Pirate Lore Lives on in Unsinkable Randy Brown

By ZACH HOFFMAN | Jun 21, 2017
Photo by: Grant Kelly ‘Pirate’ Randy Brown

People at the shore love pirate tales. So the history goes that at the end of the 17th century, Capt. Kidd had just failed to secure a commission in Britain’s Royal Navy. Dejected, he returned to his home in New York City with a new plan in mind. After being persuaded by his close friends and associates, Kidd received a privateering license to attack and plunder wealthy French ships, securing loot and splitting it amongst his crew and the crown.

Kidd and his crew quickly grew disillusioned by privateering and were increasingly frustrated with their orders to attack only French ships, letting wealthy ships of other nationalities pass without harm. Fed up, they decided to attack any ship regardless of its origin and nationality. This change proved consequential for Kidd and his crew as they were denounced as pirates and wanted by Great Britain. Kidd set sail for Boston in the hopes of bribing officials to rescind his wanted status.

Upon arrival in Boston, Kidd was arrested and sent to Britain to stand trial for piracy. Shortly before his death, he claimed he had buried his fortune along what is known today as the Jersey Shore and offered it up to the British crown in exchange for his release and a ship. He was quickly convicted of piracy and hanged over the Thames River in London as a warning to any other pirates, with the whereabouts to his hidden treasure dying with him. With only 20,000 of the alleged 400,000 pounds ever being found, the search continues along the Jersey Shore, over 300 years later, for Capt. Kidd’s hidden treasure.

Many are unaware of the role pirates played up and down the Jersey Shore. Some of the most famous pirates in history, such as Blackbeard, Capt. Morgan and Capt. Kidd, sailed along New Jersey’s coast, raiding ships and stealing the loot they had on board. Piracy made famous in pop culture by films like “The Pirates of the Caribbean” subsided, but remnants of it can still be found along the coastline.

Some may not know that a pirate still roams the streets of Beach Haven. His name is Randy Brown, better known on the “high seas” as Capt. Dirk Blackman.

What began as interesting tales of his family’s connection to Jersey Shore pirate history became a full-fledged passion for Brown. Growing up, he became infatuated with pirates; he didn’t want to follow in the steps of his classmates and be an astronaut or a baseball player, he wanted to be a pirate when he grew up.

“Pirating has always been a part of who I am. I had a lazy eye in the second grade, so they gave me an eye patch,” Brown said, laughing. “Then, when I was older, I worked on a commercial fishing boat, and they used to say I had a hawkeye. I had 25/15 vision and could see buoys before anyone else.”

As he grew older, his childhood dreams manifested in a lifestyle. He became an Eagle Scout, and shortly later he was labeled a hazard to the community by local detectives. Like Capt. Kidd, once denounced by authorities, Brown descended fully into the pirating lifestyle.

“I turned bad pretty quick,” he said. “At age 17 I was off to the races. My life was just chaotic.”

Once again the Jersey Shore’s prolific pirate history had returned to Long Beach Island. Brown became entangled in the ironclad grip of addiction, which wouldn’t let him go until he finally got sober in 2013. Brown found himself dependent on alcohol and drugs, and was no stranger to local law enforcement. He was arrested for possession of small amounts multiple times and lost his license after four DWIs. As a result of his addiction, he found himself living increasingly more like a pirate every day.

“I had to do these illicit things to survive because I was such a drunk,” he said. “What’s a pirate that doesn’t steal? Well, he’s a dead pirate.”

After years of drug and alcohol abuse, numerous skirmishes with the law and the loss of his driver’s license for almost 30 years, Brown made a leap of faith and finally got clean on Sept. 17, 2013. But beating addiction was only part of the battle. At 54 years old the question was where to go from here.

“What do you do when you’re 54 and you finally get sober?” he asked. “I don’t know, dress up like a pirate and ride your pirate bike around, blasting pirate-themed music.”

What began a year ago as a fun way to make amends to the Island for his wrongdoings has transformed into a brand. On any given night his alter ego, Capt. Dirk Blackman, can be seen riding his pirate bike around, telling jokes and posing for pictures with people. He has stickers, multiple outfits and his own doubloon, which he calls a “Randoubloon.” He even makes and frames his own maps of Long Beach Island, which can be found at Alison’s Wonderland Gift Shop in Beach Haven.

He has made appearances at the Ship Bottom Christmas parade, Chowderfest, Hop Sauce, and even pirate-themed bachelorette parties. Mondays in July and August from 5 to 7 p.m. are “Pirate Night” at Buckalew’s in Beach Haven, where he goes to tell jokes and pose for pictures.

“I look at it as making amends for the things I did. I was bad to the town,” he said. “The whole sobriety thing is what allowed me to do this. Where else can you go where you ride your bike down the street and make 1,000 people smile in a night?”

Although he looks like a pirate, he insists his true pirating days are behind him. He now views himself as the ‘“anti-pirate” and is received with open arms wherever he goes. Opting for water instead of grog and giving to the community instead of taking. He sees Captain Dirk Blackman, the anti-pirate, as a blessing and credits it to finally getting sober.

“People that come from dark places really shine. They don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “Everyone loves a comeback story.”

Capt. Kidd was hung in an iron cage over the Thames River; Blackbeard died in a hail of bullets; Capt. Morgan’s remains were wiped off the face of the Earth by a massive tsunami that hit Port Royal a few years after his death. Pirates rarely lived long lives, but Randy Brown sees himself as an exception to that fate.

“I’m lucky to be alive. I’m one of the fortunate ones that made it through,” he said. “As far as pirates went, most of them didn’t retire on some peaceful farm somewhere. Most of them were killed.”

As for where to go from here, he has plans to expand Capt. Dirk Blackman even more. More stickers, more T-shirts, more Randoubloons, and a small pirate ship that he can tow behind his bike. He’ll continue making appearances at different events all over the Island and will never miss Pirate Night at Buckalew’s. He plans to stay on the Island, take care of his parents and ride his bike around, decked out in the pirate gear he made himself, keeping people smiling for as long as he can.

“I see this as my retirement plan,” he said, laughing. “Who knows what will happen or where this all will go. I’m a pirate of the Queen City and third generation on Long Beach Island, and I’m not gonna stop doing this until they make me or they hang me.”

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