Ahoy, Old Baldy!

Braze the pirate will be seeking treasure throughout The Pirates Are Coming festival weekend at Bald Head Island. Courtesy photo

Braze the pirate will be seeking treasure throughout The Pirates Are Coming festival weekend at Bald Head Island. Courtesy photo

While the history of pirates alludes to a lot of pillaging and plundering around the seven seas, these days in Bald Head Island, pirates gather to help raise funds for the isle’s lighthouse, Old Baldy, which was built in 1817.

On August 7th, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the National Lighthouse Day Act. The legislature called for all lighthouse grounds, where feasible, to become open to the public. “Each year after, we celebrated National Lighthouse Day with events based on some historical aspect of Bald Head Island and the Lower Cape Fear region,” Mary Beth Springmeier, the executive director of the Old Baldy Foundation, explains. “In 2006 we selected the theme of pirates, and it has been popular ever since! All proceeds from the weekend’s events go toward the preservation of the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina.”

The Atlantic coast, and likely most fair-weather shores around the globe, offers its share of colorful tales of pirates and privateers. North Carolina’s shallow inlets within the Outer Banks beckoned one of the most famous pirates of all time, Blackbeard. “Southport (Smithville) and Smith Island complex, including Bald Head Island, were not developed during the golden age of piracy—there were no communities to leave documents or artifacts behind,” the executive director clarifies. “There is only one pirate with known, historically documented interaction with this lower part of the Cape Fear River: Stede Bonnet, ‘The Gentleman Pirate.’”

As for Old Baldy, the lighthouse was decommisioned in 1935, as it no longer served as a navigational aid. “It was pretty much abandoned from the 1940s to 1985, when a group of people formed The Old Baldy Foundation,” Springmeier details. “The non-profit’s first mission was to stabilize and rescue the lighthouse, and this has been one of our primary efforts ever since. In addition, we provide the opportunity for people to visit and climb the 108 steps to the top of the lantern room throughout the year.”

Springmeier clarifies that Old Baldy is on the Federal Historic Register, but it does not benefit from any federal or state park system. “Our funding for operation and maintenance comes from all the 25,000 people each year who visit Old Baldy,” she divulges, “whether they pay the entrance fee and receive an ‘I Supported Old Baldy’ sticker, shop in our gift shop, take a guided historic tour of the island, or come to the Pirates Festival!”

From August 2nd through August 4th, “The Pirates Are Coming” festival offers fun for scallywags of all ages. Impressive ships and skillful sailors will raid Bald Head Island, including Captain Horatio Sinbad, Blackbeard’s Crew, Braze, Motley Tones, Sophia Fairesword and the Wenches of Syren’s Call, and the Shadow Players Stage Combat Group. There will even be an island-wide 24-hour treasure pursuit—though Springmeier’s lips are sealed about this event!

“This is a closely guarded secret,” she asserts. “The contents change every year and are only revealed to participants when they receive their packets on Friday. The game is played across the island with clues, a scavenger hunt, and activities which all count as points, in addition to finding a treasure. There is serious competition among teams!”

Though the Old Baldy Foundation has no way of knowing how many folks attend “The Pirates Are Coming” festival, the weekend-long party is recognized as the island’s most celebrated event. “This is a very popular weekend for Bald Head Island, and many people have booked their vacations and getaway stays to be here on the island for the pirates,” Springmeier reveals. “Some of our events, such as the invasion, are free and open on the marina—so many people come out and watch Friday night’s action!” All tickets for the various events are available online at www.oldbaldy.org or by calling (910) 457-7481.


Treasure Pursuit Begins
4 p.m. to 6 p.m., Tent Pavilion
This treasure pursuit is more than just a hunt! It’s a family challenge full of fun for all ages. Use your head to build up points to win the grand prize and, of course, bragging rights. Pick up registration packets from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Tent Pavilion. Reservations are required; $25 per team of four. All packets must be returned by 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 2nd. Winners announced on Sunday.

Pirate Block Party
4:30 p.m., Harbourside Pavilion
Enjoy a night of music with authentic pirate band Rusty Cutlass, and hang with the pirates. The beer and wine truck will open at 4:30 p.m., and Carolina BBQ will be served from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free, but there is a charge for food and beverages: $28 for adults and $15 for children.

Pirate Booty Silent Auction
4:30 p.m., Harbourside Pavilion
Bid on a select set of products and one-of-a-kind packages, including a private catered cocktail party inside Old Baldy, and a beautiful, handmade Hawaiian quilt from the Old Baldy Quilters.

Sinbad and the Meka II Invasion
5:30 p.m.
As he draws closer to shore, look out for cannons blazing! Don’t worry though, Blackbeard’s Crew will be ready to defend Bald Head Island. Get to the marina early for the best location to watch the invasion. Best places to view: West Beach access #1 (Turk’s Head Court) and #2 (Row Boat Row).

Scallywag School
6 p.m., Harbourside Pavilion
Learn to walk, talk and act like a pirate. Reservations required: $20 each, ages 4 to 10. Held again on Sunday at 2 p.m.


Pirates and Pancakes
10:30 a.m., Bald Head Island Club
Pirates love a hearty brunch buffet, too. Join them as they launch Pirates Weekend with music, songs, and declarations of loyalty to Bald Head Island. RSVP required; this event always sells out, so buy tickets early. $25/adult, $15/youth, $5/age 3 and under.

Pirate Duck Race
2 p.m.
Buy a duck (at www.oldbaldy.org) and enter the race. Your duck floats from the creek access to the pavilion. Prizes go to the first five ducks to cross the finish line, and first prize is $500! Ducks are $10 each or 11 ducks for $100.

Be a Pirate Artist School
2 p.m.
Bald Head Association, 111 Lighthouse Wynd
Get creative and learn how to become a pirate artist. RSVP req.: $20 each, ages 8 to 14.

Pirate Ghost Walk with Island Passage
7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Bald Head Assoc.
Meet some of Bald Head’s famous ghosts as weave your way along a guided path. $25/adults, $15/children.


Pirate Parade
11:30 a.m., Old Baldy Ligthouse
Walk in costume or ride in your decorated golf cart. Start at Old Baldy and parade over the Marsh Bridge. The pirates will lead the way with special parade co-marshalls. Ending at the Tent Pavilion, the pirates will judge the best costumes and award prizes. Garb available at the Old Baldy gift shop.

National Lighthouse and Pirate Festival Day
12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Harbourside Pavilion
Visit Blackbeard’s Crew’s encampment, play games with pirates, enjoy black powder and sword demonstrations, music of Rusty Cutlass, pirate magic shows, storytellers, pirate crafts, face painting, shop the Booty Boutique, and more. No admission charge; some activities and food require tickets (sold on grounds).

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