No, I was no Mary Read or Anne Bonny, two eighteenth-century women who disguised themselves as men in order to serve on a pirate ship.
(But seriously, how cool were they? For several years they plundered and stole with the best of them...although of course they were publicly tried as pirates--and for defying conventions for women).
But in the 90s, I did pull a short stint aboard the Golden Hinde, the museum replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship that circumnavigated the globe, currently dry-docked in the Thames, near London Bridge.
(In fact, once when I was taking my 'tea break' outside the nearby ruins of Winchester palace, a tourist offered me half a sandwich. Yup, she thought I was homeless.)
Despite being a certified landlubber, I learned about ratlines, scurvy, gun drills and barber surgery (so gross, but so cool), swabbing the deck (much less cool) and a little tiny bit of nautical stuff, like turning the capstan, moving the yardarm, and of course some random pirate ditties. I was even hoisted once along the yardarm by the master rigger, a nauseating experience that gave me nightmares for some time.
I got to talk about weevils, "powder monkeys" (the boys who carried gun powder would sway with the listing ship, looking like monkeys) , and the origins of such phrases as "loose canons" (cannons had to be secured on gun deck), "batten down the hatches" (that one's literal still, right?), and "freeze the balls of a brass monkey." (The last not so naughty as you might think).
The best part? We all had to take turns on ship watch, sleeping in Francis Drake's own captain's cabin, while St. Paul's Cathedral gleamed across the Thames. Easily one of the most gorgeous views in London.
(The crew and I also spent a lot of time playing sardines among the barrels, and 'tippling down the hatch' but that's entirely another story.)
For me, it was a bit of a lark, something wonderful to support me while I worked in London's archives. And Bankside--where the Golden Hinde and Shakespeare's Globe are located--came to feature prominently in Monster at the Gate.
I always wondered, though, what it would have been like to have been a real pirate--to have run away from home; to have shunned tradition, convention and stereotypes.
Although maybe a few days living among rats, weevils, sickness, and 70 other unwashed bodies might have cured me of that romantic impulse. (Not to mention I think I'm a bit adverse to violence and plundering). But what do you think? Could it have been the pirate life for you?