I’ve been going to the Port Washington Pirate Festival since its inception. It was my first ever Pirate event, and has done a lot to shape my ideas of what pirate events look like. It has also shaped my performing career as a pirate storyteller. When the fest went on hiatus for several years, I was dejected. But now that it’s back, I continue to build my performance credentials.
This year in addition to being booked as an on-stage performer, I brought my tent for True Pyarte Tales, ready to story-tell all day, in between my scheduled performances. As usual, I had copies of my books to sell. However, setting up on Friday during 18mph wind gusts was quite the challenge!
I have an Easy-Up style tent, which I have modified by creating a linen canvas top and muslin sidewalls. (Yes, I know, an Easy-Up is hardly 18th century, but I’m doing the best I can.) Setting this baby up in my backyard takes all of 15 minutes, even with the additional sidewalls, which attach with ties, and the linen top, which has to be layered on top of the nylon cover the tent came with. . But with high winds off Lake Michigan, this process suddenly turned into a 2-hour ordeal.
Setup begins by carrying the collapsed tent to its proper location, setting it on its feet, pulling on the corners until it expands to full diameter, then locking the corners in place and raising the legs to their full height. It took nearly an hour to confirm our location in Rotary Park, a spit of land jutting into harbor, and winds were steadily rising.
My friend Jeff and I had dressed for the weather –chilly- but the rising winds were grabbing at our equipment, blowing hats and table covers all over. Before anything else happened, the tent had to go up. Our problem was that the top of an Easy-Up looks a lot like a parachute. Today it was acting like one.
As soon as one of us let go of a tent-side, it wanted to lift up into the air. Positioning the tent was crucial. Other educational presenters would be nearby and needed their space. When the tent was finally in position, I let go and ran to our wagon to fetch the stakes and hammer.
A huge gust of wind roared by and suddenly the entire tent was in the air, headed toward the harbor. Only my first-mate Jeff, frantically holding on to one leg and a corner of the top, preventing it from leaving us all together! Good thing Jeff had a big lunch. If not, he might have been carried away like Dorothy, to the Land of Oz.
When the gust passed, I ran in with the equipment and showed him how to drive in the stakes. (Jeff’s a great guy, but definitely a city boy.) Four twelve-inch iron tent stakes eventually attached the structure to the ground, but with every gust, the aluminum tent poles bent until lit looked like they would snap. Fortunately, I was prepared. We added 3 additional tie down ropes, with stakes, one in the middle of each side (except the front.) Each side panel needed to be attached individually, a nightmare process, as knots untied themselves and the large pieces of fabric tried over and over to escape.
When we had finished, things still looked dicey. The sides billowed like sails in a storm. The linen top really wanted to head out on its own. Standing inside the tent felt almost as stressful as running around out in the gusts. We needed more rope to control all the whipping fabric.
We had an additional coil, but it had been intended as piratical decoration. We had no way to cut it. Then I remembered! A dear friend, a woodworker and member of my writing group, had sharpened my sword, turning it into a real weapon. I pulled out the blade and began cutting rope into usable pieces. We roped down the sides, tied them to the tent stakes, and passed a long section over the top of the tent to hold down the errant linen cover.
The time for my first storytelling presentation came, and I dashed off to do that. High winds prevented putting up my sign, but my new sound system worked well, and people seemed to enjoy my tales. Afterward we made one more trip to the tent, but it was useless to do anything further to prevent disaster.
The next morning, the linen top had disappeared. We found it hanging down the back of the tent, still secured by a single piece of rope. As we were trying to drag it back into position, Jeff told me, “I’m so often impressed by your commitment to realism. But now I want Velcro. Lots and lots of Velcro.”
Velcro would have been a very good thing.
That day, Saturday, was quiet. Apart from feeling odd whenever I left the tent – I was actually missing the moving walls- life was pretty good. I did my shows, and had a chance to check out some of the other performers and the Thieves’ Market. Did a little shopping.
And then Jeff tells me that the next day will have thirty mile an hour winds.
We packed up that night, put the tent in the car, and with the organizer’s blessing, moved my table, signage and books into the vendor’s tent. The people who had put their tent next to us spent most of Sunday just keeping it from blowing away. As for us, we lived. I made my last show at 5:00 Sunday, and we went home. I can’t say it was really fun, but it was an adventure, and now I can write with authority about wind.