Grand Bahama News

Pirates reunion continues 20 years on and counting

A scale model of a pirate ship went up in flames on a Grand Bahama beach last month, as a tribute to a movie franchise that started 20 years ago and gave some Grand Bahamians some wonderful memories.

In 2003, the first of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” blockbuster movies, “The Curse of the Black Pearl”, was released in cinemas worldwide becoming an overnight success and a multibillion-dollar franchise.

The second and third films, “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, were mainly filmed on Grand Bahama, filling the island with production teams, actors, make-up artists, designers and other crew. 

The filmmakers also needed background actors, and many Grand Bahamians were transformed into pirates while some were stand-ins for the leads themselves. 

Working on the movies created many lasting memories and friendships and a couple of the local extras decided to organize annual Pirate get-togethers.

This year, organizers regrouped on Grand Bahama to remember their part in the films and to bid farewell to a few pirates who had sailed on.

“The word went out on the island that Disney’s company, First Mate Productions, was looking for locals to play the parts of additional background actors,” Nick Arlington, a longtime Freeport resident, remembered. 

“Those of us who were selected assembled at Bradford Marine in Freeport Harbour in June to be given a lesson on a tall ship to prepare to be crew on the infamous ‘Black Pearl’.”

Filming began in late September 2005 and local crew members and extras were bused down to the film set in east Grand Bahama each day.

“We would get picked up at Port Lucaya Marketplace very early each morning,” Arlington recalled.

“After signing in, we had a spectacular gourmet breakfast, followed by donning costumes and make-up, which could take anything up to two hours or more adding beards, wigs and scars.”

Retired teacher David Cook, who was the stand-in for Stellan Skarsgård, the actor who played Bootstrap Bill, said, “My character called for a shaky clump of coral and barnacles being glued to my face and hands and the make-up crew had a full-time job following me round and keeping me together.

“Filming usually began at first light and continued throughout the day, sometimes with very little to do, but then there would be intense action days with the crew being shot at, blown up, drowned and even eaten by a giant sea monster, the Kraken.” 

Former Grand Bahama resident Barry Thorpe recalled, “Just about everybody who was part of the pirate extra crew was injured in one way or another.

“The action scenes involved a bunch of sea monster ‘victims’ lying on the deck, and for added reality, the director was rolling cannon balls amongst them, blasting with high-pressure water hoses and scattering burning bits of the Kraken sea monster.

“This resulted in crushed fingers and toes, choking rubber-based smoke, plenty of bruises and, in one case, even a punctured ear drum. Despite this, I think everybody had a great time. I mean, how often do a bunch of ancient 60 and 70-year-olds get the chance to play at being pirates?”

Filming on Grand Bahama was finally concluded and “Dead Man’s Chest” was released in 2006. The movie premiered in Freeport with a gala.

“At World’s End” was released the following year and those two films alone brought in more than $2 billion at the box office.

The filming experience prompted some books: Cook writes about it in his “Pirates of The Bahamas” novel, and former resident Barry Coulton devoted a chapter to it in his autobiography “A Cumbrian Lad”.

Coulton also started organizing reunions to recreate the pirate characters.

“We encourage everybody to come in pirate garb for the reunions,” Arlington said.

“It’s so great to get back together and talk about our movie fame – and the great times Grand Bahama had as this bustling movie set.”

This year, the crew was pleased to welcome some of the Hollywood crew, Michael Gabor, who was in all five Pirates productions, and his wife Vicki, a retired Disney production executive.  

But the years have taken their toll and many of the pirates have passed on.

The current survivors felt that it was only right to give them a fitting memorial and wake, so on Saturday, February 11, a model of the “Black Pearl” was decorated with pictures of the departed and given a fiery Viking-style funeral. 

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