The Story of Pirates Week

Pirates Week takes place at the beginning of November each year attracting thousands of residents and visitors to gather for open-air festivities.  The Festivities start off with either of the Sister Islands (rotated annually), then mid-November with Grand Cayman, and closing again with, either of the Sister Islands. 

The festival has lured American groups such as the Seattle Seafair Pirates and the Rough Riders of St. Petersburg, FL to join in the revelry. Now the visiting groups are changing as we are getting more and more Pirate Krewes coming to us from Tampa including the Krewe of Neptune, Charlotte, Samuel Bellamy and Billy Bowlegs.

Pirates Week was started in 1977 by the then Executive Council Member for Tourism, the Hon. James Bodden, as a vehicle to stimulate tourist arrivals during the off-season and “designed to integrate tourism into the Caymanian community”. That was the mission of Pirates Week as detailed in a Cayman Islands News Bureau press release and reported in the July 1977 Caymanian Compass

The same newspaper report said that according to “the Honourable Jim Bodden who presided over the news conference, Pirates Week will be something of the type of Trinidad’s Carnival, Mexico’s fiesta and Haiti’s Mardi Gras”.  The newspaper further stated that in the Legislative Assembly “Mr. Jim”, as he was known, told the House that “If the event is successful, we envision making it an annual affair.” The first Pirates Week was held from 29 October to November 5, 1977. While the heyday of pirates in these waters was over when our ancestors settled in Cayman, the romanticism and allure that have evolved around Caribbean pirates provide an excellent milieu in which to create a fantasy of unrestrained celebration.

Today the festival is a celebration of Caymanian culture and is officially referred to as “Pirates Week National Festival”. The festival, which is part of the Tourism Attractions Board still acts as a tourism magnet and is still popularly referred to as “Pirates Week”. It is estimated that Pirates Week events collectively draw over 35,000 patrons over the ten days of the festival. Among that number are a significant number of tourists.

The first Committee Chairman of Pirates Week was Rudy Selzer. Colin Panton who had served as Deputy Chairman followed him.  Mr. Panton headed up the ’78 and ’79 festivals. Carolyn Pells succeeded Mr. Panton in 1980.  The longest serving Committee Chairman was Mike Lockwood, whose name is often associated with Pirates Week.  Lockwood, who was popularly known as the “Chief Pirate” served as Committee Chairman from 1982 until his death in 1997. Other Festival Directors to serve since Mike Lockwood includes Dave Martins (1998-2008), Cassandra Hibbert (2009) and Bernie Bush (2010-2012).  The current Executive Director, Melanie McField was appointed by the TAB in July 2013.

There is no better time to experience the culture of Cayman and see the roots from which this 21st Century tourism resort and financial centre evolved than during the District Heritage Days of Pirates Week. Monday through Friday of Pirates Week is time for Caymanians to rediscover their past. At the District Heritage Days one can see what life was like a hundred years ago and experience the traditional food of the Cayman Islands. Youngsters can see how their ancestors worked, played and worshipped. The Heritage Days offer some of the best opportunities to see Caymanian craft work. And of course you can party to Caribbean music. 

For the first time in its 35 year history Pirates Week was cancelled in 2004. Only a catastrophe like that of Hurricane Ivan could stop our National Festival.

The festival has grown from its singular pirate’s street party theme into a multifaceted event with a range of attractions. This year’s schedule consists of more than 40 events over the 17 days of the festival. The variety of activities offers something for everyone regardless of age.