Imagine a crowd of long-haired, ragtag pirates picking up litter along the edge of a road, then roaring out sea shanties over a few tankards of ale, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what NOLA Pyrate Week is all about.
“Time, effort, work and a bloody good time,” said the founder, Edd Scorpio, who in pirate mode goes by the name Captain John Swallow.
Every spring since 2009, scores of visitors who enjoy dressing, talking and drinking pirate-style have descended upon New Orleans for Pyrate Week. But the event isn’t just about fun and libations.
“We figured if we had a lot of pirates in one place, we could both enjoy New Orleans, which is obviously important to the history of piracy, and give something back to the city,” the captain said.
The swashbuckling participants, who come from across North America and the world, dedicated the first couple of visits to helping rebuild homes in the Ninth Ward. Since then they have expanded to help a host of community organizations across south Louisiana, and now focus on restoration of the marshlands that sheltered a famous predecessor, Jean Lafitte.
“The idea is for our mates to see the city beyond just the tourist sites,” said the captain, who lives most of the year in Ontario, Canada.
The “mates” who descend on New Orleans take part in a bustling network of pirate festivals, pirate conventions and Renaissance fairs across the world. As with historical pirates, exploring the port of call is part of the attraction.
“If you’re spending even two or three days in New Orleans entirely in a hotel ballroom, you’re doing it wrong,” said the founder.
While they don’t like to discuss their landlubber lives, most of the Pyrate Week visitors are professionals, such as lawyers and teachers, back home, the captain said.
It’s a social thing, pirating, and the “mates” enjoy crossing swords, verbally at least, with others who share their passion for history, eye-patches and sailor diction.
And they make a point of shivering the timbers of others with their costumes.
“One of our mates used to volunteer at hospitals, visiting kids in his full gear,” Scorpio said. “So we decided if the kids liked one pirate, they’d love a whole lot of them.”
The pirates don’t limit their attention to Orleans Parish. In fact, their biggest cause is something that affects the future of Louisiana as a whole: coastal wetlands restoration.
“Obviously without the wetlands there may one day be no New Orleans at all,” the captain said. “This is not a thing we pirates can abide.”
This year, while the region caught its breath between Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day and Jazz Festival, Pyrate Week visitors explored wetlands and bayous south of the city and helped to raise funds and build awareness for coastal restoration.
The captain said Jean Lafitte spent his time in the wetlands, the captain said.
The pirates held a festival in Houma along the bayou with live music and a host of local artisans and merchants displaying their wares.
Next year, they plan to be there again, and, of course, will be back in the city that started it all.
“Pyrate Week has become a pretty big event,” the captain said. “But even so, this has been more about big hearts than big events.”