Monday, November 9, 2015

Pirate Festival – The St Augustine Pirate Gathering

I’ve been to a few pirate festivals, but being landlocked in the middle of North America, there’s only one recurring one locally. This past weekend, I packed my pistols onto a plane (checked baggage) and headed down to Florida for the 8th annual St Augustine Pirate Gathering.

Now, in the Midwest, pirate festivals are few and far between, but along the eastern seaboard there’s something happening nearly every weekend. This particular event came highly recommended, and besides, it’s in the oldest city in America, a place I wrote about here.

Air travel is certainly tiring, but it can go smoothly if you just keep your weapons out of the carry-on luggage. We met at Jacksonville airport, picked up our car (red VW Bug) and drove about 60 miles to St Augustine.

A few snags with the car meant the only event left on Friday night was the Buccaneer Bash, which was sold out. Our bad. The event featured all-you-can-drink rum, pirate rock and belly dancing. But my friend isn’t much of a drinker, and to tell the truth, neither am I. We hit the old fort instead.

The fort at St Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos, hasn’t changed much since 1695, but recent work has made it more visitor-friendly. We explored the site, talked to the park rangers and on-site reenactors, and exited through the gift shop, just like we were supposed to. A breeze was coming off the sea, and I enjoyed taking pictures during the ‘golden hour’, just before sunset.

We were up early to head to the festival the next day. Our hotel took one look at our costumes and comped us an excellent breakfast, but weather was not on our side. Not only was the temperature higher than expected, but humidity was 100%, and the Florida sun was merciless. I dressed in my coolest garb – a cotton skirt, gauze shirt, wide leather belt and accoutrements, including boots.

Kristi was cosplaying a pirate from one of my stories – a historical river-pirate named Sadie the Goat. Sadie got her nickname by head-butting her opponents in battle. She finally met her match and lost an ear to a huge Irish woman named Mag, who bit the ear off, pickled it, then gave it back to Sadie when they made up. Kristi was charmed by the story, and she wears a scarf over one of her own ears, and a human ear (plastic) on a string around her neck.

We avoided the sun by hitting the many merchants’ booths, checking out leather work, costume supplies, and jewelry. The rum bars were already in full swing (avoiding liquor laws by exchanging drinks for coupons bought at another establishment) but heat and humidity were killing us both. Kristy concocted her own pleasant drink from half-melted Italian ice and a shot of Code Rum, but I opted for water – and a cup of ice that went straight down the back of my neck. It felt wonderful.

After enjoying some of the acts at the main tent, we spent some more time people watching. Checking out the other pirates is always one of my favorite things to do, right after singing along with the musicians.

The pictures here are only a few of the crowd, which was an ever-changing, fast moving group in a wide variety of wonderful garb. Taking pictures was tough. Not shown here was a family pushing a baby carriage outfitted as a pirate ship. Inside was the family cat – clearly labeled as the captain! (What other position would a cat hold?)

We chatted with reenactors, vendors and musicians, opted out of the knife-throwing event (Kristi is already missing a finger) and finally gave up. It was just too damn hot!

Fortunately we had a plan. St Augustine is home to a world-class pirate museum, and it’s Air Conditioned! The clerk on duty was so taken with our garb (and Kristi’s ear) that we got in for half price, and enjoyed a tour by what turned out to be one of the Pirate Gathering’s organizers.

After the museum, we succumbed to the lure of a nearby bar-resteraunt. The outdoor location was cooled by fountains, trees and tropical plants. We sipped cool drinks, dined on conch fritters, talked about pirates with the locals, and listened to Bob Marley on the sound system. Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny would have approved.

Kristi wasn’t up for more partying that night, but I went back to chat more, drink more, and dance to the (excellent) bands. Many of the pirates were off on an organized pub crawl, but that just left more room on the improvised dance floor for the rest of us. One of the belly-dancers was doing the polka with an older pirate deep in his cups, and we even had a shot at a limbo. (Not a very successful shot, mind you!)

The night ended with more socializing (hint to handsome pirates – don’t tell me about your girlfriend if you’re trying to pick me up!) and then collapsing into bed.

It was a great little festival, and I’d go again. I hope to be one of the acts next year, since I passed out my card to the organizer. Maybe I’ll see you there.


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  2. You can also experience the ghosts of a woman in white who wanders around in various places both inside and outside the fort, and then vanishes. Spanish soldiers that appear to be so real that the living has talked to them also appear at the fort.
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