Pirates duel it out for education

Fifth annual Pirates at the Library festival drops anchor at El Dorado Hills Library
By: Margaret Snider Telegraph Correspondent
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Saturday was a day for buccaneers, privateers and scallywags at the El Dorado Hills Library. The Dauntless docked at the library for the fifth annual Pirates at the Library festival on Aug. 20. Fans, followers and enthusiasts donned their pirate gear and were regaled by Queen Mary’s Royal Guard wearing kilts, marching in formation, swords at their sides. Many participants wore elaborate period costume. The Blackfriars sword fighting guild demonstrated their skills and provided impromptu lessons. The El Dorado County Storyteller’s Guild described why pirates wear an eye patch. Tom Riggins took the part of Captain Thomas Maclaren, master and commander of the Dauntless. Riggins and the Dauntless are part of the Sacramento Historical Maritime Educational Organization. Pirates, Riggins said, were cutthroats and thieves, while privateers were licensed officers of the crown — basically legal pirates. “What it did is allowed them to sail under the flag of the country that had given them the letter of mark,” Riggins said. “Their payment was what they took. Almost always there was a portion, a percentage, 15 or 20 percent that went back to the government. The taxes are always paid. As long as you paid your taxes, you weren’t a pirate.” The group has paid painstaking attention to detail. Riggins pointed out a strip of wood called the “devil” that lines the outer edge of the deck and from which came the term having “the devil to pay.” “The actual saying is ‘you’ve got the devil to pay and no hot pitch’,” Riggins said. “Paying is the process of sealing the seams.” The crew uses oakum and hot pitch to pay the seams of the deck, but paying the devil was the most difficult since it was so long and had a very tight groove. “So if you have the devil to pay and no hot pitch,” Riggins said, “you have a difficult task in front of you without the proper means to do it.” Carolyn Brooks, branch manager of the El Dorado Hills Library, said the event began the first year she became children’s librarian. “My husband and I do Renaissance reenactment so we teach history, and we knew the group the Dauntless that has the ship,” Brooks said. She invited them to the library to give children hands-on learning about history, the ocean, sailing ships, and events of the 17th and 18th century. Last year they had 4,000 attending over two days, and Brooks felt this year they were close to that, even at only one day. There are a number of groups devoted to historical reenactment and period portrayal. Michael Foster of Sacramento is part of The Guild of St. George, an Elizabethan organization with the purpose of teaching history through interactive theater. In full period dress, he represented Governor Van Tromp, of St. Eustatius in the Dutch Antilles, Virgin Islands, in the early 1700s. “Privateers would definitely be interested in selling off some of their booty to the Dutch here,” said Foster. Joe Harney, also of Sacramento, of the Guild of St. Luke Renaissance Acting Troupe, portrayed Commodore Pete Chamberlain, and Janice Gutshall depicted his wife. “Each group specializes in a specific piece of history,” said Harney. All the different components come together in an event of this type. In real life, Harney and Gutshall are planning to marry in historic attire on board the Lady Washington, a replica of a small wooden merchant sailing vessel created in 1989. “I’ve been doing costume-themed events since 1995,” Gutshall said. “I made both of our costumes. The hat and the epaulets were purchased, but we made everything else, pretty much.” Volunteers provided important work for the event. Brittany Gennai, 22, began volunteering at the summer reading program last summer, and has read many books on pirates and privateers. “I know enough to get by,” she said, though she doesn’t consider herself an expert. Adrian Oribello of El Dorado Hills attended the event with his wife Jenny and their three children. Jake, 6, likes the library. “They’re full of books!” he said. Justine, 10, checks out mostly fantasy books. She enjoyed the festival. “It’s really fun,” Justine said. “I get to go around the booths and buy stuff and do some games.” Rodney and Nicole Allen and their three children also attended. “There are a lot of educational things for the kids,” said Nicole Allen. “It’s a lot of fun.”