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Swanage: pirate-friendly town

Brian Cormack looks at what's going on at the second Purbeck Pirate Festival

Why are these children dressed as pirates? Because they 'Aaaarrrghhhhhh'

Why are these children dressed as pirates? Because they ‘Aaaarrrghhhhhh’

Having shivered the timbers of Swanage’s Victorian pier last July, the town will again fly the Jolly Roger for the first weekend of the month as Purbeck Pirate Festival drops anchor. Like the scurvy knaves themselves, the festival enjoys a short life and a merry one with a packed programme of events that manages the useful trick of bringing the pier closer to the town centre – or is that simply an effect of the rum?

he culturally accepted  international symbol for pirates – the skull and crossbones – is also found on local headstones

he culturally accepted international symbol for pirates – the skull and crossbones – is also found on local headstones

‘We hoped we could involve the whole town last year with the first festival,’ says Rena Lang, volunteer event co-ordinator at Swanage Pier Trust, ‘but we were bowled over by the response as people in shops put on pirate fancy dress and laid out pirate-themed displays days in advance – it really helped set the tone for the festival weekend. Swanage is all about community, so if an event is good for everyone, we all pull together to make sure it goes as well as it can.’
Purbeck Pirate Festival can trace its roots back to 2015, when filming took place at the pier for Peter & Wendy, the ITV-commissioned adaptation of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan that starred Paloma Faith, Stanley Tucci and Laura Fraser. Crowds flocked to see the frigate Shtandart (see below) moored at the end of Swanage Pier, where it stood in for Captain Hook’s ship, the Sea Devil.  Appetites were well and truly whetted, prompting Swanage Pier Trust chief executive Ben Adeney and fund-raising consultant Louise Stewart to approach the Shtandart’s captain, Vladimir Martus, about a return visit. He had a free weekend the following July and the first Purbeck Pirate Festival began to take shape.

Re-enactors the Kings Men attempt to see off the pirates with a volley form the beach

Re-enactors the Kings Men attempt to see off the pirates with a volley form the beach

‘Everyone loves pirates, we just didn’t realise quite how much,’ laughs Swanage Pier Trust administrator Debbie Reddick. ‘There was a real buzz in town in the week leading up to the festival and then all these people turned up in fancy dress, really entering into the spirit of the event.’ As well as tours of the Shtandart, there were treasure hunts, a rum tent and barbecue, live music, a kids’ disco – complete with one-legged pirate DJ – and a charity auction. Professional lookalike Jax Parrow made his presence felt, not least when he stole the rum stock instead of the treasure chest during the pirate battle re-enactment.
And for the purists who insisted that planks must be walked, the sailing ship Moonfleet teamed up with outdoor adventure specialists Cumulus Outdoors  to run a three-hour tall ship sailing experience that involved walking the plank off the Jurassic Coast and swimming into a coasteering adventure that finished at Dancing Ledge. ‘It was a fantastic experience for everyone who took part,’ says Rena. ‘Once word got around last year, we were amazed at how many offers to take part we received – all the performers and the traders and so many volunteers. It’s a charity festival and they all gave their time for free. Once again this year, the traders are voluntarily signing up to agree to donate twenty per cent of their takings to the Save Swanage Pier Appeal.’

