River at the dying of day. The order was to disembark all crew and treasure into the boats. They'd count and split the treasure onshore; the plan was to sail away again at dawn. Unfortunately, there was so much treasure to be loaded and moved ashore that the process took all night. Before the split could happen, a ship could be seen entering Tampa Bay by the morning light. Gaspar eyed her through his spyglass and saw she flew the colors of Britain. She seemed low in the water, as well as poorly-handled by a too-small crew. All the signs of merchantman come to trade at the small nearby settlement.

Gaspar put it to his crew – “Look there what comes our way, hombres – a fat English merchant. Who wants to make this pile even bigger!” The crew took little convincing. They knew the now empty La Florablanca would quickly catch and dispatch this merchant. They were blinded by greed and that was their undoing.

As many now know, that fat British merchantman was no merchantman at all. It was all a rouse and when La Florablanca pulled into range, the ship cut down the British ensign and flew the Stars and Stripes. At the same time, 57 cannons unleashed Hell upon the deck of La Floriblanca. Captain Gaspar watched from the quarterdeck as the grapeshot from the U.S.S. Enterprise decimated his crew 8 times over. The fight was over before the first boarding hook let fly from the American war ship.

What happened next is the stuff of legend. Gaspar ran from the quarterdeck to the fo’c’sle. He wrapped himself in the anchor chain of his beloved Floriblanca and screamed at the top of his lungs:

Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy's

Still brandishing his cutlass over his head, he then leaped into the foam and was never seen again. Those few men that survived the U.S.S. Enterprise's attack upon La Floriblanca were rounded up and taken to New Orleans. There they were tried as pirates and hung within the tide marks, as naval law demands.

Yet, we need to go back to that beach. Once the crew decided to attack the “British merchantman”, they had another vote to select 8 men to stay behind and guard the treasure. For the most part, the men chosen were ones that the crew, as a whole, trusted. Now it just so happens that 2 of those men were long time friends of Gaspar, having come with him originally from Spain: Juan Lorenzo ne Roja de Seville, ship's surgeon and Diego Salazar de Cadiz, ship's cook.

Once the fight began and the fate of La Florablanca so quickly sealed, these 8 desperadoes took what treasure each could carry and made their good their escapes before full dawn could betray them on the beach. Diego and Juan Lorenzo were the last to leave. They loaded a longboat full of the remaining treasure and rowed as hard as they could, as long as they could, up the Hillsborough River. Nearly exhausted, but still fearing capture, the men slept hidden under their boat for the rest of the day. That night they buried the treasure under the waning quarter moon. They made a map with directions on the back to the treasure what they had buried and then made their way back into the small settlement of Tampa. Before going their separate ways, they made a pact not to betray the other. To enforce the pact they decided to tear the map into pieces and put said pieces into a hat. Both men then chose an equal number of pieces at random and they went their separate ways. Juan Lorenzo, the surgeon, was your great, great, great, great grandfather on your mother's side. I am in possession of his half of the pieces. I have spent years researching journals, making contacts, and searching for the remaining pieces of the map. With these clues and contacts, perhaps you will be able to succeed where I never was and you will find the lost treasure of Lorenzo and Salazar. Again though, I get ahead of myself.

In addition to this letter, I have sent an exam on the “sweet trade” to validate you as a Master of Piratical Arts, which you will be required to pass before you take possession of the first bit of contact information. In the event that I am sadly mistaken and you are unable to score a passing grade on this Master exam, do not be concerned. I have made all of the necessary arrangements with my proctor.

Happy Birthday Nephew and where-ever your voyages take you may the weather always be fair, the wind always be strong, the sun always be warm, and the rum always close to hand with the luck of the Irish rovers forever in your soul.

Get dressed now and go see the proctor.

Afterwards, he was given a test of knowledge and then he had to make his way around town finding clues to lead him to pieces of the map.  There were 6 stops in all.  During his adventure, he had to find and dig up 2 treasures, solve a pirate puzzle, follow a compass, drink rum, climb a tree, sword fight an enemy pirate, and sail a boat upriver to the "hidden spring".  There were people to help out at every stop to keep up the theme. Great fun was had by all.

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