Pirates invade area for Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash

Carl R. Popadick, left, as Capt. Levi “Bluebeard” West and Joel Keener as Capt. Charles Vane get set for the fifth annual Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash set for Saturday and Sunday at sites all around town. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

BOWERS — Most days of the year, Joel Keener of Claymont is an artist and professor at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. But, every Memorial Day weekend, he becomes mischievous pirate Charles Vane in honor of the rowdy, swashbuckling celebration known as the Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash.

“Charles Vane was a real pirate in the golden age of piracy in the late 1600s and early 1700s,” said Mr. Keener. “He got his start when folks were salvaging the Spanish treasure ships that sunk in a storm off the coast of Florida. He decided he wanted to be self-employed.”

Charles Vane spent his pirate days up and down the East Coast from Philadelphia (and probably New York) down to the Caribbean, explained Mr. Keener. He was a known associate of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach.

“Charles was partying with Blackbeard and other miscreants of the era. So we know that he spent some time in the Chesapeake and Delaware bays,” said Mr. Keener.

Vane was eventually captured and hung for his crimes in 1721, approximately five years after beginning a life of piracy.

“It was a short career, but an exciting one,” said Mr. Keener.

On Saturday and Sunday, the small city of Bowers will become a pirate haven for the annual festival. Visitors are encouraged to come and “party like it’s 1699!”

The Buccaneer Bash, now in its fifth year, is organized by the Bowers Beach Maritime Museum. Judy Martin, executive director of the museum, said the festival has been rapidly growing since its inception.

“We started out with about 1,000 to 1,500 people coming to the first one,” she said. “Last year we estimated about 6,000 to 7,000 showed up. We’re expecting even more this year if the weather cooperates.”

Creating an extremely loud bang, Eric Mueller of New York, NY fires a grenado – a primitive explosive that was a special weapon of pirates – into the air as he and other pirates ransack the town of Bowers Beach in 2005. (Delaware State News file photo)

Largely orchestrated by the museum, the festival is also made possible by funds from the Kent County Levy Court, Delaware Division of the Arts and the Delaware Humanities Forum. The event pays for itself, and adds funds to the museum’s coffers, said Ms. Martin.

“The festival really has two purposes: to educate the public about the pirates of the Delaware Bay and to raise funds for the museum,” she said.

“It’s taken a while to grow the event and the whole thing is a rather expensive proposition with advertising, bringing in bands and entertainers and food trucks and vendors. But, at the end it helps put a little bit money into the museum.”

Through fundraising efforts and a county grant, Ms. Martin said the museum has recently been able to engage in a few expansion projects.

“It’s a really exciting time for us — we’ve renovated a part of our 104-year-old museum, and last week we just started a new building behind it that will give us a lot more room for exhibits and educational spaces,” she said.

Festival features

Ms. Martin said the event is a family-friendly gathering that’s enjoyable for all ages. There will be a gamut of entertainers, including two pirate bands — The Brigands and Pirates for Sail. The Pirates of Fortune’s Folly, an entertainment troupe, will be performing for visitors as well.

The event is centered around the pirate encampment that will be set up in the city park just west of Clifton Cubbage Drive from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. However, various happenings, demonstrations and performances will be ongoing throughout Bowers. An estimated 35 to 40 “pirates” will be on hand to provide cannon, small firearm and sword fight demonstrations. There will also be cooking, brewing, woodworking, glassblowing, blacksmithing and nautical tool use displays in action.

Workshops on knot-tying skills, the history of female pirates, pirate democracy, pirate weaponry and safety and the mathematics of artillery will be held for visitors’ amusement.

Among the large number of period-appropriate vendors and activities, a little audience-participation theater will be in the air too.

“The first Delaware Militia will be here, and it’s so much fun to watch them interacting — they’ll recruit children

Dressed as “Captain Jack Sparrow”, Gary Crivellano of Easton, PA let visitors to the Bowers Beach Buccaneer Bash board his Black Pearl pirate ship in 2015. (Delaware State News file photo)

from the audience to help fight back the pirates,” said Ms. Martin

“There is always a pirate bar brawl too that happens at our local tavern, The Bayview Inn, around 3 p.m. on Saturday. It’s a big fight that spills out onto the street — the crowd always loves it.”

As a prelude to Buccaneer Bash, around 25 pirate re-enactors will be heading to the 7:30 showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” at the AMC theater in the Dover Mall.

“It’ll be a lot of fun. They’ll be hanging out before the movie in full garb taking pictures with people,” said Ms. Martin.

Feeling like he’s been a pirate ever since he first read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” as a boy, Mr. Keener said the history and lifestyle of pirates is fascinating and fun. He enjoys helping the public find that same inspiration at the Buccaneer Bash.

“Pirates have a notorious history, but in a way I admire that kind of wild freedom,” he said. “My favorite part of the festival is just getting the chance to be a full-fledged pirate all weekend and just share the experience with everyone.”

For more information on the event or a full list of activities and times, call (302) 335-1556 or search “Bowers Beach Maritime Museum” on Facebook.

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