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Her timbers may have been shivered, but Fort Myers Beach pirate ship resumes excursions with all hands on deck

Salty Sam's Pirate Cruise has reopened as of Jan. 21 on Fort Myers Beach.
Hayley Lemery
Salty Sam's Pirate Cruise has reopened as of Jan. 21 on Fort Myers Beach.

Salty Sam’s Marina and Pirate Cruise barely survived Hurricane Ian’s destruction. The storm surge lifted the marina’s floating docks, piling 100 boats into a pile in the corner of the marina.

The pirate ship, called Pieces of Eight, is a 65-foot replica Spanish galleon, and made it through the storm. Pieces of Eight reopened its 90-minute interactive comedy show on Jan. 21 and has been hosting shows since.

“There was catastrophic damage throughout the marina,” Ryan VanDenabeele, director of marketing and operations at Salty Sam’s Marina, said. “Everything was pushed on top of our marina, on top of Parrot Key restaurant, and there were sunken boats underneath the pirate ship.”

VanDenabeele says that the floating docks of Salty Sam’s Marina were attached to large concrete pilings. Ian’s storm surge lifted the docks higher than the pilings, which were rated for 14-foot storm surge.

A sunken boat was stuck underneath the rudders and propellers of the Pieces of Eight.

“The boat itself did pretty good during the storm, it stayed afloat,” VanDenabeele said. “It got some dents and scratches and stuff from a few other boats hitting it but seeing the sunken boat underneath the rudders and propellers was a big concern. So we hired a diver to go underneath the water, look at the propellers and rudders and everything checked out okay.”

There are only four sunken boats left at the marina. VanDenabeele says everything else has been cleared out.

“Our pirate crew, I'd say, did 95% of all the work on the boat,” VanDenabeele said. “We wanted to keep them working, we wanted to keep them busy. Having jobs after the hurricane was a big concern for everybody. So, we tried to find things for them to do and they did a great job of putting the boat back together.”

Ty Landers, also known as Typhoon Ty aboard the pirate ship, was one of the crew members working to rebuild the boat.

“Our roles changed every day, we all had to take on multiple roles,” Landers said. “We had a small but strong group who got it done. I was mostly known as the gate keeper, keeping people in and out, where we were and what we needed changed every day.”

They all worked for months on fixing up the boat, but still remember what it was like returning to the marina and seeing the damage.

“It was heartbreaking, but at the same time it gave me hope,” Landers said. “I knew the severity and weight of what happened. In all the destruction I saw our boat, it was badly bruised and battered, but it was still alive. I knew we could fix it, that gave me hope, it motivated us all.”

The crew had to remove the coat of mud, give the ship a fresh coat of paint, replace windows, and figure out what to do with the beverage machines onboard that went bad once the electricity went out. Workers also had to make other repairs before returning to normal operations.

“I was nervous at first, but after a few shows I’m getting less rusty, and it feels more natural,” Landers said. “It helps I have a solid and dependable crew, whenever I fall, they are right there to catch me. We’ve never had a better group of pirates.”

VanDenabeele has noticed that most patrons haven’t been tourists. They’ve been locals and winter visitors who still are in the Fort Myers Beach area. The response from the community has been rewarding to the crew.

Updates can be found on the pirate cruise Facebook page and cruise reservations can be booked on its website.

"This is why we do what we do,” Landers said. “If we change anyone’s day for the better, then that is a win.”

This story was produced for the Senior Capstone course in the FGCU Journalism Program. Hayley Lemery can be reached at hklemery9681@eagle.fgcu.edu