Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hampton Blackbeard Festival

We were at the Hampton Blackbeard Festival over the weekend. This is an impressive festival. Unlike most pirate festivals, the Blackbeard Festival actually has some ties to pirates and Blackbeard. He raided the eastern coast until the Governor of Virginia decided to put a stop to it. Two sloops were sent out to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew. They were successful and returned with Blackbeard's head and several members of his crew who were tried in near-by Williamsburg. Blackbeard's head was placed on a pike int he James River as a warning to other pirates. According to legend, this was at or near Hampton.

The modern-day festival is in its 8th year. There were no attendance figures but thousands attended and estimates based on food sales put the crowd at an all-time high.

At the heart of the festival is Pirate's Cove, an encampment of accurate pirate reenactors along with some sutlers and performers. Further out were the non-period vendors and performers. Four ships and three boats participated. Three of the ships played the parts of the sloops, reenacting Blackbeard's last stand. After that, the three smaller boats did a tactical.

Unfortunately the number of reenactors has outgrown the Pirate's Cove so a small, grassy area along the waterfront was also used for reenactors. This was assigned to the Crew of the archangle which we fell in with. This kept us somewhat away from the main event.

I provided one of the small boats - the smallest one. My Whitehall fit in nicely with the two larger boats. All had similar lines. They just differed in size. The tactical involved pirates stealing the largest boat, the Explorer, then fighting the middle-sized boat over who could take our boat. This meant that both boats were chasing us much of the time.

The Whitehall was up to the challenge. With two people rowing, one streering, and one at the swivel gun, we easily outmanuvered and outsped the larger boats. On Sunday the three small craft exchanged fire with one of the sloops before going to the boat ramp. Again, with five people aboard and two rowing, we easily passed the middle boat which had four or five people and three rowing.

Many of the local boats were decorated. Most simply had pirate flags but some had elaborate decorations including treasure chests and pirate figures. Many of the locals had pirate costumes.

The most bizzare thing was how many of the women on boats were calling out invitations to us as we rowed past - things like, "I want to be plundered!" One woman was dressed as a parrot and wanted a pirate to adopt her. I wonder what these women's husbands and boyfriends thought?

The weather could have been better and it could have been worse. It poured rain on Friday afternoon and evening and the camp sites were a soggy mess for the rest of the weekend. The rain gave way to simply being overcaston Saturday and sunny on Sunday. The temperatures were lower than normal for Virginia in June which was a blessing when rowing a boat.

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