EASTPORT, Maine — Thousands of people are expected to attend the community’s eighth annual Eastport Pirate Festival.
“It’s growing every year,” said Ross Furman, chief organizer of the festival and who conceived the idea with two others.
The first festival drew about 500 people, but in recent years attendance has reached around 10,000, according to Furman. Last year, almost 16,000 attended the event. Furman, a summer resident of Eastport who lives winters in Portland, attributed the spike in interest to a visit from the replica HMS Bounty, which was in Eastport nearly a week.
“It seemed to attract a lot of attention,” Furman said Monday.
The original British Navy sailing vessel was famous for a mutiny, which was the subject of a novel and film, both titled, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” The replica that visited Eastport last year sank the following month off the North Carolina coast after getting caught in high seas caused by Hurricane Sandy. The Coast Guard rescued 14 members of the crew, but two perished.
The festival will feature 217 different events over the course of the weekend, from noon Friday until Sunday evening.
About 90 percent of those who attend the festival wear costumes in keeping with the pirate theme, according to Furman.
“It’s really family oriented,” he said. “It’s quite an event.”
People lodge in inns as far away as Calais and Machias, while some drive back and forth from Portland in one day to attend the festival, Furman noted.
A new event for this year will be an “invasion” of British redcoats at the downtown waterfront with black powder cannons, swords and other period weapons. It will be staged at noon Sunday.
Other popular events of the weekend include the pirate ball on the wharf Friday night, parade 1 p.m. Saturday, bed race 3 p.m. Saturday, and lobster crate race 3 p.m. Sunday. Another highlight will be the pirate boat parade on the waterfront at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
Activities will include dinner and drink specials offered by restaurants, live music, puppet show, sword fighting demonstration, a 5K walk-run and 1 mile “fun run” for children, schooner rides, whale watching excursions, an underwater treasure hunt and Saturday evening fireworks. The festival will feature about 50 vendors and exhibitors.
Some activities will be held throughout the weekend, including the pirate encampment, vendors and exhibitors, free tattoos for children, and an exhibition by artist Lisbeth Firmin.
Sponsored by the Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce, the festival gets underway at noon Friday with a lunch at the city’s senior center. Judging will be conducted that afternoon for contests for the best decorated homes and businesses in keeping with the pirate themed weekend. Business employees also are eligible for prizes for best pirate costume.
“I wasn’t in the Navy, but I’m a captain this weekend,” said Furman.
For the complete schedule of festival activities, visit: www.eastportpiratefestival.com.