It had been an uneventful voyage. My brother and I had departed Plunder Outpost, a ramshackle set of buildings nestled against a mountainside sticking out of the sea in the southern Ancient Isles an hour or two earlier, setting sail with no particular destination or agenda. A raid of a shipwreck had provided us with a couple of chests and a crate of silk, which were now cast haphazardly across the deck as we made our approach into Wanderer's Refuge. We were approaching from Twin Groves, which we'd visited after finding a treasure map - a brief dig there revealing a Chest of a Thousand Grogs which was stashed in the cabin. We didn't really have a plan for what we'd do when we reached Wanderer's Refuge, other than park up and explore the island. In the days before fishing was introduced to Sea of Thieves, it wasn't unusual for my brother and I to spend an evening casually island hopping and beachcombing. We liked to think of ourselves as opportunistic pirates - and little did we know it at that moment, but opportunity was just what we were about to find.
Our trusty sloop managed to pick its away among the rocks and shallows surrounding the island easily enough. We dropped anchor at a little alcove on the north eatern edge of the island - a spot that we knew from experience would make our ship fairly hard to spot at a distance. We'd been careful to keep an eye on the horizon, making sure that we knew where any other ships in the world were at all times. So far though, there'd been precious little to see. A galleon had raced past us, heading east but well north of our position in the direction of an active skull fort. The position of the cloud in the sky told us that it was somewhere in the vicinity of Daggertooth Outpost, all the way over in The Wilds that occupy the eastern edge of the map. At any rate, they'd paid absolutely no attention to us and that suited us just fine. That skull cloud had disappeared a while ago - neither of us had seen it happen, but either way, it hadn't been there when we'd left Twin Groves. A new one had popped to the southwest of our position as we'd approached Wanderer's Refuge. We were seasoned enough sea dogs to know that the one that was active now was Sailor's Knot stronghold - a stone's throw from where we were. As Eternal Lee jumped overboard to grab a piece of loot from the beach, I spoke up.
"Skull fort's up, just SE of us. Fancy it?"
"Not really mate," came the reply. "That galleon'll probably be coming back for it anyway. Not really in the mood for an outnumbered scrap tonight."
"Fair enough," I replied, sword lunging my own pirate across to the beach. "Let's see what we can find here, then think about going and flogging this lot."
We wandered around the island for a while. The sun was at its zenith, a storm visible on the eastern horizon. A flock of birds circled a shipwreck out towards Mermaid's Hideaway, further to our north east. A couple of spawned skeletons were dealt with swiftly - one of them generous enough to drop a gunpowder barrel. Further inland, we found another chest and another map, this time for Old Salt's Atoll. We agreed that we'd head that way next, and carried on scouring the island. At some point, we found ourselves near the top of it, and I decided to have a look around. There was still no sign of the galleon, but there was a brigantine heading in toward the fort. It was only a moment later that we found the rowboat, and hatched a plan. It was sat there, bobbing in the sea just off the south western beach, blissfully unaware of the laughter it was going to cause us. Not to mention the frustration it was about to cause to that brigantine crew we'd just seen.
"What say we load up some gunpowder into this rowboat and go and ruin their day?"
"Seems a little mean..." I could almost see the glint in my brother's eye, even though we were in different houses, and in different towns. "But then, it'd be rude not to."
"I thought you didn't want a scrap." Eternal Lee went quiet for a moment.
"That was before we had gunpowder," he replied.
We ran back to our boat, loaded our pistols, filled our pockets with bananas, and then swam for the rowboat. Along the way, we swapped from game chat to party chat - to make sure the enemy crew couldn't hear our voices as we approached - and hatched a plan. The idea of just using the gunpowder keg to sink them was discussed but rejected; it was unlikely to sink them quickly enough, and outnumbered as we would be we figured we'd lose in direct combat. No, this called for an altogether more sneaky approach.
As we approached, we were careful to break their line of sight to us as often as we could. We steered toward rocks and around them until we could approach their port side at a 90 degree angle - they were moored with the fort to starboard, and we could do little but hope that they just didn't look toward us if they spawned on the boat after a death. We saw at least two of the crew jump off the other side of the brig as we approached. Neither of them so much as glanced in our direction. We had a whispered conversation. Even though they couldn't hear us in party chat, we were both so involved in the need for stealth that I guess we couldn't help it. It was then that we realised we had a problem. There was a rowboat attached to the back of their ship. We'd completely failed to spot it.
"Shit. What do we do with the rowboat?" I asked.
"We're gonna have to dump it and hope for the best," Eternal Lee replied.
"They'll notice it."
"Maybe - not a lot of choice though!"
