Before relocating to Raleigh, N.C., in 2017, former Los Altos Hills residents Denis Boulankine and Tatiana Boulankina had to divest themselves of a 91-foot pirate ship. They hoped Johnny Depp, America’s favorite celebrity pirate, would buy the Brigantine Sultana, but the ship eventually found a home with a different sort of buccaneer – Pirate Dan from Fresno.
“The boat was in such bad shape that she was ready to be hauled, crushed or sunk. … They ended up releasing the boat to me for $1 just to get rid of the headache basically,” said Daniel Blevins Catalano, 59.
The Boulankines, former owners of the Pet’s Delight shop in downtown Los Altos, first learned about the Sultana in December 2014 through a friend’s Facebook post. She was built in Half Moon Bay in 1977, the replica of a 1767 dispatch carrier of the same name. The couple purchased the ship and hauled her to a Richmond boatyard with plans to use her as an educational tool, a charter sailing business or a short-term rental, but Catalano said they were unable to finish badly needed repairs left by the previous owners before relocating across country.
A Craigslist ad ensnared Catalano’s interest in the ship. After a Florida hurricane destroyed the Queen Anne’s Revenge, his 120-foot gaff rigged schooner, Catalano required a new vessel to marry two longtime passions: pirates and helping veterans and first responders. A veteran himself, Catalano envisioned creating a reality television show about these modern-day heroes as they cope with post-traumatic stress disorders and injuries and with drug and alcohol abuse by masquerading as pirates.
Nearly a year and more than $265,000 in renovations later, the newly dubbed Devil’s Gauntlet is docked in Isleton and about a month away from completion. Outside, she resembles an 18th-century pirate ship with custom woodwork, skeleton figureheads and 5,000 feet of rigging. Inside, she swaggers with modern conveniences like LED lights, a full-sized refrigerator, Moen sinks and even a nearly 7-foot fiberglass podium bathtub. In February, Catalano plans to set sail from Brannan’s Island Time Marina and make for Roatan, a Honduran island, where he wants to host his show if he can lock in a producer. He’s purchased 80 pirate outfits, swords, black powder guns and even cannons. Participants, decked out in full pirate regalia, will spend 58 days aboard.
“It’s hunting for food, searching for water, diving for food,” Catalano said. “They’ll get certified in diving. We have hookahs on board so they can hookah dive. They’ll learn how to spear gun. Every aspect of a pirate’s life they’ll learn: firing cannons, black powder weapons, learning how to read the stars with a sextant.”
By the end of the adventure, the participants should be able to sail and run the Devil’s Gauntlet themselves, he said. They’ll embark on a three-day treasure hunt searching for “booty” they can keep to start their lives over.
A second chance
Devil’s Gauntlet crew member Dmitry “Wolf” Biryukov, 46, can personally attest to the gravity of such second chances. A former Russian Special Forces officer who served in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces, he had trouble adapting to civilian life and struggled with PTSD and alcoholism until he met Catalano and began working on the ship.
“Lost some weight, got in shape, not a single drink, nothing like that, and I’m just really enjoying working on the ship,” Biryukov said. “I learn a lot, all the standing riggings, you know, done by me. There is lots of work. I can probably say that lots of work has been done by me, and I’m proud to see that.”
Should Catalano’s TV show falter, he’s prepared to operate the Devil’s Gauntlet as a charter sailing business that offers free two-hour cruises to veterans, first responders and their families. But he’s not casting off the dream just yet. He’s invested too much time and energy into his ship.
“I’m the guy who has always taken things that people discarded, didn’t want and nobody else would take the job on because they said it could never happen,” he said. “And I do that same thing with people and reality and life.”
To view a “Pirates of The Devil’s Gauntlet” sizzle reel and for more information, visit piratesofthedevilsgauntlet.com. For more on the Boulankines’ stint as pirate ship owners, visit tinyurl.com/latc-2017-pirateship.