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When one of Derek Hinckley’s five sons fails to follow orders, they fear the worst — he could force them to walk the plank.

Shiver me timbers, me hearties, we only be fooling with ye.

Truth be told, when the lads scramble out the door to play in the backyard their feet need never hit the ground. These may be the luckiest landlubbers in Tennessee as their buccaneer father builds pirate play ships.

Hinckley’s offspring are Dawson, 14, Carter, 12, Asher, 9, Baylor, 5,and Easton, 3. All but the wee one attend Mt. Juliet Middle School, Elzie Patton Elementary and Stoner Creek Elementary.

From their back porch, the youngsters can cross a long wooden bridge and hit the pressure-treated pine deck of a 17-foot long and 8-foot wide galleon that features a crow’s nest, portholes, a slide, climbing rope and pirate’s wheel.

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of root beer! Talk about a boatload of jolly good times.

Over the past 10 years, Hinckley and his enterprise, Pirate Play Ships, have weighed anchor from Mt. Juliet and erected close to 150 ships in 40 states as well as in Canada, Mexico and Antigua. Closer to home he has built 15 in Tennessee, three of those in Wilson County backyards, two at Stoner Creek Elementary, one at Southside Elementary in Lebanon and one at Charlie Daniels Park. (The latter no longer stands.)

The business, which began as a lark, set sail in 2008, about a year after Hinckley and his wife, Christina, moved to Mt. Juliet with Dawson and Carter, then ages 4 and 2.

“We had two boys and a big yard in Belinda City. We had nothing for them to do in the backyard, which was kind of barren. We were getting our feet beneath us. I had no real job, and we didn’t know anybody,” said Hinckley, 40, who was born in Utah and grew up in Knoxville.

“I decided I needed to build something for the kids to play on. When I saw a bath toy, a little plastic pirate play ship, I said, ‘I’m gonna build that in the backyard.’ So I had some leftover lumber from a job that I had done and decided to take some money and build this and kind of winged it. It took me about four months.

“Once it was finished, the neighbors were pretty impressed, and strangers would stop in the road and ask, ‘Who built that and where did it come from?’ It didn’t take long to realize that I had something unique and that I could build them for others, not just my own kids. Play sets are a dime a dozen, but this was something that can fire up the imagination.”

The wooden schooners, which range in size from medium to big to ultimate, cost $5,000 to $9,000, not including travel fees. Each is built on site from the ground up and topped with a skull-and-crossbones flag. It typically takes Hinckley and his crew, best bud Chris Larsen, three days to construct a play ship.

The nautical-themed, two-story playhouse can sport a span of accessories that include a ship wheel, portholes, a treasure chest,  crow’s nest, slide, swings, zip line, tube slide and monkey bars.

Besides backyards, the carpenter has built pirate play ships for city parks and a variety of businesses such as a cross-fit gym, daycares, dental offices and even a library in Oklahoma. His most interesting project was transforming a floating platform used for ski jumps into an ultimate play ship on a 100-acre private lake.

About three years ago, Jimmy and Mona Bowen of Lebanon hired Hinckley to build a big ship for their grandchildren to enjoy.

“They were in awe and amazed that ‘Pa’ had a pirate play ship in his backyard,” Bowen said. “I like just watching the kids playing on it. They love going up and down the plank, acting like pirates and sailing on the sea. It’s really cool to have in your backyard. My wife thinks I bought it for me.”

Hinckley built houses and did remodeling jobs with his father and younger brother before he moved to Mt. Juliet.

“I’ve done this (carpentry) all my life. Dad taught us the trade,” said the craftsman, who relocated to Nashville to pursue a music career. “My brothers and I are musicians, and I’m from a family of singers. So I was trying to do the whole singer-songwriter thing and see what would happen and so we did. Now we (brothers Nathan and Spencer) are all pretty busy with careers, but we still have the band (the Hinckley Brothers) and do different performances here and there.

“I moved to Nashville and got out of home remodeling, so now I’m doing something a little different and get to use my creative eye and combine that with my skills.”

On the side, he produces and directs independent films. He has completed a 90-minute film about his choir director at Powell High School and currently is making a documentary about an ultra-athlete. He also intends write a book about health and nutrition.  

Hinckley has constructed about 10 pirate play ships in conjunction with Make-a-Wish Foundation, noting that some of those projects were for girls.

“Some people think these are for boys, but it seems to be almost half and half. We have built for families that have all girls and they think it is cool and fun.”

He added that they also build a fair share of castles, tree houses and chicken coops.

“Anything that someone can imagine, we can tackle and build. There’s no limitations,” said the skipper, whose playhouses allow youngsters to sail the seas of childhood dreams.


Play like a pirate

Carpenter Derek Hinckley has been custom building pirate play ships for more than 10 years. They range in size from medium to big to ultimate and are priced from $5,000 to $9,000, plus traveling expenses. One ship typically takes three days to complete. For details, go to pirateplayships.com. or email Derek@pirateplayships.com or phone/text (615) 545-1469 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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