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Seafair Pirates in politically correct SeattleJuly 15, 2012 @ 4:37 pm (Updated: 9:41 am - 7/16/12 )
Keep your guard up. Cap'n Horny, Big Boat, and Bad Brew are roaming the streets of Seattle. They're scoundrels for sure, but they're no longer the brazen, gun-toting Seafair Pirates who used to terrorize Northwest summer festivals.
As with most things in Seattle, today's Pirates are politically correct.
"In the old days, the Pirates used to drink beers on Moby Duck and they'd pick up women and take them away. We don't do that anymore," says Seafair Pirate Joel "Rooster" Smith.
They no longer carry shotguns that fired blanks. They don't scrape their swords on the streets or sidewalks.
They don't pretend to take a swipe at spectators' heads. They don't touch women. They keep their hands off kids, while smiling and posing for pictures.
"I'm a little disturbed by the political correctness. It's gone a little too far," Smith says. "You can't have fun anymore because out of 100 people you might offend one person, so we can't do as much as we used to."
The Seafair Pirate tradition has been around since 1949, and there have been a few problems over the years.
A "kidnapped" flight attendant was taken to a "pirate den" in a hotel, where she was left shackled to a bed. She was found hours later, upset about missing a scheduled flight.
In the 1960s, two boys were upset as they watched their mother get captured and locked up in a "prison cell" behind the Pirates' float during a parade.
In 1966, the Pirates were officially were dropped from Seafair because their performances were too obnoxious for some. They were allowed back in 1970.
The Greenwood Seafair parade tried to ban the Pirates' from using the cannon on Moby Duck, a surplus World War II amphibious vessel, because it was too loud. The pirates didn't show up that year.
Complaints from Greenwood residents brought them back the following year and resulted in a "No blow, no go" Pirates' policy. If they can't blow their cannon, they won't show up for an event. They have restricted their cannon fire, upon request, but they refuse to muzzle the booming noise completely.
Tradition and camaraderie
The Seafair Pirates are an all-volunteer group of about 50 men who pay for and stage the pirate landing at Alki Beach, at cost of $30,000, and appear at nearly 80 events throughout the year.
"We get see Seafair from the inside out. When you're on the street for the Torchlight Parade and you see all these faces 10 deep yelling and screaming, it puts goosebumps on you. It's hard to go buy that drug in the store," says Smith, a 12-year-member of the Seattle Men's Club, which is responsible for keeping the tradition alive.
The Seattle Men's Club is described as being "not exclusive but tough to be invited into as a member." It's even more difficult to remain a pirate because of the time commitment required. Members meet weekly, in addition to any scheduled shows or appearances. Each member pays dues and provides his own costume.
As the name implies, it's a fraternal organization. No women. Why? Partly because they can't afford the expense of booking a separate hotel room for a female pirate when they travel, and partly because they like it that way. Women would change the dynamic.
"We have events that we invite girlfriends and wives to," says Ken Coole. That comment gets a round of hearty laughter as they joke about the awkwardness of having their dates and wives in the same location.
"It's a brotherhood you can't replicate," says Arne "Arnuts" Stray. "It's the greatest thing I've ever done."
Camaraderie is what keeps Marvin "Loafin" Davis involved in the Seafair Pirate tradition too.
"As a business owner, you wake up in the morning, you work 12 to 14 hours a day, you go home, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day. I was looking for something different, my kids are grown and gone," Davis says. "The friendships you build and the stuff that we get into, and the craziness, and the good that we do is all part of being a Pirate."
The Seafair Pirates membership includes economic classes from rich to almost homeless, according to one member, and "intelligence from genius to just barely able to tie shoes."
One thing they all have in common - they've always wanted to be pirates.
I'm not sure who did the luring, but I ended up with these guys in a private club after the Ballard Seafood festival, talking about why they've always wanted to be pirates. Left to right: Arne "Arnuts" Stray, Marvin "Loafin" Davis; Jay "Davy Jones" Albrecht; Lance "Clap-Eye" and "Captain Kidd" English; Ken "Gandolf" Coole; and in the back, Peter "Big Boat" Klassell. I don't want to ruin their reputation as being scallywags, but these men are caring, sweet guys.
"Seattle is where I come from. This is where my roots are. This is where my dad grew up. This is my town," says Lance English, who serves as Captain Kidd, the group's leader this year. "When I was younger I was convinced the Seafair Pirates had to be kings of the city. High-end, corporate, important people because no one else would be able to do this sort of thing."
"Pirates to me represent the child in everybody," Peter "Big Boat" Klasell says. "If I come up to a little kid in a business suit and go 'Hi, come here little girl,' either the parents are going to beat me up or I'm going to jail. But in a pirate outfit, people think we're like Johnny Depp or Captain Sparrow and they love us."
These guys get around. Along with appearing at parades in West Seattle, Greenwood, Marysville, Kent, Bothell and other local cities, they've performed in Taiwian, Japan, and the Cayman Islands.
What were they doing in the Caymans? Posing with model Melissa Haro for a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition in 2008.
"I have forgotten more amazing things than most people have ever actually done. We got to sing in Benaroya Hall for a Seattle Children's Hospital benefit. That was awesome," says English.
The Pirates feel fortunate that crowds still embrace them and enjoy their entertainment.
They don't think an organization like theirs could start in Seattle today because people are more uptight and cities are more regulated.
"We are tremendously lucky to have a city that supports us. We're tremendously lucky to have a heritage to draw on," English says. "We're tremendously lucky to have a motivated core membership which isn't really inclined to let something this awesome go away."
By LINDA THOMAS
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