Jason Nixon and Kevin Simnick live only a few miles apart in Monticello, Ill., but had never met.
Coincidentally, they wound up in Florida on vacation the day after Thanksgiving taking their families to the same tourist attraction: Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise in Clearwater Beach.
They aren't alone. They're among roughly 50,000 people who ride each year on the Pirates Ransom, a 70-foot ship that sails out of Clearwater Municipal Marina.
The ship sails seven days a week all year, except for Christmas and when being serviced or repaired.
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Simnick is a railroad conductor who has been off work since March because of a knee injury he suffered on the job. He doesn't often vacation, but decided to take advantage of his time off. The trip on the pirate ship was a detour from visiting his wife's parents in Orlando.
Nixon, who owns a construction company, and his family were visiting his grandfather in Port Richey and saw the ship sailing from Clearwater Beach.
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Each customer gets a photo with the captain, Gary Smith. There are pictures of him all over the world.
"(I'm) on a lot of dressers … Iran, Iraq, Russia, Korea," Smith said. "My main competition is Mickey Mouse."
Smith, 57, was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, on St. Thomas. He has been a licensed captain for 22 years and has been piloting this pirate ship for nine.
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Capt. Memo, William Wozencraft, founded the cruise in 1978. For years, he would yell his trademark call as the boat left port: "We're having more fun than you are!"
Wozencraft died a little more than a year ago. His legacy lives on and his widow, Pam, still loves to go out on the ship.
When they were younger, the Wozencrafts sailed a 33-foot Tahiti ketch named Sun Chaser down the California coastline to Mexico and Central America. They spent a year in Panama in 1979.
That 33-foot sailboat was the same one the Wozencrafts originally used to take people on cruises. They retrofitted it to be a pirate ship, painting the hull black and fitting it with burgundy sails. It could hold six passengers.
The current 70-foot boat is powered by engines instead of wind. It is painted red and black. The figurehead on the bow is a blond woman saluting to the surf. It holds 125 passengers, 70 to 80 percent of whom are repeat customers, Pam Wozencraft said.
"We've had many weddings," she said. Licensed captains have the power to marry people, and all the captains who work for the Pirate Cruise are notaries. There is at least one wedding onboard per month.
William Wozencraft spent his last six years in a wheelchair, his wife said.
"When I come to work, every day I feel like I'm connected with my husband," she said. "I don't ever have a day when I don't want to come here."