"Nevermind." I grabbed the gunpowder and leaped for the ladder, scrambling up it as fast as I could.
I'm not sure who saw who first. It's possible we saw one another at the exact same moment. We were both a bit surprised, let's put it that way. One of the brig crew had respawned on the bottom deck after meeting his end on the fort, and had come up the steps to the deck. He'd turned to his left instead of his right, and come unexpectedly eye to eye with a tattooed, eye-patched pirate legend. And one carrying a gunpowder barrel at that. His timing couldn't have been worse if he'd tried. Or better, I guess - depending on your point of view. Either way, we both responded to the sight of another pirate in exactly the same way - a reflexive tightening of the index finger. I lit the barrel, he fired his pistol. The barrel exploded. I had a split second to hear a "what-the-fuck..." over the headset before the screen smash cut to a black loading screen. The silence was broken a moment later.
"So one of 'em saw us then," said Eternal Lee, obviously stifling a chuckle.
"Yup," I replied. "Think I gave him a heart attack."
"He shot the barrel."
"They might sink from this."
"They might. Doubt it, though."
As we spawned into the Ferry of the Damned, there was a pirate waiting for us. He was stripped to the waist, with the Jewel tattoo set adorning his massive torso, his head shaved beneath his flamboyantly feathered hat. He was clapping on the spot, his body language pure sarcasm. "Nice try," he seemed to say. We returned his clap with a wave.
"What are we gonna do now," I asked.
"Well, I think we should probably go back," Eternal Lee replied. "I doubt they'll be expecting us again."
"I dunno, I reckon they'll be on guard now."
"Definitely. And we've lost our rowboat too." There was a pause, then: "And the bloody gunpowder."
"Don't sweat that," I said, "for I have a cunning plan."
We fell silent for a moment. I could hear a slurp of tea being taken over the mic, a distant tv set playing in the background. Then:
"Does it involve using our sloop as a decoy?" said Eternal Lee.
"Quite possibly," I replied.
"I like this cunning plan." I could hear the grin.
We respawned back at Wanderer's Refuge. Scaling the ladder to the crow's nest revealed what we'd expected - the brigantine still anchored up at the skull fort to our south west. The skull cloud still hung in the sky. It looked like it was smiling at me, encouraging us to further efforts. "Challenge accepted," I thought to myself. I checked the wind - it was blowing to the south west. This was perfect. I slid down the mast to the deck and began dragging the anchor up.
The plan was simple, this time. We sail the sloop in a straight line, flat out toward Sailor's Knot stronghold with the sails angled to the wind - close enough to get their attention. At some point north of the island, we leap overboard and swim to the brigantine. We sneak aboard, and from there the plan remains fluid. We executed it perfectly, leaping overboard just north of our destination but a moment before the brigantine crew spotted our boat. The opened fire on it from the port side - we saw a couple of shots land and then we ducked underwater and swam. The risk was real - if they noticed us and killed us again, we'd spawn on a boat that was travelling under the wind and nothing else, and that was probably on the way to sinking. This was our last chance. We swam as quickly as we could, only daring to stick our heads above water to take a breath. Soon enough, we broke the surface in the same place I'd leapt from the rowboat earlier, right under their portside ladder. We swapped to game chat for a moment and listened. We couldn't hear anything. We swapped back to party chat again.
"What's the plan, Batman?"
"Up the ladder," I answered. "Then up the mast. Get onto the arms that the sails hang from, then lie down. I'll go first."
I hauled my ass up the ladder, listening hard for the sound of footsteps. I got onboard and then headed up the mast as fast as I could. Looking down to my right, I got a fleeting glance one of the brig's crew fighting a losing battle on the beach, and then I was in the crow's nest. I jumped onto the left part of the crossbeam and lay down. I swung my camera around, and saw Eternal Lee following me up. He hit the crow's nest and jumped to the left, and lay down.
"What now?" he asked?
"Not sure," I replied. "Let's wait and see how they do."
So we waited. And waited. Every so often, the battle with the skeleton hordes would come down to the beach. At one point, they lured a wave of gold skeletons to the shallows just off the starboard side and let rip with the cannons. The fort's horn sounded for wave after wave, and they died repeatedly. And they didn't look up. Not once. Eventually, the music began - the edge-of-victory music that lets you know that they're fighting the final wave. The captain is out of hiding and being shot and slashed at. The brig's crew would have all be been down there - I could picture their excitement at the prospect of all the loot they thought they were about to get. Then it happened. The triumphant fanfare, and the dissipating of the skull cloud in the sky above us. After a long fight, they'd finally done it.
"Mate, they've finished the fort," said Eternal Lee. "What's the plan?"
"Sit tight bud," I replied. "Let's see what they do. If they take that rowboat, I've got an idea."
