It’s time to trim the mainsail and dust off the old cutlass, as we kick off the 40th annual Pirates Week Festival of the Cayman Islands.

Last weekend’s events on Cayman Brac marked the official start of the celebration – jam-packed with activities, from the first happy hour toast to the final parley and farewell. As visiting pirates and their crews descend upon our shores, we urge all of Cayman to give them a hearty welcome.

The yearly homage to Cayman’s heritage, and celebration of all things pirate, has become a major attraction for tourists and a much-anticipated break from the routine for residents. Like Cayman, the essence of Pirates Week cannot be captured in a single phrase – it is a colorful and cordial blend of history, whimsy, revelry and community.

It presents a romanticized version of piracy’s golden age – thankfully long past. The real pirates, buccaneers and privateers who sailed these seas from the 1500s to the 1830s were an incorrigible lot. Their names struck terror in the hearts of their adversaries and victims: Sir Francis Drake, Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackham and the “lady pirate” Anne Bonny. We are content to see those dreaded monikers relegated to the labels of rum bottles, but there’s no harm in a little pirate-themed fun.

Once again, the festival committee has dreamed up a schedule that is as rich and vibrant as our islands, with events for children, families and more “adult oriented” fare. Movie pirates will mix with those wearing more historically accurate garb. Those wearing flip-flops and T-shirts mingle with buccaneers brandishing swords and eye patches.

There are sports competitions and music, food, theater and fun. And, of course, there is plenty of laughter, good food and merriment. This year, organizers are trying out a shortened schedule, shrinking the festival from 10 days to five, and consolidating Heritage Days into a one-day event in George Town.

Organizers have said they will see how this “Cliffs Notes” version plays out before deciding how to organize next year’s festivities. While it remains to be seen how this year’s revised schedule will play, in general, imagination and innovation are integral to keeping long-running events “fresh” and relevant.

Also key is retaining proven and popular core elements, including the traditional “pirates landing” and float parade which gets under way at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, in downtown George Town. Of course, this year’s Pirates Week still includes major events such as the cardboard boat race, sea swim, Pooch Parade, street dances, children’s fun day and fireworks.

The festival kicks off in Grand Cayman on Thursday with Pirates Week happy hour, steel pan competition and street party downtown, and will end Monday, Nov. 13 with the traditional “Trial of the Pirates” and consolidated Heritage Days.

Those celebrations of Cayman culture, which had struggled with attendance at times in the past, will be presented in a combined event that should draw record crowds. Falling on Remembrance Day, most Cayman residents will be off from work and school. With a number of cruise ships scheduled to be in George Town harbor on the same day, this year’s combined event also presents a unique opportunity to introduce thousands of daytime visitors to Cayman’s history and culture.

So let us all come together to welcome our visitors, piratical and otherwise, and make this year’s Pirates Week a festival to remember. Anchors aweigh!

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