It’s America’s oldest city and with over four hundred years of ongoing history, it no longer comes as a surprise to residents of St. Augustine, Florida if they belly-up to the local bar beside a pirate or two, or run headlong into a crew of the local cockade-and-bandana sporting types while on a stroll of St. George Street.
From Tom Sawyer to the swashbuckling adventures of Errol Flynn (download Capt. Blood for Free!!) and Technicolor Johnny Depp, the jaunty and seemingly carefree lifestyle continues to capture the public imagination as thousands garb-out on weekends for pirate-style reenactments, gatherings and costume events. But what’s it like to live “pirate” daily in the modern world? The owner and crew of the Black Raven Pirate Ship think you might like to know.
In fact, the pirate cruise ship’s owner, Gunnar Hedqwist, acclaimed film producer Skoti Collins and award winning director Michael Feifer - with a combined resume of over 100 TV, Film and Documentary titles under their belts - are convinced a reality TV show revolving around the daily drama of “living as a pirate” and running a tourist-themed business in the oldest city in America could have appeal to both national and international audiences.
“Great television and exciting entertainment doesn’t just happen, it is well thought out with a plan of action and the motivation to take an idea and make it a reality. Talent, vision, desire, and passion is what makes this industry thrive. What we have brewing is all the necessary ingredients to make a successful television show come to life,” said Collins.
So what’s it like to live “pirate” daily in America’s oldest city?
From a knot of gawking tourists, a small boy gasps, wide-eyed with admiration as the tallest, prettiest pirate with the Depp-dreads passes within feet, cutlass gleaming right at kid eye-level. “Naw! Way-cool! When I grow up, I wanna be just like him!”
“That’s just our local pirates,” supplies a nearby shopkeeper, never losing the studious expression he’s reserved for push broom only and the semi-hourly task of clearing his 17th century front stoop of bits of bright bits of tourist flotsam like gum wrappers and cigarette butts.
The boy gives another enthusiastic squeal. “They’re your pirates?”
“Yep, those would be ours… But, hey! I’ve got a discount today on “’Surrender the Booty’ tee shirts. Any of ya’ll interested?”
As for the jaunty crew, they seem oblivious to the flash of tourist cameras as they continue on their way off to…
Yes! Yonder there! That gorgeous galleon to port, just past the brooding and formidable stone fort that has for over four centuries repelled against many an attack by a scurvy lot o’rogues bent on pillage and plunder, dread Jolly Roger flag flying stiff in the breeze as they glide into the bay named “Matanzas”, which sounds so romantic, but actually translates to “River of Blood” because – well, it’s a history thing…
So, where you off to this fine day, First Mate Oly Mackerel? And is that the lovely wench Anastasia by yer side?
Yo-ho! Walmart, ye say? Because Capt. Corona has said you need some screws for repairs of the poop deck and ye set sail for the four o’clock show in less than an hour?
Well, shiver me timbers!
Such is a pirate’s life in the modern world...
“There are people in town who’ve never seen us in anything but our pirate garb. It’s gotten to where most of my friends and even my own mother call me by my pirate name, so this is more than job. It really has become an identity,” says cast member Marie Anastasia Harrison, the Black Raven’s bombshell redhead who charms audiences with her angel’s voice. But don’t let that sweet smile fool you! She also has a wench’s temperament to match the fiery hair and southern belle drawl.
And then there are the tourists. According to the local visitor’s bureau, America’s oldest city gets 6.6 million annually, which – in a one-and-a-half mile square of tee shirt shops and historic kitsch is roughly 960 tourists per square inch.
“Being the oldest city in America, St. Augustine is kind of like Disney in that they are always around. Some of them really do think you’re real pirates, so you’re always on. It’s always show time for us,” Harrison says.
“We’re a theatrical production, but there’s also a main office with ticket sales and a gift shop to run – with all the headaches and drama that includes. Then there’s also a ship to maintain. Our employees – well, we all get along like family - but they’re also actors - and you know what that means - egos and temperament. It gets a little crazy, but it’s all good, because, in the end, we do pull together as a team,” said Hedqwist.
Becoming the owner of a pirate ship wasn’t so much a dream as a business decision for Hedqwist, but one he says he’s glad he made.
“I was in the hotel business. I’m a fan, but I knew nothing about ships or cannons. I’d never even owned a rowboat or a floating mattress before. Now I get to live it every day – oh boy…” he said.
