Once upon a time there was a pirate — Pirate Pete he was called. Actually, his surname was Potter, so that would be Pirate Pete Potter, but he never used his full name because … well, pirates don’t.
Pirate Pete was an awfully nice chap and would have given pirates a good name if he hadn’t been the exception that proved the rule. What his gentle nature did do was make the running of his vessel — the Perilous Pinnace, which is a type of ship (you can look it up) — a tricky task. The crew took advantage of him something rotten, you see, so that when it came to duties on board — like splicing the main-brace, hoisting the yardarm and swabbing the deck, boaty stuff like that — the crew would just scoff at his orders.
So why didn’t the crew just throw him overboard, or make him walk the plank (preferably the latter for extra fun)? Well, because the ship actually belonged to Pirate Pete. He’d inherited it from his father, the renowned and much-feared Terrible Terrence (Pirate Terry to you). Pete had been the product of an illicit relationship (read “abduction”) between his father and his mother, a Tahitian princess called Yoofa Gon Toofah Distaim.
Pete had been brought up in the ways of piracy but proved a poor learner. All he wanted to do was draw seagulls and portraits of the crew, and Terry soon realised that he’d sired a limp, lily-livered, land-lubbing loser.
One day, though, in a skirmish with a couple of French warships near the Strait of Gibraltar, Terry was crushed by a cask of rum that hadn’t been lashed properly. Funnily enough, a physician had once warned him that drink would kill him, and so it turned out. The nippy Perilous Pinnace managed to outrun the lumbering warships and escaped their clutches, but Terry was dead.
Seeing her as bad luck, the crew decided as one (except of course Pete, who rather liked his mother) that Yoofa Gon Toofah Distaim must go, and so they made her walk the plank (for extra fun). Her last words as she sank beneath the waves — gracefully, as befitted a princess — were her own name, repeated over and over.
The crew were divided about Pete, however. Terrible Terrence had treated them … well, terribly … and so the natural move would have been to take it out on his offspring. But Pete had been kind to many, helping to treat their scurvy sores, giving them extra biscuits when his father wasn’t looking, etc.
An intense discussion ensued, a very civilised affair as it turned out. The winners were democracy and Pete, who was voted in as the new Cap’n.
The first job Pete did was to re-design the ship’s flag, keeping the bones but giving the skull what was a much wider smile. “I want it to be really jolly, Roger,” he told the cabin boy. He also changed the background from black to bright pink, “to make it even jollier,” and to confuse the crew of ships that they had their eye on.
But as I said, Pete was really too nice a chap to be a pirate captain, and the crew basically did what they wanted. Of course, corporate piracy — stealing from everyone and giving to yourselves — cannot function properly without organised management and malleable workers, so the ship’s fortunes soon plunged and the crew began to get uppity. Pete could see his position reflected in the name of the ship, and bad dreams of planks and cutlasses poking him in the back haunted him on a nightly basis.
Then one day, a stroke of good fortune for a change: Pete was doing some spring-cleaning of his cabin — yes, even pirates have to dust — when he came across a hessian sack that he’d never seen before. In it were some baubles belonging to his mother and a portrait of her, drawn by his truly. But there was also a map, on parchment.
It was a treasure map and there was no mistaking it for three very good reasons: i) Pete had seen treasure maps before, and they looked exactly like this; ii) what other kind of map would you find hidden on a pirate ship?; and iii) next to a large red cross, possibly made in blood, there was the word “TRESURE.” (Let’s not get into the quality of education in the 17th century, though.)
Pete called the crew together and they of course ignored him. He told the first mate, whose nickname was “Mate” — not so creative, these pirates — what he’d found and Mate called the crew together. He had more success; within minutes they were all assembled on deck, and a more bedraggled bunch of skinny, scurvy sea-dogs you could not imagine. Or maybe you could. Anyway …
… they were in a terrible state and were easily convinced by Pete’s persuasive prose to take the map on face value and sail to the other end of the earth, being careful of course not to drop off the edge once they got there.
To cut a long story short, on an island not a million leagues away from Yoofa Gon Toofah Distaim’s home, Pete, Mate, Roger and most of the rest of the crew stood on a hill and regarded the surroundings. There below, in a turquoise bay with white waves breaking on the equally white shore, bobbed the Perilous Pinnace, with a few members of the crew left behind to guard her against possible native attack. On all the other sides of the lushly vegetated island was sea, sea and more sea, as far as the eye could … er … see.
Pete held up the map, compared it to the spot where they stood — next to a cleft palm tree — and took ten paces north. He bade three members of the crew to dig, and for a change they did his bidding, motivated by the proximity of untold — because I haven’t told you yet — riches.
Soon enough, spades struck wood and the crew hauled out a large chest made of oak — or some such wood, who’s to say?
The men scrambled to open it but Mate, having learned to respect Pete over the preceding months of voyage, dragged them off it.
“Let it be the Cap’n!” he growled, stepping aside himself.
Pete thanked him and went to open the chest, but it had a rusty lock and, well, Pete wasn’t too handy with that sort of thing.
“Er … Mate … could you please?”
Mate strode forward, brandishing his cutlass, and struck the lock a hefty blow. It smashed into smithereens, one of which flew up and took Pete’s eye out. From that day forth he would have to cover the hole that was left, but it made for a catchy new name: Pete-the-Patch.
Anyway, now I can tell you that the chest did indeed contain riches — you know, gold goblets, ruby necklaces, doubloons, that kind of thing. And in the previously established spirit of equitability, the booty was distributed fairly between all the members of the crew.
Who shouted “Hurrah!” and sang a frankly rather painful version of “For he’s a jolly good cap’n.”
And never, ever again failed to respect their leader: the good Pirate Pete-the-Patch Potter.