Monday, June 6, 2016

Port Washington Pirate Festival – The Pirates Are Back!

A review of last weekend's festival

 This past weekend was the Port Washington Pirate Festival II, which is to say the revival of an event central to pirating in the Midwest. I was there, and it was great!

Disclaimer – I was an employee of the Fest. As a storyteller and historian, I entertained crowds for tips and a small stipend. It didn’t cover costs, but the Fest is important to me. I wanted to see it succeed!

The author

And succeed it did! Events started at 5pm on Friday, and were still going when I had to leave at 2pm on Sunday. Between those times, there were happy crowds, enthusiastic performers, great food, talented vendors, and lots, lots, lots of pirates.

Friday started slowly, as these things are wont to do. One young gentleman that I talked to had expected to walk into a crowd of people dressed as pirates early on Friday. Instead, he saw only average folk, until one boy passed wearing a pirate T-shirt.  This is pretty much on track with previous events. Friday is still pretty much set-up day. A pirate shirt, or “Jack Sparrow eating breakfast at McDonalds” is about all you’re going to get early in the day.

Some people are always ready to pirate

There were a few notable gaps. Electricity was not well set up. Several bouncy-castles intended for the kids did not get inflated until Saturday, and vendors suffered through inadequate lighting in the Thieves’ Marketplace on Friday night. The Information Booth did not look organized, which was a shame, due to its central location. A small number of people wearing bright pink “VOLUNTEER” badges were dashing back and forth tirelessly.

The whole area as under stress, due in part to a huge downtown construction project (renovation of some historic buildings and building new condominiums) that was right next to Pirate Central. Weather, while balmy in temperature, also provided some rain and fog (“Welcome to Maine” as one pirate said) and a number of scary-looking thunderclouds. Port Washington tests its Tornado Siren on Saturday, so a few people were frightened by that.

Pirate hamsters in training
But all in all, it was a great event.

A variety of acts were booked. Musicians, ranging from a High School saxophone quintet, to a full-fledged Irish punk band, complete with smoke effects. The historic reenactors were back, with period music, clothing and weapons demonstrations. Black powder cannons were shot off regularly, to the delight of the crowd. My own efforts to entertain with Real Pirate History brought enthusiastic amazement and applause. And various pirate groups from all over made their contributions, either by performing skits, providing amusing commentary on the acts, or just by looking fan-damn-tastic!

I always keep an eye out for the youngest pirate at an event, and this year the winner was 6 weeks old, sound asleep, but wearing a pirate bandana in her pirate-momma’s arms. Several white-haired individuals were possibilities for my “oldest pirate” award, but all of them were moving too fast to catch and interview!

I did managed to talk to a couple of individuals in wheelchairs, and all of them gave the fest high points for accessibility. One young fest-goer was in full mermaid regalia. All in all, everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.

Food vendors were plentiful, and their ware delicious. While not exactly “period” pirate fare, goodies like lemon shake-ups, funnel cakes and corn dogs were both available and reasonably priced. Wisconsin is also home to a delicacy called Cheese Curds – chunks of fresh cheese that is battered and deep fried. Five varieties were available at this fest, and all were good. Deep fried Oreos, pulled pork, and some of the best beef brisket ever were also available. But by Friday night, I needed a salad! My craving was quickly satisfied at a local restaurant, the Rusty Anchor.

Image result for rusty anchor restaurant port washington wi
Historic Port Washington

On Saturday evening, my companion and I went sailing on the Denis Sullivan, a historic sailing craft that does educational and environmental work all over the Great Lakes. This ship, larger than others that have attended in former years, tied up on the far side of the harbor. The walk to board her was along one, and a little hard on my legs. But the view across the water, and seeing the Fest in its full glory was a grand addition to my day.

 Pirates were mock-fighting over a bottle of rum, complete with clashing stage-swords and athletic stunts. Belly dancers were shaking it down in the gazebo. Up on the hill, the reenactment militia was showing off their marching skills. Kids were learning to throw boarding-axes at sturdy wooden targets. Bouncy-castled bounced. Crowds cheered. It was a picture of activity and happiness.

All in fun, mate!

Our voyage was lively. Guests were allowed to help raise and lower the sails, and we got to enjoy the feeling of the big ship under sail-power alone. The crew were more than helpful, explaining how the ship operates, her history, and how one can book longer cruises. I entertained both crew and passengers with an explanation of pirate swords (since mine was handy.)

When we were trapped in a spooky fog-bank, the capable captain made us all feel safe. And the ship navigated perfectly, sailing right through the harbor’s mouth with no problem at all. For me, a trip on any tall ship available is a high point of any fest, and the Denis Sullivan did not disappoint.

On the Denis Sullivan

Sunday morning started late. I did one final show – Mysteries of the Pirate Chest, in which I show off items that might be found in the chest of a real 18th century pirate. The belly dancers did their thing. Then it was off to Main Street, for the Pirate Parade. Short but sweet. After that, it was lunch, a little more people-watching (always a great thing to do at a pirate fest) and then the long drive home.

All in all, this fest gets a B+. While organization could improve, this is the first fest run by the current group, and they did a good job. Next year, I’m sure, will be smoother. All the attractions were first rate. Everyone seemed to be making an effort. The Port Washington Pirate Fest is loved by many people, and all of them want this incarnation to succeed.

Last of all, the beautiful town of Port Washington is a wonderful place to spend time, with or without pirates. Its view of the Lake is perfect. The locals are friendly. And you can spend 3 days without spending a cent at a chain restaurant, hotel or store, which is my idea of a great get away.

So plan for next year, folks. First weekend in June. The Pirate Fest is Back!

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