Argh! Pirate ship sets sail in Citrus Heights backyard

Inspiration struck Tim Rothwell on a summer day. While relaxing next to his pool at his Citrus Heights home, he realized: This would be the perfect spot for a pirate ship.

So, he built one – or at least one side of the boat, docked alongside its own kidney-shaped harbor. And Rothwell knows where every kid on the cul de sac will be this Halloween – taking a peek at his private pirate galleon.

“I’m all set,” Rothwell said. “I’ve got lights strung everywhere. It looks particularly magical at night. It’s really kind of romantic.”

Some DIYers limit their fantasies to Halloween decorating. Not Rothwell. His boat will “float” year round.

“Who doesn’t want to be a pirate when they’re growing up?” he asked with a big grin. “This is every kid’s fantasy.”

Of course, he’s quick to point to his inspiration: not Johnny Depp, but Pittsburgh.

“I’m a swashbuckling Pittsburgh Pirates fan,” he said as he surveyed his backyard boat. “We may not be in the World Series, but I have my ship. I’d bet there’s not a Pirates fan in Pittsburgh that has one of these in their yard.

“If I was a fan of some other team, I might have done something else,” he added. “If I was a (St. Louis) Cardinals fan, I could have built a big bird. But I’m a Pirates guy.”

Rothwell, 55, built the 10-foot-tall ship from scrap. A roofer by trade, he also does fencing and other carpentry. Most of the 28-foot-long hull came from discarded redwood fence boards and other miscellaneous lumber. The rest? Improvisation.

Big tubes that once held roofing paper became cannons that spew water. Dog pull-toys (from a dollar store) form rope rigging. Black iron hardware, made to give gates a vintage country look, instead add age to this timeless watercraft.

“I spent less than $200 on the whole thing,” Rothwell said. “All it took was a lot of imagination.”

When neighbors heard about the pirate project, they pitched in.

“I got these big ropes from the lady across the street,” Rothwell said of dock-worthy mooring lines. “They were used on the ranch of her father, L.J. Garcia. They were used to hoist bales of hay (into a loft), but they look like they were made for this ship.”

His personal schooner now comes complete with gang plank (over the pool) and kegs of “rum” (actually, they once held whiskey).

But what really catches second looks is the life-size great white shark head that crashes out of the hull. (Rothwell found the “Jaws” lookalike in a movie memorabilia catalog.) Mr. Sharky is surrounded by a mosaic of fish in all shapes, sizes and materials.

“I shopped everywhere I could find bargains,” Rothwell said. “If it was shaped like a fish, I bought it.”

Rothwell’s pirate ship sees its first Halloween sailing Thursday, and this captain has it all planned. His trick-or-treaters will remember his watery display.

“I like to be different,” he said. “I like to make people smile. I like to blow people away – in a good way. Most of all, this is about having fun.”


In the mood for some Halloween decorating? Start with a pumpkin.

Those familiar bright orange (or white or red) squash create (almost) instant Halloween ambiance, especially with a little carving or other added decoration. And some carvers take their jack-o’-lanterns to extreme.

Gene Granata, carving expert for Pumpkin Masters’ Halloween supply company, suggested these tips before attacking your giant pumpkin:

•  Create a safe workspace. Set out your carving materials on a well-lit, dry surface. Make sure everyone has the tools they need right in front of them, and that kids can reach the space easily. (No standing on chairs.)

•  Choose the right tools. Using household kitchen knives can be dangerous, especially for children, Granata said. He recommended carving tools specifically designed for kids. For example, Pumpkin Masters Kids Carving Kit (available at crafts stores) includes a “DuraSaw,” which has a larger handle that makes it easier for little hands to grip and maintain control. Or let the kids draw the design on the pumpkin (and scoop out the pumpkin guts), but have an adult handle the sharp tools.

•  Point the blade away. No matter which carving tool you’re using, point the blade away from you as you carve. If your hand slips, you’re less likely to get hurt, Granata said.

•  Saw, don’t slice. Instead of using a sweeping movement, such as slicing, try gently sawing through the pumpkin as you carve. Go as slowly as you need to avoid slipping. Serrated knives work well for this task.

•  Watch your hands ... and others’ hands, too! Be mindful of where everyone’s free hands are when carving. Whether you’re doing the carving yourself or you’re holding a pumpkin for someone else, keep one hand on top of the pumpkin instead of on the side. That way it’s within sight, which will decrease the risk of poking or slicing through the pumpkin – and into someone’s hand.

Pumpkin Masters offers free patterns and other tips on its website. The company also is hosting a national pumpkin carving contest with a grand prize of $5,000. Deadline is Halloween. For details, click on

Find a patch: The greater Sacramento area is brimming with pumpkins, just in time for Halloween. To find a patch near you, click on

— Debbie Arrington