Pirate Gathering is about more than playing dress-up

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With a scarf tied around his forehead and a baldric holding a sword wrapped around his shoulder, a pirate dressed in a white shirt, black pants and leather boots pulls a gold coin from his pouch and hands it to a little boy standing behind him.

“My name is Captain Daniel Slaughter,” says the pirate to the boy. “When you’re bigger and you’re ready, you look me up, come find me, bring me that coin and it will buy your way onto my crew.”

With a starry eyed gaze, the boy smiles, agrees to the deal and shakes the hand of his new pirate friend. Twenty minutes later, the boy’s stepmother walks over to the pirate to thank him.

“No, you don’t understand,” she says. “He just moved here from his mom’s in Oregon. That’s the first time he’s smiled since he’s been here in Florida.”

As this year’s co-producers of the St. Augustine Pirate Gathering, Doug Kosarek and Dan Riggsby (aka Captain Daniel Slaughter) live for these stories, and they expect nothing but smiles from the several thousand patrons attending the ninth annual event Friday through Sunday at the crossroads of I-95 and Route 207 (exit 311) behind the St. Augustine Marketplace.

“It’s going to be a blast,” says Kosarek, an active pirate for over 20 years. “It’s going to be bigger, better, badder and bolder than ever.”

Recognized by USA Today as one of the top pirate festivals in the country, the Pirate Gathering has historically been held in downtown St. Augustine. Kosarek and Riggsby say the 40-plus acres of new space — dubbed Blackbeard’s Refuge — enabled them to grow the gathering and provide a better overall experience for the patrons.

Canvas Cove, the period encampment, is bigger than ever. Separated from the main field for a more private, immersive experience, visitors will see live, un-choreographed swordfights, black powder battles and cannon volleys.

“You get a history lesson, and you don’t event know it, which is fun,” says Lee Pallas, president of the Ancient City Privateers — a St. Augustine nonprofit pirate organization that has hosted and organized the Pirate Gathering in years past.

The kids zone, which is almost the size of a football field, will feature pony rides, a petting zoo, a Ferris wheel, a climbing wall, bungee jumping, inflatable rides and a 300-foot zip line. $5 wristbands provide kids with all-day access to this carnival space.

Three stages of live entertainment, four distinctly different bars and various food vendors will be onsite throughout the weekend. And when the sun goes down, Kosarek says the entertainment shifts to what you would find in a port town bar, including fire dancers, burlesque dancers and fire pits where people will gather around in drum circles and sing sea shanties late into the night.

“It’s part-historic, part kid-friendly and part-adult fun,” says Kosarek. “Those personalities interact and coexist rather well.”

Since the event has moved away from downtown St. Augustine, Kosarek and Riggsby have arranged free shuttle service all weekend long from the new event space to St. Augustine’s Visitor Center.

“All of these places that you love in St. Augustine aren’t out of reach,” says Riggsby. “Get on the bus and go support these downtown businesses.”

Scott Erkelens, owner of the Pirate Store in downtown St. Augustine and a Pirate Gathering sponsor and vendor, encourages local residents to visit the event.

“Come out and experience something you’ve never experienced before,” he says. “Anybody and everybody that spends time with a group of pirates would want to become a pirate.”

Hours of admission for the gathering are from 1 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under. On Sunday, Nov. 6, St. Johns County residents can buy tickets at a two-for-one discounted rate. Tickets are available online and at the event venue. Proceeds will be donated to Hurricane Matthew storm damage relief organizations in Northeast Florida.

Kosarek is looking forward to the authenticity that the gathering provides for the pirate community.

“For us, pirating is not just putting on a costume,” says Kosarek. “It’s part of revealing who we are.”