Captain Finbar and the Schooner Wolf. Think of one, and the other immediately comes to mind.

Finbar Gittelman, a master seafarer with a roguish sense of humor, is the builder and skipper of the Schooner Wolf. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Captain Finbar Gittelman, one of the Florida Keys’ most illustrious senior citizens, has lived and sailed in and around Key West since the early 1970s.

When you look at his weathered face and neatly trimmed grey beard, you’ll quite likely be reminded of artists’ renditions of salty sailors. A twinkle in his eye and an offbeat sense of humor only add to the resemblance.

In fact, Captain Finbar looks unnervingly like the wicked Barbossa in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (though a good bit more cheerful!). Barbossa, however, probably couldn’t tell as many tales of rogues and renegades as Finbar can — or tell them so entertainingly.

In the early 1980s, along with master builder Willis Ray, Finbar built the 74-foot topsail schooner Wolf, which he still owns and operates. The Wolf, incidentally, is the flagship of the Conch Republic, the Keys’ offbeat alter ego, and Finbar is the Conch Republic Navy’s Admiral and First Sea Lord.

Finbar is the Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Keys' spirited Conch Republic Navy. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

It’s far more than a ceremonial title. He directs operations including an annual sea battle, which has received national and international acclaim, commemorating the birth of the republic.

In addition, Finbar and the Wolf have taken Key West visitors on day trips and sunset cruises for many years, been the location for weddings at sea, and have sailed over many parts of the world representing the Florida Keys.

The majestic Wolf is reminiscent of the blockade runners of the 19th century that sailed the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Finbar takes his schooner to seaport festivals in the U.S. and Caribbean islands and the ship has appeared in several films. It was also the lead vessel in Key West’s late lamented Pirates in Paradise festival, offering buccaneer excursions complete with an appropriately scurvy crew.

But there’s also a more serious side to Finbar Gittelman. In 1980, along with three others, he survived Hurricane Allen in the Caribbean. After the boat Finbar was piloting sank during the storm, he and his crew endured three terrifying days in a life raft, not knowing whether rescue or death awaited them.

Aspiring seafarers can experience sunset cruises on Captain Finbar's magnificent Schooner Wolf. (Photo courtesy of the Schooner Wolf)

Perhaps as a result of that experience, over the years Finbar and first mate (and wife) Julie McEnroe have taken the Wolf on many humanitarian journeys into the Caribbean, delivering food and other relief supplies to area devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

“We’re islanders,” explains Finbar simply, “and we need to take care of our fellow islanders.”

These days the Wolf is docked at Safe Harbor Marina, located at 6810 Front St. on Stock Island (the island next to Key West). She is available to take passengers on Saturday and Sunday afternoon and sunset cruises, piloted by Key West’s colorful seafaring senior … the one and only Captain Finbar.

For information and tickets, call (305) 294-9694 or click here.

 

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