The Pirates of Lake Sinclair
Ahoy and yo-ho-ho, all ye sea-farin’ scalawags and lily-livered landlubbers! The annual Lake Sinclair Pirate Parade be almost upon ye. So stand ready to hoist the Jolly Roger, secure yer booty and prepare yerself fer a full day o’ family-friendly, timber-shiverin’ fun!
For those who aren’t yet familiar with the Lake Sinclair Pirate Parade, the event was first held nearly seven years ago. The concept was the brainchild of Ira Tolmich and John Lock, both of whom have been residents of the Lake Sinclair area for about 13 years. The pair of friends has a vaguely swashbuckling air about them even when they aren’t decked out in buccaneer garb.
“As it so often happens with good ideas, a little alcohol may have been involved,” Ira says, with a wink and smile. “We were talking about how it was soon be the 350th birthday of Captain Henry Morgan,” he explains, referring to the well-known Welsh buccaneer and former lieutenant governor of Jamaica, who also owned sugar plantations on the Caribbean island. “The idea just kind of grew from there. It’s as good a thing to celebrate as any.”
The first parade was, in true pirate fashion, a rather loosely-organized affair with little promotion. News of the event spread primarily by word-of-mouth. Ira estimates that, for the inaugural parade, they had around fifteen to twenty boats participate.
As the years went by, people spontaneously began to decorate their boats and dressing up in pirate costume. “It grew really organically. Folks seem to get into it,” John says. “It gives them something different to enjoy on the lake apart from the usual bass tournament.” The number of participants has increased each year, and during last year’s event, the Lake Sinclair pirate armada stretched for over a mile. “Looking back at the long line of boats is pretty impressive. We try to encourage everyone to remain in line, but trying to control pirates is a lot like herding cats,” Ira says. To which John adds, “Someone always brings water balloons or cannons and tries to ‘assault’ the other boats. It’s all in good fun.”
It’s true that the traditional pirate stereotype might conjure in ones mind images of ruthless, bloodthirsty privateers, lusting for gold and rum. But Ira and his wife, Cindy, as well as John and his wife, Cindy Svec, are all keen to stress that the Lake Sinclair Pirate Parade has always been – and will remain – a family-friendly event. “Of course we want people to have fun,” declares Cindy Tolmich. “But in a safe and responsible way. We always say, ‘Make sure you have a sober sailor on every boat.’” The group is proud that in all the years the event has been held, there hasn’t been a single issue with people having to walk the plank for, well, having a little too much fun. Everyone has been respectful and courteous (not just by pirate standards, either) and they expect that tradition to continue during this year’s event.
All manner of watercraft are welcome to participate in the parade, from pontoon boats to jet skis. The flotilla initially gathers near Goat Island (dubbed in 2019 as "No-Goat Island), but as the ships begin sailing along the route toward the southern end of Lake Sinclair, they never fail to pick up additional pirate participants just out having fun on the lake.
“I remember one family that just happened to be out on the water that day, when suddenly a long line of boats decorated like pirate ships came sailing past,” Cindy Svec recalls. “They fell right in line with the rest of us. After awhile, the dad steered his boat up to the front and called over to us, ‘So, um … where are we going?’” John adds with a laugh, “The young kids on the boat were staring at us wide-eyed like we were really pirates. It was great!”
As the parade became more well-established as a bona fide community event, it wasn’t just Lake Sinclair people who came to participate. “Word began to spread,” Ira says, “We’ve had pirates from as far away as Cedar Key, Florida.” To further enhance the event’s profile, Ira and John decided to add some land-based celebrations, too. In the parade’s third year, they arranged to hold a cookout to continue the festivities onshore after the amateur buccaneers had completed the parade route.
Of course, the limited accommodations of open land soon became apparent, so the following year, the pirates got some sponsorship assistance. Buffington’s, in downtown Milledgeville, stepped in to help provide the food and even arranged for some bands to perform as musical entertainment. These days, the pirate parade picnic boasts a number of sponsors and moved to Little River Park Campground & Marina. The larger area provided room to accommodate more revelers. The Milledgeville Jaycees utilized the picnic as an opportunity to sell food to hungry partygoers as a part of their yearly fundraising. Some craft vendors even showed up to offer their wares for sale as well.
The 2019 parade will end at Crooked Creek Grill & Marina, where everyone is invited to meet the pirates and enjoy pirate grub and cold beer. Awards for best costume, best pirate ship, best sea hag and best boat wench will be awarded.
At its core, the Lake Sinclair Pirate Parade is a group of friends and members of the community getting together to have a great time. But once the event grew large enough, Ira, John and crew realized they had an opportunity to do some good for the Lake Sinclair community, too. The event has developed into a fundraiser for a local charity, which changes every year. Past events have benefited an animal shelter and a veterans group. This year’s pirate proceeds will also go to a good cause. “We say, ‘Pillage for a cause, plunder for a purpose!’” Cindy Svec says.
-- This article, written by Daniel Harwell, appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Lakelife magazine. It was updated to provide information for this year's (2019) pirate parade.