In an old neighbourhood near George Town, members of Las Tortugas gather at the home of Darvin Ebanks, also known as the pirate’s lair of Captain Black Terrance. Some are already dressed in full costume while others lug in clothes, boots, wigs, jewellery and make up to prepare themselves within earshot of their crew.
Still shirtless, Ebanks has not fully transformed into his pirate’s persona. Intricate tattoos in dark ink cover his face. A green feather is tucked behind his ear.
Ebanks avoids talking about the methods he uses to apply the tattoos that have become his signature pirate look. Nor does he allow anyone to observe as he prepares his face. Hours before any of his crew arrives, he tattoos his face in private.
It would only be much later, when he is exhausted after a full-on day festivities that he would say anything about his tattoos. That they are inspired by the Amazon tribes. But he only divulges that after a few pints of beer.
In a spare room, Mouthwatering Maleka helps a first-time wench change from a long shapeless dress into her costume. Blonde and youthful, Debra Rose could easily pass for a 20-something university student, but it turns out that she is in her late 30s.
As she rolls fishnet stockings over her ankle and thigh, Debra admits that she is a bit nervous about her husband, who does not want her to reveal too much in her costume. But having just moved here, Debra is determined to become part of the community and what better way to do that then at the Pirates Week Festival?
Mouthwatering Maleka tightens Debra’s corset until it is snug. The petticoat under the velvet skirt makes her skirt bounce as she walks. She tucks her hair under a dark wig of dreadlock curls.
“My costume was a little too nice; I thought this would add a little bit of naughty,” says Debra.
In another part of the island, Duke Tibbetts plays Soca music to help get in the pirate mode as Big Cannon Jack.
Big Cannon Jack sports a ginger-coloured Fu Manchu moustache with wide sideburns that he has been growing for the last couple weeks. After eight years of festivities, Big Cannon Jack has something to say about pirates. That is – pirates are not clean shaven. The Fu Manchu gives him the rugged look of an authentic pirate.
He then puts on his leather belt and stuffs his pouch with doubloons and other giveaways. He also attaches a mug, two pistols and a cutlass. When he is fully dressed, he has put on 40 pounds of gear. There is a low clanging sound when he walks.
Any doubts of Big Cannon Jack’s authenticity are set aside when this reporter looks into his eyes. They have the golden-hazel colour so common of people native to the Cayman Islands. But then, he opens them wide so that I can see the full circle of his iris. Not all of his irises are hazel. Underneath his eyelids, a black triangle darkens both hazel irises. He was born that way, he says.
Showing his black triangle eyes, he smiles. And in this moment, I sense I have come face-to-face with a true descendent of Caribbean pirates.
Costumes are serious business for pirates. Pistols, cutlasses, mugs, jewellery, handcuffs, whips, hats and other pirate accoutrements are acquired at Renaissance fairs, antique shops and over the Internet. Some are passed on from pirate to pirate. Accessories from fellow pirates who have died have higher value.
Most pirates spend months planning their costumes. Many hire seamstresses to make their unique costumes. After all, no self-respecting pirate could bear seeing someone else wearing the same costume.
At a local pub, more than 30 pirates join up with Captain Black Terrence for a bit of food and drink before getting on the ship for the landing pageant. The crew is a mixture of locals who have grown up with the festival and tourists who come every year: Gun Powder West, Billy Bow Legs, Texas Tall Ships and Captain Kill Devil, the pirate with a peg leg.
The pirates hail from Washington, Florida, Texas, Canada and Bombay
No one is really talking about the uncertainty hanging in the air. The possibility the premier will fulfill his campaign promise to take ‘Pirate’ out of the festival’s name. After 32 years, could this festival really be the last under the Pirates Week name?
Shaking his head, Captain Black Terrence has an abiding feeling that Premier McKeeva will come to his senses before too much damage is done.
Later, dozens of pirates and wenches gathered at the dock, but the seas are too rough for the Jolly Roger, a replica of a Spanish galleon sailing ship. A tender is dispatched to transfer them to the ship in deeper water. Pirates and wenches climb aboard and the tender heads toward the pirate ship.
Over the next few hours, Captain Black Terrence and his crew have a lot to do: attack the harbour, capture the governor and parade through the streets lined with spectators.
Across the water, a pirate’s deep voice rings out “ha-ha-ha.”
In the harbour, thousands of adults and children crowd the streets and balconies, all of them waiting for their pirate show to begin.