EAGLE RIVER – Pirate captain Steve Strauss sails the seven seas, flying the Jolly Roger in search of treasure and adventure. Well, maybe not the seven seas, and maybe there's not much treasure to be found, but since 2004 Strauss cruised the Chain of 28 Lakes in Eagle River, providing all who dare join him as crew with a memorable summer experience.
Strauss does indeed have a pirate ship, with a top-sail, cannon and a plank, which he built eight years ago from a house boat. The pirate ship is one among a collection of businesses known as Pirates-Hideaway, located along the shores of Duck Lake, just north of Eagle River.
People board the ship for two-hour, pirate-themed cruises on the chain of lakes. The cruises provide pre-planned, family-friendly fun – with popcorn, lemonade and "tattoos" from Captain Steve – all set to "pirate-y" or "beach-y" music. Or people can bring whatever music they prefer to pillage to.
"We provide everything the guests need so they don't have to worry about anything else," says Strauss. You can even walk the plank.
People won't feel that their wallets have been looted with prices ranging from $14 for adults, $12 for kids age 6-13, to $6 for 3-5-year-old kids. Toddlers and infants are free.
Private parties – 20 people for a three hour cruise – start at $350. Groups renting the boat can direct the pirate captain to stranger tides, for weddings, birthdays or just bring their own food and drink and party like a pirate.
"It's BYO fun. We supply the pirates," says Strauss.
The current ship's capacity is 35 people, including Strauss and his crew, which are members of his family, from Captain's wife Linda, First-mate Stevo (Steve Strauss, Jr.), Charlie, Sam and Jamie.
"It's a small family venture. We do the best we can," says Strauss.
Jamie Strauss has another business at Pirates-Hideaway as well – called Pops Is a Pirate – a boutique that sells organics, women's clothing and jewelry. "I was studying art in Oregon, and my friends were like, 'Why are you here? Your family owns a pirate ship!'" says Jamie.
It took a month for Strauss, a general contractor originally from Chicago, to build his pirate vessel. Even though the current ship is a "never ending project," with maintenance, repairs and upgrades, like the Evinrude E-TEC motor he added for efficiency, Strauss wants to build a larger, 120-person capacity, ship.
Depending on the weather, on how well the ship is running and maybe also on the supply of rum in Eagle River, Strauss' pirate cruises run from Memorial Day to the annual Cranberry Festival in the fall (this year, the festival is October 1-2).
"A good week" means they get the ship out every day, but Strauss says that business has been good, even after getting a late start this year because of some unforeseen repairs to the ship.
The property that has become Pirates-Hideaway was originally owned by Strauss' father and consisted of a resort and a bar. Strauss' father refused to sell him the bar, saying that bar owners' divorce rates are too high.
The piece of land Strauss still owns also features a new ice cream shop that opened in the middle of July, Jamie's "Pops Is A Pirate" shop, a beach area with fire pit and, soon, a tiki bar and grill.
Strauss says that in the beginning of the business, before digital cameras were as popular as they are now, he was recognized by a film developer at the local drug store. "He said, '95 percent of the film I develop, you're in it'," Strauss says.
Strauss says he wore a wig his first few years as Captain Steve because he wanted to look more pirate-y than his then-short hair would allow. One of his sons thought he should grow it out, like in high school. Although he got some looks from area parents whose kids he was coaching on a couple sports teams, Strauss grew his hair long.
The Captain Steve and his pirate crew look was perfected with trips his family makes to thrift stores and other outlets for authentic-looking clothing. Strauss admits he had to special-order the hat.
"We're having a blast," says Strauss.
Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.