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‘Arrr!’ — ‘Pirates’ convene in New Orleans

The costumed pirate wore a plumed hat and held a squat bottle labeled "rum" in his hand. Inside the bottle, dark liquid sloshed and fizzed.
Richard Reid
Richard Reid of Deer Park, Texas, dressed as a pirate leads a group of costumed pirates on a tour of N.P. Trist Middle School in Meraux, La., on Friday.Bill Haber / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The costumed pirate wore a plumed hat and held a squat bottle labeled “rum” in his hand. Inside the bottle, dark liquid sloshed and fizzed.

“It’s Coke. I didn’t think rum would be appropriate at a school,” said Capt. Arrrghdee (pronounced R.D., with “emphasis on the arrrrrrr”), otherwise known as Richard Reid of Deer Park, Texas.

He’s among at least 750 people attending “Pyratecon,” a New Orleans weekend of piratical dress-up and lore. The weekend gathering also includes good deeds, such as giving supplies to a school re-emerging from Hurricane Katrina.

Pirates are hot these days, thanks in part to Johnny Depp and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” But pirates have had a place in popular culture at least since Captain Charles Johnson (or was it Daniel Defoe?) published “A General History of the Robberies and Murders Of the most Notorious Pyrates” in 1724.

Mark Heimann, a potter from Estacada, Ore., said he began decorating wares with skull and crossbones a year or two ago, and his sales from “Quicksilver’s Pirate Pots” now about equal the rest of his sales.

Pyratecon, billed as the first indoor pirate convention anywhere, is at least triple the size originally envisioned by lead organizer Rudy Arceo, a sheriff’s deputy in New Orleans.

“We were trying to do a little conference, a couple hundred people. But the word spread throughout the country,” through reenactment groups and pirate-themed Web sites, he said.

Whitney Fernandez, working a Barnes & Noble table at the meeting, estimated she had 90 pirate-themed books, CDs, DVDs and games to sell. The books ranged from a picture book titled “Pirate Girl” to a biography of Pierre and Jean Lafitte, who sold slaves from captured ships in the Barataria swamps near New Orleans.

George Choundas, a corporate attorney and former FBI agent in New York, said he used 20 films, 13 television episodes, an amusement park attraction and 41 books to glean the words and phrases he incorporated into his new book, “The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers & Rogues.”

His pronunciation guides, sometimes longer than the phrases themselves, lean heavily on the dialect popularized as pirate talk by Robert Newton, who played Long John Silver in the 1950s movie of Treasure Island and left “arrr” as part of his legacy.

Pyratecon participants are quick to say they have no sympathy with the real, modern day pirates responsible for hundreds of attacks each year on ships around the world.

The focus here is on swashbucklers, who had some admirable traits, Goren said: They elected their captains and women and people of all colors could join them.