There'll be tall tales and cunning conjuring from Kevin the Pirate Magician

There’ll be tall tales and cunning conjuring from Kevin the Pirate Magician

In 2013 the pier was partially closed for several months following a partial collapse as a result of storm damage. This revealed the full extent of the decay in the pier structure and that major work was needed to protect it for the future. Since then Swanage Pier Trust has been working with consultants and specialists to develop plans and to secure the funds needed to deliver the £2.2 million regeneration project that will also include the refurbishment of the grade II listed Marine Villas to provide new education, exhibition catering and retail facilities. Architects Studio Partington have developed plans for an innovative glass extension to Marine Villas, which will extend the café area and enable visitors to enjoy views of Swanage Bay. The Heritage Lottery Fund has now approved the Trust’s second-round application in support of the regeneration project and awarded a grant of £1.1 million.
‘We are absolutely delighted with the announcement,’ says Ben Adeney. ‘Swanage Pier is extremely important to the local community and it has been amazing how people have supported the appeal. We cannot express our gratitude enough to the local community, businesses, partners, National Lottery players and funders who have made this project possible.’
For this year’s Purbeck Pirate Festival the Trust is partnering with Swanage and Purbeck Rotary to increase the event’s reach and awareness. Money raised will be divided between the Save Swanage Pier Appeal and Rotary’s chosen charity, the Purbeck Admiral Nurse Appeal.
Further attractions include additional performances by the River Rogues pirate re-enactors and the Star Gun Company, which specialises in black powder weaponry, not to mention the festival debut of Mark Hobden, pirate surgeon. ‘He contacted us and offered his unique services,’ says Rena. ‘He’s actually a Civil War re-enactor, but as he says, the skills are transferable. It might not be for the squeamish though!’
Dorset’s touring arts network, Artsreach, is also getting involved this year, sponsoring the Beach School hosted by Dorset Forest School, in which children can learn all about the flora and fauna of the shoreline above and below the waves; while Swanage Library is hosting special pirate-style Children’s Rhymetime sessions and children’s author Barbara Townsend will be on hand to talk about her work, including her most recent book, Old Harry Rock and Tales of the Jurassic Coast. A full schedule of live music will see the Kelp Shanty Singers, Wareham Whalers, the Folk Orc, Jurassic Rock ’n’ Roll Band and Swanage Jazz Machine performing for free at various venues throughout the town. ‘We also have several young local buskers who will appear in the bandstand and set up outside Gee Whites on the old stone quay, so there’s something for all ages,’
says Debbie.

There'll be sea songs sung as folk musicians the Folk Orc also get into the pirate spirit

There’ll be sea songs sung as folk musicians the Folk Orc also get into the pirate spirit

But for all this piratical activity, it’s about much more than pieces of eight. At the heart of Purbeck Pirate Festival is a town doing its best to make the most of what it has to offer for locals and visitors alike. ‘I often work in the café shop at the pier,’ says Rena, ‘and I always ask people what brings them here to visit. I’ve started keeping a diary and looking back, it’s incredible how many people say they love being able to wander along on a wooden pier that is untouched by the modern age. There are no slot machines, no noisy arcades, there’s nothing to spoil the view – it really is a glimpse of another time and people love that.
‘Swanage has always done well for tourist attractions – the beach, the railway, lots of other music and arts festivals, Durlston Country Park, the carnival, the Waverley paddle steamer in September and the Balmoral in August – so we’re very good at making people welcome.’

Purbeck Pirate Festival 1-2 July 2017

The frigate Shtandart comes of age

Frigate Shtandart

Frigate Shtandart

Built by volunteers in 1999 using traditional boat building methods, the Shtandart is an historically accurate replica of the man o’ war built by Russian Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 in order to defend his capital, St Petersburg.
Now run as a non-profit sail-training vessel, it is crewed by a core of young trainees augmented by guests who pay for the adventure of sailing a tall ship on the high seas. Although its home remains in St Petersburg, Shtandart takes part in tall ships events, maritime festivals and port visits around Europe as a Russian ambassador.
Vladimir Martus started his sailing career at 14 and raced for his country’s Olympic class sailing team for 12 years. He graduated as a naval architect from St Petersburg Maritime University’s Faculty of Shipbuilding in 1990 and built two large wooden replica sailing ships – the schooner St Peter (80 feet, 1991) and the frigate Shtandart (110 feet, 1999).
As captain of the Shtandart, he has taken part in tall ship racing since 2001 and has directed several large maritime events and festivals, is a qualified Royal Yacht Association Yachtmaster Instructor and president of ‘Project Shtandart’, which aims to help young people become independent by working in a team and learning how to respect themselves and each other.
Shtandart will stop off in Swanage for the pirate festival during a 500 nautical mile journey from Liverpool to Honfleur.

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