Piracy for Dummies

Now that the dot-com craze is over, where do you turn for a quick influx of cash? Take lessons from the past but modernize with technology.

So you want to be a pirate! Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it's not all treasure maps, pieces of eight, and hearty cries of "Arrrgh!" (although you might want to maintain the tradition of wearing an eyepatch and sporting a hook for a hand). Sure, X still marks the spot, but now it's probably found on a Photoshop-produced graphic at Pirates.com or a waypoint that can be accessed on any electronic chart.

Believe it or not, piracy just may be the fast-paced, high-tech, competitive field of the future. Keep in mind that this is all in good fun-we're not suggesting you ditch your day jobs. But also remember that all the tools listed here can be used to foil those pirates that truly exist in rising numbers. According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks last year rose a healthy 57 percent compared to 1999 and soared like the Jolly Roger by almost 450 percent from 1991. Some $1 billion in wealth is "redistributed" through piracy every year-including 1,000 recreational boats stolen monthly in the United States alone.

GET RICH QUICK

Yes, there's a fortune waiting to be made, and it's not by pushing paper dawn till dusk in a cubicle or by reinvesting dividends from your Yahoo! stock. Besides, where else can you feel the spray of seawater in your hair, the bite of dark rum in your throat, and the pleasure of hearing yourself addressed in fearful tones as "Captain Blackbeard, King of the Pirates, Terror of the Oceans" while you reallocate the assets of others?

Chances are you don't know your Avast! from a hole in the ground. Admit it: The closest you've ever come to a Seven Seas adventure is a bottle of the nautical-themed salad dressing or the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Just as a carpenter needs a bevel and a plumber needs a snake, so the modern-day pirate (we prefer the term sea-trepreneur) needs the right tools for the job. For that we went to the creators of the first telephone-tap detection system, New York-based security specialist CCS International, which provides the tools to protect everyone from parents to governments. Its retail Counter Spy Shops (www.spyzone.com, 800/722-4490) sell a cross between the technologically advanced tools found in James Bond movies and the ordinary but necessary gadgets you can pick up at Radio Shack. Then we dropped anchor at Toronto, Canada-headquartered Spy Stuff (www.spystuff.com, 800/996-6023) for more goodies. With the help of such advanced gadgetry, we'll show you how to make more dough than Pillsbury.

AHOY, PEEPING TOM

If this life of intrigue sounds good to you, then the ER-4LONG-RANGE PARABOLIC MICROPHONE ($1,800) will be music to your ears. Its integrated sight and pistol grip let you listen in on your prey for preboarding surveillance. This parabolic microphone discreetly plunders high-quality audio from up to 3/4 miles away (it will help you find a marker in the fog, too). And because even hardy sea dogs tucker out sometimes, the cushioned monitoring headset keeps you comfortable while a separate audio jack lets you record real-time conversations. You can play it back later when your captives…er…guests swear on their sainted mothers they never talked about any gold bullion they hid onboard.

Trying to find a likely target at night on the ocean can be like trying to locate that one buoy with the broken light. But with the PREDATOR G3 NIGHT VISION LENS ($2,800), both your target and that buoy will stand out like Times Square on New Year's Eve. Hailed as the next generation of night-vision devices, the Predator G3 converts the few tiny slivers of light that still remain after the sun goes down into electronic energy and magnifies them, letting you eyeball your prey like a cat stalking a slow, fat, fluorescent mouse. Small and light as a pair of binoculars, the Predator G3 also includes an integrated infrared light source that illuminates complete darkness for when there isn't even enough normal light to magnify.

If you can't tell how far away your quarry is, how are you going to catch it? Reckoning distances at sea is tricky, so you'll need the LASER RANGEFINDER ($2,800) to ease your attack path (or estimate your distance to the next port of call). The handheld monocular device has a range of 10 kilometers, and its 6x magnification will make that boat you're targeting seem as if it's sitting on your bow. Simply press the Fire button and the device instantaneously displays the distance to your target in its eyepiece. The rechargeable battery gives you 600 shots on a single charge.

GIMME SECURITY

You've heard them. You've seen them. You've ranged them. Now all you have to do is board and subdue them. When Douglas Fairbanks Sr. did it, he swung through the rigging and fought duels with his slashing sword. When history's real pirates, desperate men engaged in desperate deeds, did it, they used cannons and muskets and even primitive hand grenades. But all that weaponry weighed them down like a lead life preserver. My, how times have changed.

Today, you power up your go-fast and attack with lightning speed. You can even be as light as air with the AIR TASER ($275). Launching up to two electrically charged darts with a range of up to 15' and a charge of 50,000 volts, the Air Taser can penetrate layers of clothing up to 2" thick (even the thick hide of an ornery shark). If that doesn't leave them kneeling like a bachelor proposing to his girlfriend, there are two stun electrodes on the front of the unit that come in handy for up-close-and-personal combat.

