Buccaneering in St. Augustine
Yohoho and a barrel of rum ... St. Augustine now rests under the buccaneer guns of Black Raven, the pirate ship that has left Blackbeard, Captain Blood to take care of the Caribbean, leaving the preys of the Florida strait to the 20 guns Spanish galleon.
Black Raven: Buccaneering in St. Augustine
Gunnar Hedqwist, a Swedish mechanical engineer from the town Karlstad in Värmland, Sweden, may not have realized that he was sticking his head tight into a world ruled by Disney when he put a couple million dollars into building a pirate ship replica. The ship was to operate from the port of St. Augustine where Hedqwist had just bought a hotel. But he did realize that America’s oldest city had very little to offer children.
But what makes a six foot four Swede decide to leave executive assignments with world leading companies in the paper and pulp industry for an insecure future as an entrepreneur in Florida?
Answer: guts, imagination, some savings and a supportive wife. A job that took him for six months to a year to various places around the world, from Germany to Greece, Japan to New Zealand and China to Australia starting operations for others to run, never allowed Hedqwist and his wife Monica the comfort of a permanent home.
“I could have had a permanent position in China or Australia but figured that even from there the company would put me on the road. So I finally took a position with a pulp conglomerate in Wisconsin hoping that would give me some “permanency.” However, as it turned out their interest was more in the Far East. Once again I was spinning around the world like a prisoner of flights. And adding to it, it was darn cold in Wisconsin most of the year.”
So at breakfast one day while watching some cold miserable weather outside, Monica said, “Let’s leave, go to Florida and buy a hotel in the sun.”
"Yes, that’s about the time it took to make the decision. Retirement was not on the books for a long time yet. We were lucky to find a plum place because we were able to make a quick deal. It was for a small motel, 24 rooms only, but smack on one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, on Clearwater Beach, west of Tampa. Our blog soon helped fill the place with Swedes."
To entertain a never resting business mind Hedqwist looked for additional projects and found a Swedish product that might have marketing potential in the U.S. He went to Sweden and bought part of that company, went to China to get the manufacturing started and is now marketing a medical rehab device here in U.S. The product has received a lot of attention from the medical sector and can be seen on www.StepIt.com.
If you're Swedish, you’re familiar with the expression “having ants in your pants.” It came to me that a man with Gunnar Hedqwist’s blend of physical strength and business energy just can not sit still managing a 24 room motel. And how right I was: The serial entrepreneur was on the look out for bigger and better from the get go. Hotels had become a part of his blood and a new one had to be on the Atlantic coast. He searched from Miami to Jacksonville and decided on St. Augustine, the only place with a “built in” constant tourist trade as America’s oldest city and one of its greatest tourist attractions with an old buccaneer history. In October 2005 the Hedqwists acquired the Ramada Historic Hotel in St. Augustine’s historic downtown district. It was also right under the nose of the Florida tourist world dominated by Disney.
All that was needed was a couple million dollars to build Black Raven, a three masted, 80 ton Spanish galleon, a sister ship to those that roamed the Caribbean under buccaneers such as Black Beard and Henry Morgan. Although welcomed by St. Augustine, Hedqwist had to fight for dock space. There was none and the city could not add any more. He ended up buying the big yacht that owned the dock space for the future galleon.
There went another chunk of money.
The ship was built on the west coast of Florida. When finished it
sailed down to Key West and from there up the coast about 500 miles to St. Augustine where the Coast Guard was supposed to certify its sea
worthiness. When you have over a couple million riding on a piece of official documentation you sure need that piece of paper. However, for reasons unknown, the Coast Guard had lost the file. Weeks went by until June of 2009 when the Black Raven could proudly participate in the tall ships regatta in Jacksonville for the first time.
Black Raven is allowed to carry 128 passengers and leaves the harbor
looking for prey twice a day, three times on Saturdays. The price for
being a pirate for an afternoon is $28.50. The young crew is ready and
eager, patch over eye, pistol in belt and treasure chest waiting to be
filled with dublouns and gold pieces. Up goes the pirate flag of scull
and bones as the crew mans the guns for another battle. Not one of the young pirates leaves the ship without his buccaneer's share of the loot of gold and silver from the Spanish main. Black Raven has quickly become a popular spot for parties and weddings, too. And in the background you can almost hear the Disney people murmur, “We should have thought of that."
Thus, Gunnar Hedqwist from Karlstad who built pulp plants from Greece to China to Australia can now lean back in his lounge chair at the Ramada Inn and count the line up the hang plank ….
Yohoho and a barrel of rum, there she goes again .…
For more info, see www.blackravenadventures.com or www.ramadahistoric.com