GEORGE F joins over a dozen DIY pirate boats as they engage in battle off the coast of Barcelona.
It’s fucking hot. It has been for days. A pirate flag flutters in a thankful breeze from the mast of the bar. The hand-built shanty stage is still blasting bristly punk as the dozen boats, rafts and catamarans are assembled into a line to parade down to the launch site. It looks like an aquatic trash-heap armada, crewed by misfit mermaids. The crews are in high spirits after several days of assembling their vessels. They paint their faces in warpaint and brandish oars crafted from crushed water bottles and old tin pans. The boats themselves are a carnival riot of repurposed barrels, kayaks, pallets of wood, handmade-sails and assorted skipped trash. One has a unicorn for a mast-head, another has been painstakingly rivetted together over days by a crew committed to engineering mastery, another has a catapult at the stern and a pile of rotting fruit ready to rock..
We drag our own offering into the line – the BREKSHIP – doomed to fail as soon as it is launched, but we are unable to prevent its inevitable demise. Somehow we had cobbled together this disaster waiting to happen in between bouts of heavy drinking and elaborate hedonism. Other crews stare at us in disbelief as we unfurl the parasol sails and slug more beers as we await the launch signal. I look fantastic in my flamingo pink minidress.
Organised by a mixture of crews from across the area, the PIRATA BATALLA is in its second year and has doubled in size from its roots. Set in the sleepy cop-hating town of Vilanova i la Geltru, its new home is a squatted go-kart yard with an open call-out to people looking for a wagenplatz to call home. Partly to raise awareness of the plight of migrants crossing to Europe in similarly dangerous conditions, partly to raise salt-crusted piratey hell, they have gathered again for the Revenge:
“TIRED OF IRRESPONSIBLE TOURISM, POLLUTION OF THE SEAS AND THE THOUSANDS FORCED OUT OF THEIR HOMES ONLY TO DROWN IN THEM… WE WILL RETURN AND ARE READY FOR THE BATTLE!”
We have heard stories of pitched battles at sea, boats sinking as they broach the shallows, disqualifications for having “too much glitter”. We are unsure if our Brekship will even hold together all the way to the water, but we are committed. We are busily gaffer-taping bits of foam to the deck for comfort when the signal goes and the gates of the Pirata Platz are thrown open.
Being part of a parade of pirate-punk floats on the way to war is of course part of every true otherfucker’s bucket list. Our motley crew marches down to the sea as part of a train of cheering, oar-swinging brigands, pausing only occasionally to dry-heave or shout at each other over a particular point of decoration. The metal catamaran crew are actually being whipped by a tiny girl with a rubber cat-o-nine tails. They seem into it. The air heaves with piratey groans.
At the shore, we lineup, and our crew engages in a brief but fierce bout of mutiny and bickering as we watch waves higher than are head rolling lazily towards us from across the sea. The lifeguard has seen us approaching, and is lowering the green flag of safety to raise a yellow one of alarm.
One crew member retires, handing over their eyepatch and coral necklace to recline in hungover surrender on the baking sands. The rest of us argue in adrenaline and amphetamine fuelled apprecitement at what lies ahead. We try to make a plan to raise the boat up as high as possible to get it over the waves. We are obviously too high to succeed.
The signal goes, and we are off. We charge into the sea, over a dozen crafts and their cheering crews, heading towards the distant flag-ship with the intent to capture and return with it. It the shallows the boats bump and scuffle, seadogs grinning at each other as they paddle against truly thuggish waves. We splash through the first, then another, and our crew at the fore leap on to the Brekship and enjoy a few brief seconds of sailing glory. I attempt to join them, and a wave smacks into us and flips the bitch – the fore barrel drifting off with our cabin boy and returning them to shore.
Unpeturbed we cling to the floating remains of our craft and paddle aimlessly about in the shallows. It actually seems to work much better this way up, and we realise that in our drunken state we had constructed our boat upsidedown. Our cabin boy waves encouragingly from the beach, seemingly kilometers away, brandishing a hopeful oar. We wave back. We consider raiding one of the other boats and seizing a seaworthy vessel. In the distance, we hear the roar of battle as the boats collide in savage warfare around the flag-ship. A number of other boats limp around our area, struggling with the physics of the water. A lifeguard swims out and collects our barrel after we fail to reattach it. The aim is to return all the pieces of the boats back to the shore, and we collect more pieces of the Brekship as it floats past.
After a while, we drag our capzised Brekship back to the shore and collapse on the sand, exhausted but strangely elated. Somehow, we always knew it would end this way. We hear later of a fierce but short-lived battle, the flag seized by the crew of the Castillo Parasito and whisked away back to shore to victory. The giant metal catamaran agonisingly rivetted together over days floated ok, but had been impossible to steer, and spectacularly shipwrecked on the stones to be abandoned by its crew. They have to dissassemble it their and carry it back piece by piece. Other boats limp back to shore in various states of damage but all with smiling and exhausted pirates aboard. Wwe hear that the rescue-boat also sank, so we don’t feel too bad about Brekship.
That night, we celebrate with a treasure hunt to find a chest of rum and plastic doubloons as the anarkofolk discorddianistas Valiente serenade us, followed up by Twat Farm, Bait, Hax, Deportados del Bar, Contagio and Los Migrants.
Despite being the least seworthy this year, we did get some credit for being the most politicallly theatrical. We’ll be sure to be back next year to continue being piratey-bastards.
Let that black flag fly, and see you there.