Pirates have invaded Cedar Key, but no one seems to mind.
In fact, this is the fourth year in a row that “pirate crews” convened in Cedar Key, despite the wreckage left behind by Hurricane Hermine just two weeks prior.
Cyndi Waters, of Naples, drove five hours to Cedar Key with her husband for the four-day festivities.
“We come in, we listen to music, buy from the vendors. We dance, we sing, and of course, there’s a little bit of rum involved.”
The Cedar Key Pirate Invasion involves period-accurate costumes and props, live pirate music, and historical reenactments between pirates and the British Navy.
Waters, or “Lady Chameleon” to her fellow pirates, said the pirate community reached out to Cedar Key after the storm, and helped with repairs in the weeks before the festival.
“Right after the hurricane hit, word got out,” she said. “We knew the pirate festival was happening, and 50 different pirates from different crews came up and helped put things back together.”
Mary Ellen, of Cedar Key, experienced the devastation of Hurricane Hermine firsthand.
“If I had known it was gonna be that bad, I never would’ve stayed,” she said. “It was the scariest night of my life.”
Ellen said Cedar Key’s people were not defeated by the storm; rather, the whole town “came alive” the morning after to help one another rebuild.
She described watching police and firefighters using construction equipment to move boulders “the size of ovens,” and how city officials kept residents informed and helped make sense of the chaos.
The storm “was all gone in a few days,” she said, “but it was devastation. There were homes that were almost completely lost. The force of the water was pushing through walls like bulldozers.”
Ellen estimated that only about a third of the island evacuated before the worst of Hermine arrived. She considered herself lucky, because her house was above flood level, but many of her neighbors and local businesses were not so fortunate.
John Lock, a founder of the Pirate Invasion who lives part-time in Cedar Key, said this year’s festival is raising money with local businesses in mind, including the Island Room Restaurant which was completely destroyed during the storm.
“This is a very slow time of year, so we’re bringing a lot of business into town,” he said. “A lot of the proceeds from the fest are going to Cedar Key relief.”
Another pirate, Jeanie Hooper, came to help with clean-up after Hurricane Hermine, and broke multiple bones in her left leg and dislocated a part of it while carrying furniture.
Hooper, of Bradenton, attended the festival in a wheelchair, her leg propped up in metal bars. Normally, she would have dressed up as a pirate, she said, but was enjoying herself nonetheless.
“Right after the storm, it was heartbreaking,” she said. “So many businesses had so much damage, and because they’re locally owned, it was really devastating for them.”
Even after seeing the damage, though, Hooper said she didn’t think for a minute that the pirate festival would be cancelled.
“We call it Cedar Key Strong,” she said. “They love us, and we love them. This is our home away from home.”