Murder Among the Mateys

Buccaneers, booty and bloodshed were the order of the day at my annual murder mystery birthday party last night. After plundering their way around the Caribbean, the pirate crew of the Jaded Jewel celebrated their return to Port Royal at the Salty Sea Dog Tavern, where a colorful group of nobles, sailors and townspeople had also gathered. Trouble was sure to transpire. Shiver me timbers!

I can’t see how we’ll ever top this one. Seriously, what’s cooler than building a 10-foot pirate ship in your living room and turning the rest of your house into a seaside tavern from 1688?

I really went all out this year, starting with the invitations. I created a card that looked like old parchment and stuck it in an envelope sealed with red wax. I also used the wax seal on each person’s character description and clues for the game. I printed some other documents on tan-colored paper, soaked them in coffee, and burned the edges. All that work really set the tone for the party.

When guests arrived, they were greeted with the skeleton of Toothless Willie hanging in our stairwell with a sign around his neck that read: “Pirates ye be warned.” I also used the directional signs that came with the mystery — they pointed guests to Port Royal, the Salty Sea Dog, and a few other sinister-sounding locations.

I had pirate music playing (everything from “Drunken Sailor” to “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”…the play list was a big hit) as guests came up the stairs to the main party area. Here they entered the Salty Sea Dog. The walls were adorned with various signs as well as an actual map of the Caribbean circa 1720 that I found online and enlarged at Costco.

My china cabinet was filled with beer bottles labelled as Davy Jones’ Lager (get it?), an actual wine cask I found at Value Village, and some old growlers. For the tables, I had pirate tablecloths, candles, and BBQ sauce bottles labelled like growlers.

Also in the tavern was our storage-bench-turned-treasure-chest stuffed with pirate coins and assorted booty. Part of the game involves trying to acquire as many coins as you can, by any means necessary — so I helped myself to a bunch of coins from the treasure chest. A few other people tried that too, until the governor put a stop to it by closing the chest and parking his ass on top. (I stole the gallow master’s coin purse right out of her cleavage, but she chased me with a noose and threatened to hang me if I didn’t return them, so I had to give those up. It probably wasn’t wise to steal from the executioner. My bad.)

We served grog (rum with brown sugar, lime juice and water), though I forgot to label it as such, and some people had a whole lot of it thinking it was iced tea. Oops.

To keep things authentic, I used tin pie plates and no cutlery. We ate things like hardtack (cheese and crackers), salted meat (cold cuts), arr-tichoke dip, cannon balls (meatballs on sword picks) and scurvy savers (fresh veggies). I made a ship wheel with the tavern name to hang over the buffet table; I covered the actual table with a brown tablecloth and some fish netting.

But the coolest attraction was definitely the pirate ship. Complete with crow’s nest, sails and cannons, it made an amazing focal point in our living room. My brother, who was kind enough to build it based on plans I gave him, even went so far as to router the name of the ship into the wood. AWESOME.

Next to the ship was the dockside area with a huge British flag and a sign proclaiming this to be Port Royal, Jamaica. I made a large barrel by putting two planters together; I bought two smaller barrels on eBay. With some cardboard boxes and fish netting, it all looked pretty impressive.

The costumes were beyond amazing. I was especially impressed that my husband rented full colonial attire for his role as Governor Napier — this is the same guy who only reluctantly wore a king’s robe a couple years ago for Once Upon a Murder. The first mate took some liberties with his outfit and showed up with an eye patch, a peg leg, and a codpiece that was making its way down his leg by the end of the night. There’s no end of laughs when that guy is around.

Prizes this time included gold chocolate coins and a bunch of magnets I made with sayings like “I wanted to be a pirate, but I couldn’t get my ship together” and “Work is for people who don’t know how to plunder.” Once we solved the murder and handed out the awards, we just kept drinking rum and partying like pirates for another couple hours.

How will we ever top this for my 40th next year?