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Shiver me timbers ... they're here

The Baltimore Sun

Pirates of all shapes and sizes bounded off the Clipper City tall ship yesterday, dressed in black hats and pirate garb, pistols at the ready, for their annual invasion of Fells Point.

Greeting them was Vince Zegowitz, a 64-year-old retired oceanographer whose ruddy face attested to his 30 years at sea. He roamed the wharf with his family, dressed in loose black pants, black construction boots, a flowing white blouse, black vest and black bandana.

"I feel like Johnny Depp in drag - because these are all women's clothes," he said jokingly. "But pirates are always a blast."

They certainly know now to have one. Cannon fire boomed and the invaders shouted, "Hip, hip, AAARRRGGHH," looking not-so-mean as they pulled out digital cameras to capture photos of the crowd and tossed beads to the bystanders while their ship approached the dock.

Among them were Blender Wench in a brown frock, and one pirate (or "pyrate" as purists prefer) named Dogg with a wooden water bowl in tow.

The gruel and grog and eye-patches were all part of the festivities at what was officially known as the third annual Privateer Day at Broadway Square and Pier.

About 350 buccaneers (and one very large parrot) joined in - showing off their pirate finery, trading tips about where to get the best garb (eBay) and lapsing into pirate lingo at every opportunity. Much of that lingo consisted of the word "AAARRRGGHH."

"We get people hooked, AAARRRGGHH, all the time," said Vicki Bokhari, alias Blender Wench, who organizes Pyrate Invasion, the annual evening pub crawl that caps the day's activities. "It's an escape from reality."

The hijinks do have a basis in real history. Fells Point-known as the Crazy Den of Pirates to the British - played a key role in the War of 1812.

Blockaded by the British, the U.S. Navy relied heavily on privateers (vessels authorized to attack foreign ships at a time of war) that sank or captured some 1,700 British vessels during the conflict. Meanwhile, Baltimore clippers served as cargo vessels, bringing munitions and other goods through the blockade.

"They went out and beat up on the British navy and freed the American Navy and helped win the war," said Jeremy Fennema, the president of Fells Point Development Corp., the event's sponsor.

There was, of course, plenty of beer to go around, with a raid on local pubs scheduled for the evening. But during the day, kids had their faces painted while adults shopped for frocks and hats as they channeled their inner Errol Flynn (star of the pirate movies Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk).

Perhaps the biggest draw of the day was Zegowitz's son, Mark, 30, dressed as a giant parrot of yellow and green and red, strutting around with the parrot pickup line: "Whassup, ladies?"

He found his costume through a Google search.

"He's the man," his father said, looking on proudly. "Pirates are a dime a dozen but - parrots are a separate deal."

"I figured there would be a million pirates down here - and every pirate needs a parrot - so I may as well be a parrot," the younger Zegowitz said.

For some, the pirate life is a serious hobby, not just a way to pick up the ladies.

Consider Henry Allen, 36, alias Dogg, who donned a denim doublet (a fancy pirate vest), a leather tricorn (a funky pirate hat) and had a dagger-shaped earring dangling from one lobe.

When he's not selling mobile phones for a living, Allen spends about 45 hours a week on all things pirate.

He has been at it for nearly two decades and says it was the lure of pirate freedom and Errol Flynn's cool swagger that grabbed him.

"Pirates can do what they want, they are carefree and they don't have to answer to anyone- except for the captain," he said.

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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