After 12 years as captain of the Lewes pirate ship, Barry Askew has passed command on to Gina Marotta.
Marotta and partner Kerry McConnell assumed ownership of Pirates of Lewes in October, and they’ve kept Askew on to help them learn the ropes. That is, until recently.
“I’ve been holding their hands, and they fired me,” Askew said with a laugh. “They said ‘We don’t need you anymore.’”
Askew said he’s happy to step aside and spend more time “doing whatever my wife tells me to do.”
“I’ve had a very successful 12 years with this,” he said. “Now, at 72, I want to hang it up.”
Askew started Pirates of Lewes after a 32-year career with AT&T and a short stint as vice president of an IT consulting company. He was enjoying a good book and a drink on his catamaran in Ego Alley in Annapolis when the idea came.
“I hear this limbo music going behind me. I turned around, and it’s a pirate ship,” he said. “I thought, that’s cute. Then an hour later it comes by again. Another hour, it comes by again.”
He said he investigated, did the math and figured it would be a great family attraction in Lewes.
“Honest to God, I called my wife and said ‘I’m selling my sailboat,’” he said.
She asked what he planned to buy. He told her his idea.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to know nothing,’” he said. “That’s absolutely true.”
He bought the 40-foot boat, converted it into a pirate ship named the Sea Gypsy, and he was off and running.
Marotta took her nephews and niece on the pirate ship six years ago. She said they still talk about it to this day.
“When I saw him doing it a few years ago, I thought it was a great job to have,” she said.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for her to take over. She recently retired after 27 years in law enforcement. But she wasn’t ready to sit around and do nothing.
“When I found out the pirate ship was for sale, I said that’s my niche. That’s what I want to do,” she said.
The Pirates of Lewes adventure takes children and their families on an hour-long expedition in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Along the way, the children, dressed as pirates with eye patches, plastic swords and face paint, have to spot wooden cutouts of various items, such as a mermaid, sea serpent and crab. Toward the end, the ship is attacked by an evil pirate in search of treasure, and the children have to fend her off with water cannons on the boat.
“I’ve had parents come back year after year,” Askew said. “They say it’s all the kids talk about all winter.”
In addition to Marotta, several other pirate crew members keep every child engaged. Two crew members, Terri Rayne and Natalie O’Neill, have been working on the boat for most of Askew’s time running the adventure and will continue on under new ownership.
“We have the best crew,” Marotta said. “They’ve taught us what to do. Without our crew, we wouldn’t be doing what we love to do.”
At the end of the day, Marotta said, it’s all about the joy Pirates of Lewes brings to children.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s great to see the kids smiling and laughing. And you’re on the water, so it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Voyages take off just beyond Irish Eyes and Lewes Harbour Marina on Anglers Road. Expeditions leave at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, May to August. Trips are limited to weekends in September. Reservations are required, as nearly every expedition is sold out.
Cost is $30 cash or $35 credit per passenger. Children under 3 are $10.
To reserve a spot on the Pirates expedition or inquire about special events, call 302-249-3538. For more information, go to www.piratesoflewesexpeditions.com.