After a subdued 2020 because of the pandemic, Smith Mountain Lake Pirate Days is set to return this weekend. Events are planned at multiple lake locations along with roaming bands of pirates looking to participate in high jinks.
Longtime pirate days organizer P.J. Nagel is expecting large crowds this weekend. He said interest has been growing annually for the event and people are eager to participate this year as pandemic restrictions begin to ease.
“It is likely to be a much bigger event this year,” Nagel said.
Not counting the dip in participation last year, Pirate Days has grown in popularity each year at Smith Mountain Lake since it was first introduced in 2013. Largely ignored those first few years, Nagel said people are now coming from out of town to participate in the event. Several area restaurants also have reported larger crowds during Pirate Days than other holidays such as Fourth of July or Memorial Day.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Nagel said of the event’s growth.
Nagel’s dream is to have SML Pirate Days become as big as other pirate-themed events around the country. One of the biggest is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa, Florida.
“That is the direction I believe we are headed,” Nagel said.
Nagel began overseeing Pirate Days several years ago with the goal to make it as big as possible. He said those first few years almost all events were organized by him, now it has taken a life of its own with several pirate-themed events being held each year without his knowledge.
While he can’t make it to every event, Nagel still participates in many of the lake events each year dressed in a pirate costume. As part of the Star City Scallywags, he goes from marina to marina to put on shows such as sword fights and speak with some of the visitors.
Nagel used to travel by boat from event to event, but admitted he now goes by car. He said the number of boats participating in the event each year has grown so large is was hard for him to get around.
With many lake residents and vacationers eager to get out after a challenging 2020, Nagel said he expects this year’s SML Pirate Days to be a record year for attendance.