In a simple house in a quiet neighborhood with a pet duck named Dagger, lives the Captain.
Separated from the rest of his crew who are stationed on the beaches of Sarasota, the Captain chose to make a new life in Gainesville to pursue his academic interests.
Captain Jack D. Stifler is a man from the 1700s living in modern society. He’s a fictional character created and personified by 27-year-old Donald Ridenbaugh.
Wearing a “Jurassic Park” T-shirt and jeans and relaxing on the couch with Dagger waddling around the room, Ridenbaugh isn’t your typical 21st century man portraying an 18th century pirate.
Reminiscing on years gone by when he would dash through the woods slinging machetes and drinking rum with his closest mates, he’s eager to bring those memories to life again.
His pirate passion started as an excuse to party.
Ridenbaugh founded The Crew of the Scavenger among a group of friends who came together to drink cheap liquor and gallivant around the beaches of Sarasota dressed as salty marauders.
He organized the crew into a live history pirate group that went on to attend pirate-themed parties, pirate festivals and island campouts around Florida.
Then he grew up.
Ridenbaugh and his girlfriend of three years, Ashley McClellan, 23, moved to Gainesville last August to apply to the University of Florida for degrees in animal sciences.
During the week they feed reptiles at The Gourmet Rodent, a pet shop in Newberry. On weekends they work at Paws Plus, a vaccination clinic in Orlando.
But a life without the Captain doesn’t quite suit him.
Born in Annapolis, Maryland, in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay’s fishing community, Ridenbaugh was raised around boats and beaches. He moved to Sarasota when he was 10 and his passion for maritime history grew.
Ridenbaugh brought his nautical intrigue to life by creating the first of many raucous shindigs he called Pirate Bash.
He created a pirate paradise on a friend’s property in the woods, complete with wild boar skulls on pikes, pirate flags hanging from trees and handmade bamboo railings.
“We were just like weirdos from far-flung different groups that just happened to enjoy being outside and partying,” Ridenbaugh said.
The Pirate Bash became a bigger spectacle as the crew members got older and more serious about historical accuracy. They perfected their sword-fighting techniques and the art of hand-making clothing.
“The costumes are better, the look is a lot better,” Ridenbaugh said. “It’s a lot less drunk kids in make-shift costumes in the woods hiding from the police.”
One thousand dollars, 300 hot dogs, 30 bottles of liquor and 200 people was the result of last year’s Pirate Bash.
Pirate Bash 2015 is in the planning stages. Ridenbaugh has created a Facebook event for next year’s history encampment. For five days, the crew will drink, play cards and butcher their own food; he’s thinking chickens.
Ridenbaugh scorns what he calls “polyester pirates” wearing Jack Sparrow wigs. He hand-sews most of his own pirate costume and orders other pieces on specialized websites to make Captain Jack D. Stifler look as period-correct as possible. There is the three-cornered pirate hat, the sandy blond wig and the 22-inch flintlock.
He’s attended sword-fighting seminars, he’s studied drawings from the 1700s and is a member of the Authentic Pirate Living History group.
Ridenbaugh enjoys leaving modern times behind to live like the pirates.
“Just the idea that Earth hasn’t seen anything like that in 300 years,” he said, “I just think that’s really cool.”
The crew has changed over the last 10 years, but the current participants still enjoy the seaside shenanigans.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it, but it’s not anything I would ever do on my own,” McClellan said of her boyfriend Ridenbaugh’s hobbies.
Monte Cooper, 23, is Ridenbaugh’s quartermaster and best friend. He said the crew was a group he could relate to when he was growing up.
“It was a brotherhood of all the rejects and nerdy kids and … we were just the rebels,” Cooper said. “We were all different in our own ways and not really accepted by many people, so we all just accepted each other.”
Ridenbaugh has started recruiting new members for The Crew of the Scavenger through local Craigslist ads. Four new members have already been added. That brings the crew to nine.
He said he’d like to take advantage of the large college crowd in Gainesville. That demographic is attracted to rambunctious events.
As the Captain settles in to his new home, he beckons to his crew, near and far, to join together in his Gainesville chapter, be it by land, sea or Facebook.