No sooner had I uttered the word "rowboat" than one of them appeared on deck and ran to the back of the ship. They launched the rowboat and began rowing it haphazardly toward the shore - he obviously wasn't too experienced in doing it, judging by how often he was correcting his direction.
"Right, here's the plan. They're gonna load the loot into that rowboat so they can ferry it back to here. We wait until they dump the best stuff in it, then you nick the brig. While they're wondering what the fuck's going on, I'll nick the rowboat."
"Aw mate," came back the response, "they're gonna be pissed." (I might have imagined it, but I think I detected a bit of pride in his voice. And maybe a smidge of admiration. I'm sure he'll deny it; it was there. I think. Anyway..)
"Yup," I replied. The guy with the rowboat had finally reached the shore and run off up into the fort, heading for the loot room.
We gave it a moment, waiting for each of them to do a couple of runs from the loot room to the rowboat. As suspected, they brought to best loot to the rowboat first. I couldn't help but chuckle - they were clearly so blissfully unaware of what we were about to do that I couldn't help it. They were moving together as a group - which meant there was a period of about 90 seconds where the rowboat was completely unguarded.
In unison, we slid down the mast and headed for the anchor. We raised it as fast as we could - Eternal Lee agreed to wait a moment. We needed him to set sail in full view of the brig's crew. I made my way ashore and lay down near a tree just inside the fort. The crew came back and dumped another batch of goodies in the rowboat. It was timed perfectly. They ran out, got to the rowboat, dropped their loot and turned around just in time to see the sails drop on their brigantine. It lurched forward aggressively, its sails suddenly filled with wind. I was still in party chat so couldn't hear a word of what they said - but given that their pirates just stood stock still on the beach, confused, I have a pretty good idea. One of them pulled a blunderbuss and opened fire - pointless at that range, but I guess he had to do something. One of them sword lunged toward the brig... the third guy just stood there. The heartless bastard in me likes to think that he was the only one who had an idea of what was unfolding, and that he was standing there feeling a twisted mix of anger and admiration. At that moment, Eternal Lee's voice came over my headset.
"One of em's on board, mate. We're gonna have a scrap."
"No problem, do what you need to. That loot will be ours in 30 seconds."
The two guys on the beach had turned and run inland, presumably thinking that their mate would be able to liberate their ship and resting on the laurel of still having the rowboat full of loot. Wrong again.
I sprinted toward the beach and leapt into the rowboat. I sat down and locked one oar, furiously pulling the other to get the boat facing out to seat. My knowledge of the map was good enough to know that the nearest outpost was Golden Sands, off to the north-northwest - but that was a problem for a couple of minutes from now. What mattered at this moment was spinning that rowboat around and getting it out of range of a sword lunge or an eye of reach shot. I decided I'd turned enough and started pulling as hard as a I could, putting as much distance between me and the two pirates left at the fort as I could as quickly as I could. I wasn't too far away to see them arrive back on the beach with another armful of loot though, and imagine the conversation they had as it dawned on them that not only had their ship been nicked, but all their loot had too.
By this time, I was laughing so hard I was nearly crying.
Eternal Lee ended up losing his fight against the crew member that managed to get onboard the stolen brig. He respawned at the ship, which was sat moored at Mermaid's Hideaway waiting for us - in perfect condition just minus the paltry loot we'd had on board when we abandoned her to her fate. I rowed all the way to Golden Sands and sold all of the loot - he picked me up there and, still laughing our asses off, we set sail back to the fort to see if the remainder of the brig crew were still there. They weren't - we assumed they'd rage quit and carried on. We chuckled to ourselves as we loaded all the rest of the fort loot into our sloop and sailed back to Golden Sands outpost. There was a lone pirate legend waiting for us there, who unfortunately died to a sword thrust before we could figure out where he had come from. To this day, I don't know if he was part of the crew we'd so mercilessly mugged, or someone who happened to be at the right time and decided to have a go and fail.
For a game that creates stories all the time, that's my all time favourite story from Sea of Thieves. It's at the top of the list - ahead of the time the Shrouded Ghost sank me. It's also ahead of the time I trolled a galleon full of fort loot in a solo sloop for over an hour before leading them a merry chase into the kraken - at which point they sank and I stole it all. It's even above the time I filled my ship with gunpowder kegs and rammed a galleon, while playing the Dies Irae music from Mad Max: Fury Road and shouting "WITNESS ME!!!!" into my speaking trumpet. Every time Eternal Lee and I sail together, it gets mentioned. Every time we're telling people why this game is so great, it comes up. We still laugh about it to this day - and it's for those reasons that it's one of my moments of the decade.