Aargh, Mateys! Time To Get Yer Pirate On!

By Elizabeth Bokfi

The  image that springs to mind when most people hear the word pirate is that of the traditional bearded sailor, hook-handed, peg-legged, and eye-patched. Although injuries sustained from cannon fire and sword fights did often result in the ship’s cook amputating a sailor’s infected limb to save his life (using rum as an anesthetic), he most often died from infection after the amputation surgery. Oddly enough, few pirates were actual amputees; yet the Golden Age of Piracy depicting weather-beaten, leather-skinned amputees is still the stuff great seafaring stories are made of. Given this, you’ll still find many a Jack Sparrow if you go hunting in the right places.

Scene from the Valhalla Pirates’ live play. Images by Elizabeth Bokfi.

Never Say Never—Annual Pirate Camp

(Florida, October 11-14)

The Never Say Never Foundation is more than just a foundation that supplies children with running prostheses; it’s also two amputees, Nick Stilwell and Regas Woods, who teamed up to give children with limb differences the opportunity to engage in adaptive sports. Since its inception in 2010, charitable events, sponsors, and private donations have allowed the foundation to provide resources to help children with amputations enjoy life as regular kids. The group has donated 93 running blades so far.

One of the foundation’s most popular events is its annual pirate camp held in Clearwater Beach. The weekend-long event includes certified sailing instruction and other water-themed activities, all sprinkled with a generous dose of pirate. Children start off as swabs, move up to first mate rank, and by the end of the weekend have earned their sea legs, graduating as Never Say Never pirates.

“The pirate camp is funded each year by Never Say Never Foundation’s volunteer board, which fundraises all year to make this camp completely free to the families that get accepted,” explains Stilwell. “All costs on-site are included in the acceptance to camp, and with help from the Giving to Fly Foundation, a Seattle-based charity started [by a] pirate camp mother, year after year lots of [airline] flights are sponsored for the families as well. Giving to Fly has been a huge help, not only with giving flights to families that need assistance, but also in making big donations to help pay for the cost of camp.” In the last two years, camp participation has almost reached maximum capacity, with 50 families attending last year.

Apparently, there’s a manual for everything.

“We encourage the whole family to come for the camp experience,” says Stilwell. “It’s important to interact with other families who might have gone through the same life-changing experiences. There are no fees for pirate camp. We want to make the camps as affordable for the families as possible, so they can afford to take time off work and travel to these very fun, confidence-building camps.”

The deadline for camp applications is August 1, and applications will be available July 1 on the foundation’s website.

Rock Hall Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend

(Maryland, August 10–12)

With plenty of action for the whole family, whether you’re an amputee or not, this event represents pirate mayhem at its best. Rock Hall closes its main street to vehicular traffic, allowing vendors, performers, and artists a chance to display their offerings. Have your camera ready and show yer peg leg or hook—participants are encouraged to arrive dressed “in role,” and many residences and businesses decorate in a pirate theme.

Saturday, the town hosts a harbor flotilla contest and beach party. Dinghies and other small craft compete for “best decorated” and “most spirited and scurviest crew” prizes and trophies. Downtown, stop by the Valhalla Pirates’ camp and catch their live play and cannon fire demonstration.

Children can enjoy crafts, costume contests, treasure hunts, and more—enough to wear them out for the babysitter while mom and dad attend the Buccaneer’s Ball at Waterman’s Crab House. A live band and adult pirate and wench costume contest highlight the evening. For sporty types, there is a Sunday morning 5K benefit run/walk.

Valhalla Pirates’ Captain Black shares the booty with some fans.

Ye Notorious Krewe of the Peg Leg Pirate


“Mooring” in Tampa, this pirate crew offers a handcycle and tricycle award program, scholarships, and event fundraisers for amputees. By partnering with other charities, companies, and healthcare organizations, the Krewe provides a variety of opportunities and financial assistance to amputees in need. The “notorious” pirates host an annual clay shoot to raise money for vehicular hand control adaptations. Since its inception in 2004, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization has awarded 20-30 tricycles and handcycles to amputees to use for physical therapy and mobility. Some of the recipients have also used the cycles to compete in sporting events.

“These cycles are worth anywhere between three [thousand] and five thousand dollars,” says Fran Reiter, secretary and 12-year member of the group. “Shriners sends us the measurements of the recipient, so [the cycle] can be fine-tuned before being presented. It’s so nice these kids can go out and ride—be with their peers.”

Partnering with Adventure Amputee Camp at Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina, the organization sponsored the attendance of up to six children, in addition to providing financial and manpower support to the camp. The camp offers attendees skill-level activities that include rafting, horseback riding, games, and crafts, all of which are geared to foster acceptance and build confidence in their ability to achieve goals, regardless of their amputation. Topped off with a pirate party, the camp’s amputee volunteers are powerful role models to campers, demonstrating that they too are capable of leading productive and successful lives as amputees.

Having a good time “in role” at Pirates and Wenches Fantasy Weekend.

Where’s the Booty?






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