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Ahoy mateys! Meet 'Captain Dan,' the man behind Sandpoint's pirate ship

Captain Dan Mimmack, who sails the high seas of Lake Pend Oreille, is not your typical pirate. Instead of pillaging and plundering, he brings smiles to children.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Yo ho, yo ho, it’s a pirate life for Captain Dan Mimmack – and his first mate, a 15-year-old dog named Hunter. 

Though Mimmack, 63, may dress like Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean” as he sails the high seas of Lake Pend Oreille, he is not your typical pirate. Instead of pillaging and plundering, Mimmack brings joy and smiles to young children in the area.

Mimmack’s journey aboard the “Wind Spirit” began nearly nine years ago when he purchased the ship from Olympia, Washington, on a whim. 

“It popped up on Craiglist, so I said to my wife, ‘Honey, I’m buying a pirate ship,’” Mimmack said.

After he saw the ad, he bought the boat blindly and sent the seller $1,400 – and the rest is history.

The original owner handcrafted the boat and Mimmack put it back together after driving it to Sandpoint, Idaho.

“I realized there was only going to be one shot at this and I wanted to get it,” he said. “If you had to build that ship, it would be thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Mimmack said he is a woodworker by trade – as the former owner and operator of Northwest Handmade, which has been passed down to his daughter – who made modifications to the ship so it could fit under the bridges that tower over Lake Pend Oreille.

Other finishing touches on the ship included a treasure chest, plank and wooden cannon. He gives each child a pirate hat and squirt gun when they board, as they often spray passersby with water.

Mimmack partners with Creations for Sandpoint, a nonprofit providing arts and crafts and community programs at no cost, to offer boat rides to under-privileged children and those diagnosed with disabilities.  Creations is open daily at the Cedar Street Bridge Public Market.

Support for Mimmack’s service to the community also comes from generous donations, he said.

“They [kids] have access to playing with this boat any time at no charge – and that’s what makes my heart sing,” he said.

Mimmack emphasized that children in low-income families may never get the opportunity to ride in a boat, which is part of why he started offering the pirate tours. 

Another inspiration behind his work: his younger brother who persevered through a severe disability.

“He was actually born without arms but he had a brilliant mind. And I realized that all he had was a physical disability,” he said.

His brother went on to graduate from university and become a teacher, Mimmack said.

“And I thought, ‘If this kid [my brother] can do it, other under-privileged kids with an opportunity, they can do it.’ All they need is an opportunity and support,” Mimmack said. “I realized the ship was the vehicle for under-privileged children, especially special needs kids that need a calm environment.”

“So for me, they key was knowing that every child has within them a little pirate where they can play if they’re given a chance to play,” he continued.

Mimmack said it never ceases to amaze him what people may not know about their communities. Many people may think Sandpoint is a ritzy lake town surrounded by wealth. But Mimmack was shocked by the amount of poverty he has seen in the area.

“Eventually you start to see a side that you don't normally see. Poor children don't walk around with a sign that says, 'I'm poor,' and in certain circumstances that comes to the fore[front],” he said.

Despite the challenges that Sandpoint faces, Mimmack described it as a community where people work to fix problems. 

Offering the tours to children with disabilities can be challenge, as they often react differently to stimuli and do not pick up on the same social cues as typically functioning children, Mimmack said.

Mimmack describes himself as “loud and boisterous” but said he has made it his mission to avoid projecting his personality onto a child – especially one who may have a disability.

“My challenge is to come down to the human level of trying to relate. These kids struggle with simple emotions. Sometimes they don’t know when to smile, when to cry, when to say thank you. They miss the cues that we take for granted when we look at each other,” he said.

“When they feel safe, the world is their oyster. They literally can do anything if they feel like they’re not alone,” he added.

Mimmack's charity work with children is a dream come true, as he does not yet have any grandchildren of his own. 

“Playing with kids…that doesn’t run me down. It actually emboldens me because the more I provide that, the more joy - mission accomplished,” he said.

If Mimmack had to describe his mission in a sentence, it would be this: Never underestimate a child.

“Because we do that a lot. We make assumptions about children that aren’t true,” he said.

Mimmack and his pirate ship will make an appearance at the Wooden Boat Show in Sandpoint through Sunday, July 14. Last year, Mimmack offered rides to 175 children.

In August, the "Wind Spirit" and its crew will appear at the Coeur d'Alene Classic Boat Show from Saturday, Aug. 24 to Sunday, Aug. 25. 

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