The Black Raven, which was designed by a Disney architect following Hedqwist’s exact specifications, and arrived at the St. Augustine Marina on Hedqwist’s birthday in April, 2009.
“Really, it’s the best sixtieth birthday present a guy could give himself,” he said, adding, “Hey! I’m the only Swede I know who can say he’s built a Spanish Galleon!”
Tentatively entitled, “Mutiny on Black Raven,” the proposed TV show would feature the backdrop of America’s oldest city and the daily interactions of crew with the public, as well as the behind-the-scenes headaches of running a pirate-themed theatrical production onboard a ship, the main office with ticket sales and a gift shop. All these are intermixed with the larger-than-life egos of actors turned pirate and a Swedish owner who emerges from his office ever-so-often yelling things like, “I don’t take no more Crap! K-R-A-P!”
Affectionately known as “G” to his employees, the Swedish mountain of a man might even make Errol Flynn blink twice in his bucket boots before boarding without a ticket.
The Black Raven crew has some national TV experience, having just filmed a segment for the Travel Channel’s “Top Five Wackiest Tours in the Us and Canada” this past fall, and also two years ago – HD TV’s “Drinking Made Easy,” which was a big hit with viewing audiences.
“We still have people coming in who have seen the segment on HD TV one time, two years ago and tell us that is why they came to town to see us.” says Grace St Clare, the first pirate you meet in the Black Raven Ship Store.
The ships bartender, Anastasia thinks the oldest city as a backdrop is also a prime selling feature. “For locals, it’s nothing to belly up to the bar beside a 16th century soldier or a couple of pirates, but visitors are awed by it. As we all know, St. Augustine is unique. For anyone who has lived here, we also know it has its quirks. The city itself is a character in the drama, and I believe if we can pull this off, everyone will benefit. People may come to sail with us for two hours, but for the rest of their stay, they will need a place to sleep, eat and shop, plus they will tour the historic sites. With the upcoming 450th celebrations, we hope to have the community’s support, as well as the support of our fellow business owners.”
While the premise for the show has already garnered the attention of national TV networks, Hedqwist said what they lack still is funding for the required pilot program. He said they still need to raise around $125,000 to complete the filming.
A fundraising campaign for the Black Raven project through the Kickstarter.com, which hosts fundraising campaigns for creative projects like this, began last week, for which Hedqwist and the crew have high hopes.
In fact, just this week, the site made national news and CNN’s Headline News ran with a top story about a fundraising project to make a movie about Veronica Mars. Her fans raised over $1,000,000 in just four hours. Not a bad run.
Huffington Post - by Chris Harnick 'Veronica Mars' Film In Works With Kickstarter Campaign
The way Kickstarter works is that pledges for monetary contributions are made at the online site, but Hedqwist said it is important to note - the money will only actually be received for the project if the Black Raven is able to meet its monetary goal in the proscribed amount of time.
“No one will be out any money if the fundraising fails to meet the goal. The funding only comes if we are able to raise the entire amount. We want people to be very clear on that.”
As of today, the project will run for just another 38 days. To make contributions more attractive – particularly to locals, the Black Raven is offering rewards incentives that range from tickets and store merchandise to private charter cruises – and Hedqwist said they have been careful to ensure that all have a value that adds up to more than the actual contribution.
If the project gets funded, Hedqwist said the awards for contributors will be redeemable in May.
“We really need to the support of our local residents and fellow business owners to make this happen,” he said. “It’s not just because it’s good for the Black Raven. What we operate on is a premise that we’re all in this together. What’s good for us is also a positive for the whole community,” he added.
Hedqwist’s belief is so strong in the project that he’s also been willing to put his own money up, investing almost $60,00o to hire consultants, shoot three different promotional videos and jump through other hoops required to get the project rolling.
Collins also commented, “Everybody loves pirates…. It’s a lifestyle many of us fantasize about; it’s a dream world that is in realm of reality. The possibilities are endless and above all, very entertaining. With the resources, crew, talent and ability we possess, we should be moving forward as soon as possible. We have a treasure chest just waiting to be opened, and we’re the ones holding the map. Once we get the green light, the logistics and magic will shortly after fall into place. We are here to make dreams come true and to produce great entertainment along with reputable television. I am anxious to get this ship sailing!”
To become a contributor - or for more information on the project, the show’s premise, proposed scenarios and Black Raven character sketches, visit the project’s Kickstarter page at: Mutiny on Black Raven
Keep up with the Black Raven’s fundraising campaign and other pirate news:
Website: The Pirate Ship Black Raven