Rain doesn't stop pirate gathering in Cortland




Despite Saturday’s downpours, chilly weather and even hail, about 75 pirate re-enactors and vendors assembled at Greene Eagle Winery in Cortland for the annual Great Lakes Pirate Gathering.

The event is normally in Columbus on the replica pirate ship Santa Maria, but this year the winery hosted the gathering because the ship is undergoing extensive restoration.

“This year’s festival is intended to raise money for the restoration,” explained Joseph McBride of Cort-land, a pirate re-enactor who helped organize the gathering, which continues today. “The weather has certainly put a damper on things, but we are optimistic that funds will still be raised.”

Linda Ketcham, executive director of the Santa Maria museum, said the ship needs extensive repairs that will likely cost just under $1 million.

“Events like this one help us raise revenue for the restoration,” she said. “Typically we can raise about $1,000 per day from [the Great Lakes Pirate Gathering].”

The Santa Maria was constructed in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ journey to the new world.

Ketcham said the ship serves as a history museum that educates visitors on both the good and bad of Christopher Columbus.

The ship is also a hub for pirate re-enactments and pirate-themed events, which McBride says have grown in popularity since the blockbuster movie “Pirates of The Caribbean.”

The Great Lakes Pirate Gathering, however, is more about history and education than Hollywood glitz, McBride said.

“The people who participate in these events are very knowledgeable from a historical standpoint, and although the event is definitely about fun and good times, it’s also about historical accuracy and educating people on what the life of the pirate was like,” he said.

Despite the persistent rain, the Greene Eagle Winery grounds were crowded with swashbucklers in 18th-century pirate costumes.

Amid the mud and brooding gray skies were vendors selling gleaming silver swords, stout leather purses, pirate belts and medallions.

There also were pirate raids, historical demonstrations, musical entertainment, black-powder competitions, belly dancers, cannons, vendors, auctions and more.

Inside the winery, a contortionist dazzled the crowd with her acrobatics, and a group of men clad in old-time sailor costumes sang old English seafaring songs.

The vendors and re-enactors arrived Friday evening to camp at the winery for the weekend.

Keith Bliss, partial owner of the winery, said the winery is the perfect setting for the festival because of its 17th- and 18th-century atmosphere.

“Our winery is intended to reflect that time period, and we have plenty of space here for an encampment, so it’s perfect for a festival like this,” Bliss said.

Ketcham said the winery will likely be a future location for the gathering.

“Any time you host a new event, it usually takes a couple years for it to really catch on,” she said. “We think this will be a future location for our festival, and we are hoping to get the word out, because this is a really unique and fun event for the entire family.”

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