If your victim happens to be a member of the NRA, you might find yourself discussing the finer points of the situation with his Smith & Wesson. But just because you're in danger is no excuse not to be in style (think Errol Flynn in Captain Blood). That's why you'll need at least a LIGHTWEIGHT BULLET-RESISTANT VEST (from $650) under that Ralph Lauren windbreaker. Or a Burberry-styled Body Shield Raincoat (from $1,195). Or if you insist, you can have the protective Kevlar fibers woven into that Nautica extreme performance gear jacket (from $200). Either way, off-the-rack or custom-made, your chances of surviving a blast from the most commonly used handgun, a .38 Special, are increased by 99 percent with these miracle fibers.

Your great-great-great-great-grandfather was a pirate, of course (which explains your interest in piracy), and he might have spent several days plundering and stripping his take. But in this world of GPS units and satellite communications, you probably have a total of 10 to 15 minutes to get in and out. For that, you'll need a PERSONAL METAL DETECTOR ($650) to uncover rare coins and precious metals before the Coast Guard or the Navy come to the rescue. (Hey sailboters! It's also good for scouring the beach for lost change.)

If your captives' wealth happened to extend into six zeros, they may feel a proprietary interest in the items you're acquiring during your hostile takeover. Have they left a Martha Stewart hand grenade gift basket for you? Spray their hands with FERROPRINT ($80). Telltale red-purple marks will appear and alert you if there's residue from either one. (Use this with Expray to check the potency of anything you bring up while diving.)

Should they plan on hurling you off the boat in multiple directions at once through the courtesy of high explosives, the EXPRAY identification kit ($90) will come in handy. It consists of special, white, laminated test papers and two spray cans, E and X. You rub the papers over any surface, then spritz the paper with the E spray. If there's even a microgram of TNT, a dark violet stain will appear. If you don't see anything, spray the paper with canister X. If plastic explosives were touched, you'll see a pink stain.

You're not done yet. What if no amount of threatening with walking the plank persuades them to tell you where they hid a bomb? Relax and pour yourself a Pirate's Float (1 ½ ounces spiced rum, 1 ½ ounces root beer schnapps, and Coca-Cola to taste) and charge up the BOMB RANGER P4T ($15,000). It'll block the frequency bands used for homemade and professional remote-controlled fuses and detonators.

GOTCHA

Now that you've expropriated their Krugerrands and Ben Franklins, scan the bills with the COUNTERFEIT DETECTOR PEN ($6)-good for visiting foreign ports as well. Simply touch the tip of the pen to the bills. If you see a pale yellow mark, you'll know you're dealing with the real thing. A black mark says it's a phony.

By now you know as well as anyone how easy it is to take from others. So make taking it from you shockingly hard with the SHOCK BRIEF-CASE (price not set at press time). Someone trying an unauthorized entry will get a 40,000-volt keelhauling from this attractive genuine leather-finish briefcase in pirate black. If the voltage doesn't get them, the 104-decibel siren will (use it to protect your electronics when docked).

Whether it's the 1st century or the 21st, pirates have scratched their heads over the same problem: How do you keep your loot safe? (Pirates of yore rarely buried their treasure, and much of what they took were staples like food, drink, rope, and frying pans.) Take a cue from Edgar Allan Poe's The Purloined Letter and hide your haul in plain sight inside SAFE CANHIDEAWAYS ($20). Disguised to look like cans of Campbell's Soup, Lemon Pledge, and Colgate Shaving Cream, you just unscrew the Safe-Cans' false bottoms and stuff your goodies inside.

You probably wouldn't like others to do unto you as you did unto them, so invest in a good ANTI-KIDNAPPINGSYSTEM ($2,250). A small transmitter hidden in your jewelry or clothing constantly transmits an invisible yet traceable signal. Quasi-Doppler direction-finding capabilities point your loyal henchmen to your location should you not arrive at your destination.

Even if you have the VL-45 HANDHELD BUG DETECTOR ($3,500) to sweep your boat for bugs, it won't be much help if you're boarded by the scurviest, most fearsome depredators, pillagers, and marauders known to mortal man on earth or water-the IRS.

In that event, take a page from Captain Kidd, who never buried his treasure but spread much of it over New York, Boston, and the West Indies. If you want to safeguard your plunder, bury it in the briny deep of bytes by transferring it to an offshore bank with the assistance of sites like OCRAWORLDWIDE (www.ocra.com), which can assist high-net-worth individuals with "financial engineering." That way, you'll never have to worry about "15 men on the dead man's chest"-especially since the neck to the abdomen area in question would be yours. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Captain Morgan's Parrot Bay rum.